Michael Klare on the Race for What’s LeftSeptember 27, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
Around the world, as the most easily accessible natural resources are depleted, states are beginning to turn to more remote reserves to meet their needs and the shift may spark international tensions or even conflict, said Hampshire College professor Michael Klare in a recent interview with ECSP. “I worry very much about this growing global competition for the remaining resources in those parts of the world,” he said.
Klare talks about this shift in consumption in his new book, The Race for What’s Left. “It’s about the invasions of these last places and the competitive struggle to reach these places and extract what’s left,” he explained. The book encompasses not only states’ efforts to extract resources like oil and gas from traditionally inaccessible sources like the remote Arctic and shale deposits, but also the struggle over other vital resources, like food.
Klare began his career studying the role of arms sales in peace and conflict. During the Cold War, he said, the United States and Soviet Union sold weapons to curry favor with prospective allies. But after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the system changed. “The arms sellers and the arms buyers had to find other ways to finance arms, and mainly it became resources – either legally, selling copper and oil to pay for arms in the Middle East, or illegally,” by rebel groups who seize control of minerals like diamonds and use the proceeds fund their actions against the government.
In addition to resource-funded arms purchases, Klare also sees the potential for conflict as countries and corporations expand their reach into previously difficult-to-access areas of the world. “One thing that struck me in my research is that historically, most of the conflict over resources has occurred on land. People fought over boundaries and colonial territories. But now, most of the on-land resources have been depleted and the search for valuable materials – oil, natural gas, and even minerals – has moved off-shore, and it turns out that a lot of off-shore resources are contested.”
One such example is the current tension between China and Japan over small islands in the East China Sea. Though the islands themselves have little value, they are thought to be located on top of large oil deposits which each country seeks to secure for itself. Other resource-rich flashpoints include the Arctic, which is becoming more accessible as polar ice melts; the Falkland Islands; and the Caspian Sea. Klare is also concerned about countries like Mongolia and Afghanistan, where foreign countries are competing for access to valuable mining rights. “This could lead to a pouring-in of resources and military assistance to these resource-rich areas, stirring up conflict and leading to future clashes,” he said.
While he mainly focuses on the current state of resource extraction, Klare also looks ahead. “On another level, it’s about a pivotal moment in human history which I think we’re at, that we are reaching the end of the world’s available resources,” he said, “and if we don’t start planning for a planet that is empty of these things soon and begin to develop alternatives and renewables then we’re going to be in deep trouble.”
For more from Michael Klare, see his interview with Yale Environment 360.
Sources: CIA, CNN, UN.