Greed, Grievance, and Gaddafi: How Well Do Rational Choice Frameworks Explain the Libyan Uprising of 2011?

By Matt Guttentag

During the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, only the revolution in Libya escalated into a civil war resulting in the successful overthrow of an autocratic ruler. The Libyan case provides an interesting study against which to test various rational choice frameworks for intrastate rebellion. Libya possesses many characteristics that typically predict civil war in these frameworks, including abundant extractable natural resources and high unemployment. Nevertheless, a deeper examination of the Libyan rebellion reveals that a complex combination of incentives was in play that defies any particular economic framework of conflict. The political economy of the Libyan situation gives a rich understanding of the different ways in which greed, grievance, and other incentives can provide the basis for an escalation into intrastate conflict.

About the author:
Matt Guttentag is a second year Masters student in International Development at The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. His graduate work focuses on economic development and the underlying causes and consequences of poverty. He is a 2008 graduate of Duke University where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Matt has lived in Mexico, Argentina, and Jordan and spends his free time hiking, swimming, and playing word games. A version of this paper was originally written for Dr. Joanna Spear's course 'Security and Development.'

Image courtesy of Crethi Plethi.

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