Can states buy peace? Social welfare spending and civil conflicts


This study examines whether the state's ability to provide social welfare services has any major effect on the probability of civil conflict onset. We argue that welfare spending contributes to sustaining peace because the provision of social services reduces grievances by offsetting the effects of poverty and inequality in society. Welfare spending serves as an indication of the commitment of the government to social services and reflects its priorities and dedication to citizens. By enacting welfare policies that improve the living standards of citizens, governments can co-opt the political opposition and decrease the incentives for organizing a rebellion. Utilizing time-series, cross-national data for the 1975-2005 period, the results indicate that as the level of the government investment in welfare policies (i.e. education, health, and social security) increases, the likelihood of civil conflict onset declines significantly, controlling for several other covariates of internal conflict. Additional data analysis shows that general public spending and military expenditures are unlikely to increase or decrease the probability of civil unrest. Overall, these findings suggest that certain types of public spending, such as welfare spending, might have a strong pacifying effect on civil conflict, and therefore the state's welfare efforts are vital for the maintenance of peace. © Peace Research Institute Oslo 2012.

Publication Title

Journal of Peace Research