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Essay: Understand Economics-Violence Link: MLK’s Lesson on World Conflict and Clausewitz’s Theory

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Words: 1,497 (approx)
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  • Tags: Martin Luther King Essays

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“Nothing good ever comes of violence”, something Martin Luther King once said. However, those wise words are not reflected in today’s world. Lots of ongoing conflicts can be pointed out, with all sorts of causes; on local as well as global scale. In order to solve the issue of violence, with the aim to reduce it as much as possible, it is necessary to find and understand its root causes. Where does violence start and what causes can we identify?

This paper is about the link between economics and violence. Can we see violence in our world because of its economic structure? And can we therefore consider the world violent? And last but not least, what kinds of violence do exist and what sort of violence can we identify? It is important to answer these questions to better understand the relationship between economics and violence.

A lot of economic perspectives can be taken, as economy is a very broad definition. Economy is “the complex of human activities concerned with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services”. UNICEF mentions several economic factors which can cause violence, such as: poverty, economic inequality (although not fully proven by statistics), trade and the structure of economies depending on oil and other natural resources. This paper will focus on this last factor as nowadays, lots of economies are heavily depending on natural resources such as oil, minerals, gas and coal. On the one hand, there are countries depending on the import of oil, such as the United States or The Netherlands, but on the other hand there are countries with economies depending on the export of oil, examples are countries in the Middle East. Oil is the most important factor; Simon Dalby even states that “violence comes with oil”, due to its value, which makes it worth fighting for. Oil is important in different ways, to give some examples: the United Kingdom heavily depends on it for its transport sector, while Saudi-Arabia earned 231 millions of dollars exporting oil (making it its biggest export product).

The applicable sort of violence should also be considered. In today’s world we can see different forms of violence. What do we mean with violence or how do we define it? A few theories on violence will be discussed under ‘scholar perspectives’ in order to give a varied definition of this term.   

In this paper, attention will be given to a few scholars and their theories; how according to the ‘realist’ school of international relations, neoliberalism and scholar Carl von Clausewitz the world can be considered violent as a consequence of economics. Then a case study will be analysed about the Crimea crises of 2014, during which Russia invaded and annexed this Ukrainian peninsula. This case will afterwards be analysed through the theory of Carl von Clausewitz who argues that war is an instrument of politics. The annexation of Crimea will be relevant for this topic as it provides us with a violent conflict as a consequence of economic interests. Using the theory of a scholar and a case study, this essay will argue why the economically organized world we live in today can be considered violent and the argument will be in line with the theory of Carl von Clausenwitz.

Scholar perspectives

The “realist” school of international relations theorists

According to UNICEF and their ‘realist’ school of international relations, there is a positive correlation between trade and conflict. An association can here be made with historical mercantilism; the view that with importing goods, nothing will be gained. Economists have often explained why this theory is wrong, whereby they argue that mercantilism ignores how the benefits of trade are divided between the different parties. When trading conditions are not developed or used to their maximum, nations could use force to get access to foreign markets and change such trading conditions in their favour. Dependency on trading with other states can on the one hand lead to conflict, but can on the other hand also reduce the risks of conflict as empirical research has shown that trading countries are less likely to go into conflict with each other.

Carl von Clausewitz

In 1832, ‘On War’ was published by Carl von Clausewitz, a German military theorist. As a man, he joined the battlefield to fight with the Prussian army against Napoleon.  His book is known for its argument that war “is the mere continuation of politics by other means”. Or in other words, war could be used as a tool to accomplish certain political goals. His theory is best applicable to inter-state conflicts. War can be seen as a chameleon, as war is a term used for a wide variety of events. The form of war should fit the aims that are being targeted. The Clausewitzian triangle has three angles: violence, chance and politics. Violence can be defined in his triangle as the people who are subject to this behaviour, chance is the used intuition and politics are the leaders who try to achieve their political goals. If this trinity is not kept in balance and the connection between the political aims and military tools used is broken, “we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense” according to Clauswitz .


Neoliberalism promotes the influence of market-based decision-makers of the governing decision makers in order to let companies or individuals make more profit. Normal workmen and other citizens (for example, working in the informal sector) are not prioritized. Public goods are not important, profits are. ‘The rest would follow the west’ is an often heard saying; industrialization would slowly take over the informal sector. However, this did not happen. Negative effects of the informal sector are not taken into account. The growing criminal network for example, an aspect that has effect on the whole global economy. Other informal jobs are also not visible and their social conditions are not being discussed. When we continue to ignore those aspects, we can see the violent consequences of it. In fact, we can already see those violent conflicts happening nowadays.

Scholars on violence

Scholar Charles Tilly argues that violence has three characteristics: physical damage on persons or objects, two or more trespassers and some sort of coordination between those trespassers. According to Carl von Clausewitz, violence is used as a tool for politics by means of war. But when taking Paul Richards point of view into consideration, violence is not clear to identify. He argues that violence and peace are intertwined and that violence is an indistinct.

The Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) speaks of three sorts of violence: self-directed violence, interpersonal violence and collective violence. Self-directed violence means that the perpetrator and the victim are the same person, which is the case in for example suicide. With interpersonal violence we look ar violence between two persons, for example father-son violence. Collective violence is done by larger groups (for example armies or rebels) and is divided in three categories; social, political and economic violence.

Case study: Annexation of the Crimea by Russia

Crimea, which has been part of Ukraine since 1954, belonged in earlier history to Russia. On 18 March 2014 a treaty, the so called “Treaty on Accession”, was signed in Moscow and on the 21st ratified by the Russian Parliament. Herein was decided to take over Crimea. During the months February- March of April 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula with Russian naval infantry forces and special forces. They quickly took over the peninsula as Ukrainian forces were not able to provide proper resistance. For what reason? Putin pleads the historical Crimea of the peninsula with Russia and the Russian Black Sea Fleet. By referring back to the historical roots of Crimea, Putin tries to justify the armed troops occupying the peninsula. He even said that he never understood why the areas was gifted to Ukraine in 1954.

After the annexation, pro- Russian separatists started their support to Putin by seizing parts of the area. They also shot (accidentally?) down the Malaysian Airlines flight 17, killing 298 people on their way to Kuala Lumpur.

Although one of the spokesmen of Putin did say that the reason for the annexation was not the presence of energy resources, he said that there was not even a connection between those. On the contrary, Gilles Lericolais (the director of European and international affairs at France’s state oceanographic group) stated that the annexation was ‘so obvious’ for the rich resources Ukraine and the maritime area around it possesses. The potential underwater resources in the Black Sea around Crimea are estimated to be worth trillions of dollars.

Consequently, the real reason for the Russian intervention are the natural resources Ukraine has. The coal mining in the Donbas area for example, or the amount of unused fertile agricultural ground. In addition, the harbours around the Black Sea are also important trading points and are therefore very useful. Serhii Plokhy even argued in his book ‘Last Empire’ that the independency of Ukraine in 1991 was the key moment for the end of the Soviet-Union.  

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