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'Resource wars' spurred by assets of developing nations

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/134590769_resourcewars06.html Resource wars spurred by assets of developing nations By David R. Francis The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2002

      'Resource wars' spurred by assets of developing nations

      By David R. Francis
      The Christian Science Monitor

      Abundant resources — such as diamonds, emeralds, lapis lazuli, timber
      and oil — should be an
      economic blessing to a developing nation. Too often, they aren't. They
      fund conflicts.

      More and more, "resource wars" trouble poor countries.

      The pillaging of diamonds, for example, has fed civil wars in Angola and
      Sierra Leone. Coltan, a
      costly mineral used in making cellphones, helps finance bloody fighting
      in Congo.

      Altogether, about a quarter of the roughly 50 wars and armed conflicts
      active in 2001 had "a strong
      resource dimension," says Michael Renner, a senior researcher with
      Worldwatch Institute in
      Washington. In these cases, legal or illegal exploitation of resources
      helped trigger or exacerbate
      violent conflict, or financed its continuation. Resources sometimes
      become a curse, with the wars
      inflicting a horrendous human toll.

      In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, an estimated 2 million
      to 3 million people were
      killed after Ugandan and Rwandan troops invaded in 1998 to assist rebel
      groups seeking to
      overthrow the government of Laurent Kabila. Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia
      and Chad sent troops in
      support of Kabila. But, notes Renner, the opportunity to plunder the
      enormous resource wealth of
      Congo soon came to be the primary incentive.

      Altogether, roughly 5 million people were killed in resource wars in the
      1990s. Renner calculates that
      6 million fled to neighboring nations and 11 million to 15 million were
      displaced inside their countries.

      These wars often have gruesome consequences. Children are turned into
      soldiers or slaves. Limbs
      are hacked off in order to terrorize populations. The environment is
      damaged as forests are cut
      down and wildlife populations are devastated.

      As awareness of this problem has risen among industrial nations, efforts
      to stem such conflicts have

      Next week, the World Bank and the French Development Agency are holding
      a workshop in Paris
      to explore what can be done to break the connections between resources
      and corrupt regimes and
      civil war.

      The session has the backing of the International Monetary Fund, the
      Group of Eight major industrial
      powers and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,
      the larger Paris-based
      club of industrial nations.

      Ideas for preventing or halting resource wars will be explored further
      in meetings in coming months,
      with recommendations going to the economic summit of the leaders of the
      G8 in June.

      During the Cold War, many conflicts in Africa and elsewhere resulted
      from the geopolitical struggle
      between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But now those political divisions
      are being replaced by a
      global scramble to obtain or tie up essential resources.

      "In some places, the pillaging of oil, minerals, metals, gemstones, or
      timber allows wars to continue
      that were triggered by other factors — initially driven by grievances or
      ideological struggles and
      bankrolled by the superpowers or other external supporters," writes
      Renner in a Worldwatch study,
      "The Anatomy of Resource Wars."

      As the world's population increases from 6.1 billion to perhaps 9
      billion by 2050, the growing
      demand on resources may stimulate further resource wars. Climate change
      could accentuate
      resource shortages, especially of water.

      Disputes over water supplies are multiplying, though not yet to the
      level of actual war. But Israel has
      threatened to take action against Lebanon if it restrains the flow of
      the Jordan River, and Egypt has
      warned Ethiopia and Sudan it will bomb any dam they build on the Nile.

      Oil is another scarce resource, at least in the long run.

      Some see oil's role in the Bush administration's threat to change
      regimes in Iraq by war if that nation
      does not come clean on weapons of mass destruction.

      "It is in part a resource war, but it is also about the balance of power
      in the Middle East," says
      Professor Michael Klare of Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., author
      of "Resource Wars: The
      New Landscape of Global Conflict."

      Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer has said the only interest of the
      U.S. in the Middle East is
      "furthering the case of peace and stability, not Iraq's ability to
      generate oil."

      But Renner counters: "Given U.S. addiction to oil and Washington's long
      history of intervention in the
      region, this is a disingenuous, if not downright deceptive, statement."

      By 2020, the Department of Energy calculates, the United States will
      need to import 17 million
      barrels of oil per day — 6 million more than it does now.

      By 2020, China's oil consumption will match that of the U.S.

      "You are going to see greater competition over what oil is left,"
      cautions Klare.

      The United States, China, Europe and Japan will be struggling to assure
      that their oil companies will
      have access to oil in the Caspian Sea basin, Russia, Africa and Latin
      America, as well as in the
      Middle East.

      The U.S. military and other security agencies have a growing interest in
      the issue of resource wars.
      Klare spoke on the topic to the National Defense University last month.
      The CIA and National
      Intelligence Council have studies on the issue. More Washington think
      tanks are exploring it. The
      House Committee on International Relations held hearings on imported oil
      last summer.

      But at present, it is resources other than oil that are involved in many
      civil conflicts. Renner estimates
      that rebels, warlords, repressive governments and other predatory groups
      have taken resources
      worth $12 billion to $15 billion in just the 1990s from a number of

      Some of that money went to buy weapons, especially small arms from
      Eastern Europe and
      elsewhere. An unknown portion of resource money has also ended up in
      secret bank accounts or
      otherwise fattened the pocketbooks of corrupt government and rebel

      To prevent or end resource wars, several solutions are being implemented
      or explored. One, the
      certification of diamonds in an attempt to prevent the sale of those
      "blood diamonds" coming from
      areas of conflict, may already have helped in Sierra Leone and Angola,
      says Paul Collier, head of
      research at the World Bank in Washington.

      Bush administration officials suspect that some illicit diamond money
      has helped finance al-Qaida.

      Another initiative calls on multinational companies investing in
      developing countries to make public
      how much they are paying for access to resources. Often that amount is
      not known, making it easier
      for leaders in poor nations to divert payments for oil or other
      resources from constructive
      nation-building activities to financing war or buying personal luxuries.

      Global Witness, a London-based advocacy group, has been investigating
      the exploitation of
      resources in Angola, Cambodia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of
      Congo. It urges companies
      to "publish what you pay" for resources.

      British Petroleum did this in Angola last year. But more than 30 other
      oil companies active in the
      nation have not, after the Angolan government objected.

      Last summer, British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed such
      "transparency" rules for companies at
      a U.N. conference in Johannesburg. That idea will be explored at a World
      Bank workshop in the
      New Year.

      One suggestion is that stock exchanges deny listings to corporations
      engaged in resource extraction
      that refuse to make public the taxes, fees, royalties and other payments
      they make to host
      governments. Renner figures this would help nongovernmental
      organizations that have campaigns to
      "name and shame" multinationals.

      Other potential "sticks" are international sanctions and embargoes, gem
      and timber certification to
      screen out illicit materials, and judicial action. Another goal is to
      reduce the traffic in small arms —
      weapons of choice in these conflicts.

      On the "carrot" side, industrial nations could offer other countries
      help in attracting reputable
      companies to invest in their resources if they go about it in an ethical
      way. That might include
      short-term "risk insurance" to pay compensation if a commodity's price
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