Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2018

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Mitchell, Sara

First Committee Member

Kadera, Kelly M.

Second Committee Member

Lai, Brian

Third Committee Member

Prorok, Alyssa K.

Fourth Committee Member

Priest, R. Tyler


The main purpose of this thesis is to understand the relationship between natural resources and conflict and cooperation. In this research, I develop a theory of resource dependence focusing on water and energy resources that are important to people’s survival and national economy and security. I theorize the relationship between resource dependence and interstate conflict in two ways. First, I argue that as a state becomes more dependent on natural resources, the state is less likely to engage in conflict with other states. Resource dependence reduces conflict risks because a state with greater resource dependence does not want to lose any benefits that they currently enjoy from natural resources and as a result the potential costs of conflict increases. Second, I argue that as two states become more extensively (salience) and equally (symmetry) reliant on natural resources together, they are less likely to fight. Since they have similar benefits associated with natural resources that neither states want to lose, they have more incentives to avoid risky conflict over natural resources.

To examine my theory of resource dependence and conflict, I create an original measure of a state’s level of dependence on freshwater resources and energy resources, in particular focusing on a state’s electricity demands, areas of river basins, and values of energy resources. I also create a dyadic measure of resource dependence (salience, symmetry, and interdependence). By using river-specific conflict data from the Transboundary Freshwater Disputes Database (TFDD) and militarized interstate disputes (MIDs) data from the Correlates of War (COW) project from 1960 – 2001, I test my arguments of the relationship between a state’s resource dependence and conflict at the monadic and the dyadic levels, as well as individual level in terms of citizens’ trust in government. Empirical analyses at the monadic level show that as a state becomes more dependent on water and energy resources, the state is less likely to engage in river conflicts with other states. However, a state’s resource dependence does not influence the chances for militarized conflict in shared river basins at the monadic level. Empirical results at the dyadic level also support my theory of resource dependence and conflict: as two states in a dyad become more extensively and equally dependent on water and energy resources, they are less likely to experience diplomatic conflicts and militarized interstate disputes. While high levels of resource dependence (demand and supply) reduce conflict at the monadic and dyadic levels, I find that pairs of countries with symmetric levels of resource dependence face higher conflict risks. In terms of trust in government, I find that a state’s level of resource dependence has positive impacts on people’s perception toward the government.

My dissertation makes several contributions to the field of resource conflict and international relations. This study is one of the first efforts to look at the degree of dependence on natural resources to understand the variation in conflict and cooperation over natural resources. The chances for interstate conflict varies under the same scarcity (e.g. lack of water) or abundance resource conditions (e.g. both states oil producers). By looking at a state’s level of resource dependence varying over time and space, this research can uncover more detailed understandings about the states or dyads most likely to fight over water and energy resources. This study is one of the first to use a state’s electricity needs as a measure to capture a state’s dependence on natural resources. Electricity is crucial to a state’s political economy and people’s survival. Hence, by looking at the level of electricity demands by a state regarding water and energy resources, we can understand how much a state depends on natural resources. Furthermore, this research sheds light on how a state’s dependence on natural resources affect people’s trust in government, beyond previous study’s resource curse argument. Different from the previous researchers’ pessimistic diagnosis on natural resources, a state’s high level of dependence on natural resources can contribute to people’s better perception toward the government. Theoretically, my theory of resource dependence and conflict establishes a direct connection between a relatively new field of natural resource conflict with well-developed and classic International Relations and Political Economy research. Practically, my research can help policy makers figure out where and when resource conflict is most likely between countries. Policy makers can develop policy provisions properly to avoid conflict and to encourage peaceful and cooperative resolution over natural resources between countries.


Conflict, Dependence, Energy, Natural Resources, Water


xii, 192 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 184-192).


Copyright © 2018 Sojeong Lee

Available for download on Monday, August 31, 2020