Hilary Smith

Conflict 652 CAR for Conflict Prevention, Reconstruction, and Stabilization

15 November 2014


Realism Lens for the Niger Delta Conflict


Realism is a predominant theory in American and international foreign policy which holds that nation-states are the primary actors in an anarchic international system. They act in their own interests and interest is defined in terms of power. Actors are rational and moral if they act to increase their own power, which is their ability to enact their will in the international sphere. Morality in Realism is not to be confused with a universal morality. Because a nation is responsible to its people, actions on the national and international spheres that increase the power of the nation benefit the people and are therefore moral. However, those same actions performed on an individual level are not always moral. For example, funding a violent insurgent group in an enemy nation will weaken your enemy and make the first nation comparatively more powerful and is therefore moral. However, as an individual, giving a gun to someone you so that they can use it to wound or kill another wrongfully is not moral. Realism is not ignorant of other concerns or demands for human rights, humanitarian aid, and development, but it views these issues only in terms of their potential utility to increase their own interest or power. “realism holds that international organizations and other trans-state or sub-state actors hold little real influence, in the face of states as unitary actors looking after themselves.” (http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/02/realism-and-liberalism-in-modern-international-relations/).


Overview of Conflict


In the Niger River Delta conflict, the government has given oil extraction rights to multi-national companies (MNCs) to extract the oil wealth and repay the government for it. This wealth largely does not reach the local populations on the ground, who are also minorities in Nigeria. Additionally, MNCs have historically not taken care of the environment and many Delta denizens have had negative health effects from it. Deltans have historically had very little power in national governance. As a result, some minority groups, particularly the ethnic Ijaws, have formed militant groups to either resist the oppressive influence of the government and MNCs or to profit from exploiting them. MEND is the most well known group. The government as a result has sent in the JTF (Joint Task Force), MNCs have hired security teams, and many other groups benefit from piracy or raids on the profitable oil business. (Book from class)


Realism’s view of this is that the state, Nigeria, is the primary actor and will act in its interests, which are to aggressively expand its power. Since it already owns the Niger Delta, it does not control it with insurgent groups like MEND and illicit activities happening. Therefore Nigeria will or is trying to expand its interests there and has done so by granting extraction rights to MNCs. Nigeria could not extract the oil wealth on its own, so it’s coffers are filled and power over the region is stronger arguably by being able to grant access to MNCs, receiving profits from them, and controlling the property used for production. In order to protect their interests, the Nigerian government ensures that MNCs may extract without interference. If the MNCs are not allowed to do their work, they may leave, oil revenue will leave or reduce, and Nigeria’s power derived from oil wealth will be compromised. For this reason, the government supports MNCs against indigenous militant movements in the Delta. They will aggressively seek to quell uprisings and that is morally right because it ensures Nigerian state interests will be met.


What realism fails to explain or interpret is the groups in the Niger Delta, who they are, what they want, and how best to meet that challenge. Entire industries over kidnapping have arisen that make the working environment for MNCs difficult and threaten oil production. The government has used confrontational means to address that threat, however, little improvement has been made. Nigeria’s realist concerns would be better met for the long term, ie, kidnapping would reduce and MNCs would be able to extract and keep the money flowing with more reliability, if Nigeria used different tactics in addressing the problem of militant insurgent groups. This is where Trust and Social Capital theory helps explain that civic institutions, participation, and trust building exercises would create a more stable environment for Nigeria’s realist interests to be pursued and secured.


Trust and Social capital as set down by Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone (1995) and Russell Hardin’s Trust assert that civic engagement helps keep a democracy thriving and democracies decline as social capital declines. Hardin also adds that trustworthiness should be sought after more than building trust. Trustworthiness is a brand that helps governments and societies reach agreements faster and create better options.




Application of Realism


  • Realism deals with nation state actors
  • It deals in terms of power
  • Use case of failed interventions in the past not ensuring interests of states stably met as justification for approaching a resolution that aims at a long term, deep solution that will ensure interests satisfied
  • Use BHN maybe to inform the gaps
    • Look over theories?


Past Intervention in Conflict


Future resolution ideas for Conflict