Resource Wars Part 3




A METROPOLITAN/OWL BOOK                       2001



Chapter 2: Oil, Geography, and War: The Competitive Pursuit of Petroleum Plenty

Chapter 3: Oil Conflict in the Persian Gulf

Chapter 4: Energy Conflict in the Caspian Sea Basin

Chapter 5: Oil Wars in the South China Sea

Chapter 6: Water Conflict in the Nile Basin

Chapter 7: Water Conflict in the Jordan, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus River Basins

Chapter 8: Fighting for the Riches of the Earth: Internal Wars over Minerals and Timber

Chapter 9: The New Geography of Conflict

The conflict scenarios discussed in this book – from the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea to Sierra Leone and Borneo – all possess distinctive characteristics, and so tend to be viewed by analysts and policy makers as isolated phenomena. But the resource wars of the post-Cold War era are not random or disconnected events. Rather they are part of a larger, interconnected geopolitical system. Whereas international conflict was until recently governed by political and ideological considerations, the wars of the future will largely be fought over the possession and control of vital economic goods – especially resources needed for the functioning of modern industrial societies. Whatever the individual roots, each of the conflicts described in previous chapters is a manifestation of this global contest.

  • It is the central thesis of this book that resource wars will become the most distinctive feature of the global security environment.
  • Some of these problems will be mitigated by market forces and the onward progress of technology; others will be exacerbated by the corrosive side effects of globalization.
  • What we are seeing is the emergence of a new geography of conflict – a global landscape in which competition over vital resources is becoming the governing principle behind the disposition and use of military power.

The distinctive features of this new strategic geography look very different from those of the Cold War era, with its military blocs and confrontation zones. Regions that once occupied center stage, such as the east-west divide in Europe, will lose all strategic significance, while areas long neglected by the international community, such as the Caspian basin and the South China Sea, will acquire expanded significance. Attracting the greatest interest will be places that harbor particularly abundant supplies of vital materials – oil, water, diamonds, minerals, old-growth timber – along with the supply routes that connect these areas to major markets around the world. These regions will command the attention from the media, dominate the deliberations of international policy makers, and invite the heaviest concentrations of military power.

  • The result is a new strategic geography in which resource concentrations rather than political boundaries are the major defining features.


Resources and conflict in Africa

Africa – especially sub-Saharan Africa – will acquire increased strategic importance in the decades ahead, because it houses vast reserves of untapped resources that are sought by a growing array of local and international interests. Africa is rich in four key resources: oil, minerals, gems, and timber. Although many of these assets have been fought over in the past – indeed, the colonization of Africa was driven by the quest for valuable commodities – they have become the object of intensified competition as the worldwide demand for resources has grown.

  • If past experience is any guide, U.S. and European military aid deliveries and arms sales to Africa will be stepped up as a result of growing commercial engagement.
  • Indeed, significant arms purchases have been announced or concluded by several countries in the region, including Angola, Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Africa is also likely to witness greater resource conflict in the years ahead. All of the preconditions for recurring violence can be found here: large concentrations of vital materials, numerous territorial disputes in areas harbouring valuable deposits, widespread political instability and factionalism, the presence of private armies and mercenaries, and a history of collaboration between foreign resource firms and local warlords.

What price resource plenty?

Most resource wars of the future will occur in the developing world – notably, in countries where the national government is weak or corrupt and where local and external actors are competing for political power.

  • Future resource conflict also holds great peril for the major powers. Soldiers deployed by outside powers to protect supply sites in distant lands will be at risk both on the battlefield and, as targets of terrorism, away from it.
  • Terrorism is likely to become a common feature of future resource wars.
  • The American military deployment in Saudi Arabia has provoked widespread hostility among those Saudis who feel that the kingdom’s oil wealth should be used solely for the advance of Islam.
  • A strategy based on the use of force to protect vital resources will prove very costly.
  • As much as one-fourth of the U.S. defense budget – about $75 billion per year – is allocated to American forces in the Persian Gulf and to those units stationed elsewhere that are kept available for deployment to the Gulf.

Paradoxically, recurring conflict over resources will also squander vast quantities of critical materials – especially oil – and cause significant damage to key sources of supply. During Operation Desert Storm, for example, the United States and its allies consumed an average of 19 million gallons of oil a day – an amount equal to the daily petroleum consumption of a country the size of Argentina. Even more significant, sabotage committed by the Iraqis as they fled Kuwait resulted in the uncontrolled burning of an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to two and a half years’ worth of normal production by that country.

Alternatives to war

It seems reasonable to ask whether a resource-acquisition strategy based on global cooperation rather than recurring conflict might not prove more effective in guaranteeing access to critical supplies over the long run. Such a strategy would call for the equitable distribution of the world’s existing resource stockpiles in times of acute scarcity, as well as an accelerated, global program of research on alternative energy sources and industrial processes. Coordinated international efforts would be inaugurated to conserve scarce commodities and employ material-saving technologies.

  • The key to making this strategy work effectively would be the establishment of robust international institutions that could address major resource problems while retaining the confidence of global leaders and the public.
  • We undeniably possess the ingenuity and capacity to develop such institutions.
  • As the world becomes more complex and interdependent, there is every reason to believe that new resource agencies could make a substantial contribution to reducing the likelihood of armed conflict.

A strategy based on cooperation has many distinct advantages. While the use of force by a particular state may result in the temporary alleviation of a resource shortage, it will only provoke resentments on the losing side, leading to further outbreaks of violence in the future. Furthermore, the daunting task of moving large amounts of oil or water from one region to another cannot be performed effectively in an environment of recurring violence – the risk of sabotage, accident, spills, and breakdowns is simply too great. And the use of force will consume resources that can more profitably be used for the public good.

By contrast, the repudiation of violence in favor of cooperative solutions is more likely to avert painful shortages. Cooperative solutions are also likely to prove more durable. By building trust in this manner, moreover, the partners to a cooperative scheme will be better positioned to cope with an emergency. The avoidance of military operations would also permit increased investment in new materials and technologies.

As we move deeper into the 21st century, the global human community faces a momentous choice: we can either proceed down the path of intensified resource competition, which will lead to recurring outbreaks of conflict throughout the world, or we can choose to manage global resource stockpiles in a cooperative fashion. Selecting the latter path with not prove easy: many states and private interests will resist the establishment of a system that gives international agencies a degree of control over the allocation of valuable materials in times of scarcity. But we must ask: Would it not be better to share resources equitably in times of need? Is it not in our long-term interests to make every effort to avert future shortages through collaborative research and action?

Natural resources are the building blocks of civilization and an essential requirement of daily existence. The inhabitants of planet Earth have been blessed with a vast supply of most basic materials. But we are placing increased pressure on these supplies, and in some cases we face, in our lifetimes, or those of our children, the prospect of severe resource depletion. If we rely on warfare to settle disputes over raw materials, the human toll will be great. To avoid this fate, and to ensure an adequate supply of essential materials, we must work now to establish a global system of resource conservation and collaboration.

Appendix: Territorial Disputes in Areas Containing Oil and/or Natural Gas




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