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What Resource Wars?

December 21st, 2007 by David G. Victor, Stanford University

Rising energy prices and mounting concerns about environmental depletion have animated fears that the world may be headed for a spate of ‘resource wars’ – hot conflicts trigerred by a struggle to grab valuable recources.

Such fears come in many stripes, but the threat industry has sounded the alarm bells especially loudly in three areas. First is the rise of China, which is poorly endowed with many resources it needs – such as oil, gas, timber and most minerals – and has already ‘gone out’ to the world with the goal of securing what it wants. Violent conflicts may follow as the country shunts others aside. A second potential path down the road to resource wars starts with all the money now flowing into poorly governed but resource-rich countries. Money can fund civil wars and other hostilities, even leaking into the hands of terrorists. And third is global climate change, which could multiply stresses on natural resources and trigger water wars, catalyze the spread of disease or bring about mass migrations.

I analyse to what extent these three phenomena pave the way to resource wars in my recent paper published in The National Interest.

David G. Victor

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One Response to “What Resource Wars?”

  1. Simon Bennett Says:

    Hi David,
    Interesting paper. Would it be possible to send me a copy without the academic references removed?
    It’s a shame you weren’t able to cover EU issues such as the impact of natural gas constraints on foreign policy. In fact, it would be interesting to have your opinion on how natural resource constraints might shape foreign policy in the West during the coming few decades, rather than just those in transition and developing countries.
    I’m also unclear about where you draw the line around what constitutes a ‘resource war’ when you indicate that they are ‘rare’. Is it not possible that most wars are fundamentally about resources, whether they be land, labour or minerals? Clashes of ideology tend to threaten to destabilise how resources (and therefore power) are distributed in the economy, thus drawing nation states into conflict as they seek to protect their economic interests and political power. Hence, I would suggest that resources actually underpin much of the complex of causal factors you refer to. Hydrocarbons in many 21st Century states are potentially a more important resource for maintaining economic growth than labour or land, thus increasing the prospect of conflict over fossil fuels if demand exceeds supply.

    Could you please elaborate on the constiutency of the ‘threat industry’ so that I know whether my remarks above place me in this trade.
    Simon

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