'Resource wars' spurred by assets of developing nations
'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
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
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
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
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
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,"
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
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
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
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