Anticipated shifts in power favoring one side can lead to preventive war today. When power is poised to shift towards the state, potential rebels may launch a civil war while they retain a relative advantage, consistent with the commitment problem. We argue that a government expecting a group to rebel has an incentive to prevent that challenge by repressing the population. Repression is a government attempt to undermine and prevent dissent that would turn into rebellion—dissent and rebellion that is more likely in expectation of power shifting in the government’s favor. Empirical models using data on newly proved oil reserves show that states expecting an increase in oil wealth demonstrably increase repression in the years between discovery and access. The findings imply a new connection between natural resources and political violence: Oil wealth can encourage repression not only by reducing its costs, but also by creating windows of opportunity that rebels hope to exploit and governments hope to close. Not only civil war but also rising expectations of rebellion are associated with a marked increase in state-directed violence against civilians.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.