How Cooperation Takes The War Out Of The Resource War
With the world’s population growing and industrialization rising, competition for raw materials is intensifying, raising concerns about access to key natural resources for global consumption. In a globalized world, competition for limited resources igniting conflict is not unreasonable; however, an alternative rationale suggesting cooperation as an outcome of resource competition is an equitable and, perhaps, more viable theory.
Contemporary politics makes unanimous consent difficult to achieve, but global leaders must remain cognizant of what is in their nation’s best interest. Often times, a critical examination of strategic policies will indicate that states should engage in solution seeking options before engaging in aggressive tactics.
Gaining popularity in the 1980s, the term was used to describe tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union over control of fuel and minerals. Today, we regard resource wars as conflicts arising from the ‘pursuit or possession of critical materials, namely water, petroleum, rare earths, and other desirable materials,’ according to University of British Columbia Professor Philippe Le Billon. He believes resources are inextricable to a particular place; and thus, involve a sense of belonging or identity.
When we fail to consider them leading to conflict over resources, we marginalize an issue with greater implications and forgo context. Here, we are better able to understand the geopolitical context surrounding resource competition when we include rare earths in the conversation. Ironically, the term rare earth remains inaccurate for they continue to be found in low concentrations throughout the Earth’s crust, and in higher concentrations in numerous minerals. The difficultly lies in the ability to mine such resources, according to USAID. While the situation is critical, due to their usage military arsenal and green technology, the insistence of wars over rare earths is perhaps hyperbolic.
Conflict Can Be Avoidable
Suggesting that the competition for resources will lead to cooperation does not refute that conflict is embedded in our complex and uncertain world comprised of many stakeholders. To that point, competition too will always be part of the international landscape, consisting of global players with differing interests. Cooperation instead seeks to undermine the precarious thought that conflict is unavoidable and certain to arise over resources.
In the cases of rare earth materials and water, there are not only opportunities for avoiding conflict, there are inherent socioeconomic reasons for doing so. As former Congressman Bart Gordon has encouraged, American and European researchers have collaborated more closely to find substitute minerals, improve recycling, and ensure natural resources are used efficiently.
Since natural resources are vital for life and growth, it is unsurprising that resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and unsustainable consumption can contribute to or incite conflict. However, with widespread acceptance of our codependent world, stakeholders are recognizing that ways to address natural resource issues that will prevent, manage, or resolve conflict are typically in the best interest of nations. “As former President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt had one stated, “competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.”