In mid-November the international community was still seriously concerned about Ebola and its effects on West Africa. Some prominent figures even called Ebola a threat to international peace. My realist/cynical side figured the calls might simply be an attempt to raise awareness and aid, but I was intrigued by the question, has disease ever led to war?
In my Foreign Policy piece (USIP mirror) I examine the literature on how disease could directly or indirectly lead to war. The short answer is that disease does not lead to war, but depending on the exact effect of an epidemic and government’s response, disease could lead to other forms of conflict.
Two sections were cut for the final version of the article. First, we cut out the research on whether economic shocks lead to conflict using rainfall as an instrumental variable. This growing body of literature launched by Miguel, Satyanath and Sergenti is fascinating, but trying to explain instrumental variables proved unwieldy in such a compact article.
The other section was a quick data probe inspired by a report by the US Institute of Peace from 2001 that discussed how HIV/AIDS could lead to conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. I pulled UNAIDS figures on the national prevelance of HIV/AIDS in 2001 and UCDP/PRIO data on whether a country experienced civil war in from 2002 to 2012. Dividing the countries up into quartiles based on the prvalence of HIV/AIDS gives the following figure:
If HIV/AIDS increased the possibility of conflict, we would expect that those with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS would be the most likely to experience conflict. However, I find that those countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in 2001 also were the least likely to experience a conflict in the 10 years after. While not particularly rigorous or scientific, this simple data exercise challenges some assumptions and raises some questions.