Disasters never happen in isolation. They occur within specific political contexts and amidst other ongoing political processes and events. Depending on location, size, and scope, disasters can interact with these existing contexts in ways that are potentially altering. In 1999, for example, two large earthquakes struck Turkey and Greece within a few weeks of one another. In the immediate aftermath of these quakes, the two countries offered each other assistance. Within the year after the quakes, the two countries were engaged in a process to reconcile their differences, ending their long-standing rivalry. This begs the question: Did the exchange of aid and other assistance following their respective disasters play some role in their broader reconciliation? Since the Turkey-Greece experience in 1999, this question has been asked repeatedly, every time a disaster has occurred within the context of some ongoing conflict.
There are several general questions: Do disasters affect peace and conflict? Do disasters affect state-to-state, international conflict? Do disasters affect conflict at the sub-national level? Can cooperation on disaster policymaking (at all phases of the emergency management process) create opportunities for improved diplomacy between countries that are rivals? Can disaster-related policymaking affect a country’s foreign policy? Can disaster-related policymaking affect global and/or regional cooperation? Each of these is an empirical question. As important, are the questions that get to the causal processes and mechanisms by which these outcomes occur. For example, if disasters are seen to positively affect ongoing conflicts at the inter-state or intra-state levels, what is the political mechanism through which those interactions occur? Is the natural disaster merely conduit for more intensified cooperation on issues unrelated to the conflict, which then generates a kind of spillover with respect to more peaceful diplomacy? If so, is there something specific about recovery and relief from a natural disaster, as opposed to other types of cooperation, which makes it a more likely context in which these spillovers might be produced? Finally, to the extent that the natural disaster might play some role in engendering diplomacy, how lasting are its effects? Alternatively, it could be the case that disasters lead to an increase in conflict rather than an increase in peace? What are the circumstances and political contexts in which this outcome is more likely to occur?
Jason Enia and Patrick James. “Disasters & Conflict: Evaluation of an Emerging Research Program.” [in progress]
Jason Enia (2015) “Disaster Diplomacy,” in Patrick James (ed.), Oxford Bibliographies in International Relations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Zeynep Taydas, Jason Enia, & Patrick James (2011) “Why Do Civil Wars Occur? Another Look at the Theoretical Dichotomy of Opportunity versus Grievance,” Review of International Studies 37(5): 2627–2650.
Jason S. Enia (2008) “Peace in its Wake? The 2004 Tsunami and Internal Conflict in Indonesia & Sri Lanka,” Journal of Public & International Affairs 19(1): 7–27.
Jason S. Enia (2006) “Between Promise and Delivery: Relief and Reconstruction after the 2003 Iranian Earthquake,” PEW Case #289, Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy.