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Master of Science in International Relations

(MSc. IR)


Contemporary Strategic Studies (MIR512)







13 APRIL 2015

In contemporary times natural resources have become a curse to the fabric of international
security. Where they are not effective utilised natural resources have the potential to become
a source of insecurity. Both the abundance and the scarcity of these natural resources have
become a major issue to international security. Some of the factors that justifies the curse of
natural resources include the fact that they have been used to fund armed conflicts, a major
source of funding for terrorism, exacerbated corruption in most countries, led to the massive
violations of human rights and fuelled neo-colonialism. All the facts cited above usually
manifests where there is resource abundance. On the other hand, resource scarcity has also
fuelled insecurity where the international scene has witnessed many threats being witnessed.
These include conflicts that have emanated over competition and the need to control
resources and conflicts over inequitable distribution of these resources. All these factors have
actually threated both human and military security. However, it has to be noted that where
natural resources are used wisely security is actually to be reinforced. This is largely because
they are going to be utilised to the overall well-being of everyone and for good purposes that
enhance both human and military security thereby removing all threats to security.
It is in line to the above that this paper seeks to unfold how natural resources can either be a
negative source for security or a positive. Negative in the sense that if not wisely utilised they
will be insecurity and positive in the sense that if widely utilised security maybe reinforced.
For the purposes of theoretical frame, various theories maybe utilised and these are the greed
and grievance theory, the natural resource curse theory, resource scarcity and conflict theory.
These three theories will go a long way in bringing insight to this essay.
Before the writer goes deeper to the notion at hand it is very significant to first come up with operational
definitions that are going to guide this critical assessment. Firstly, what are natural resources? An answer
is provided by the Online Oxford Dictionary natural resources are defined as
materials or substances occurring in nature which can be exploited for economic gain. Ibid. defines a

threat as a person or thing likely to cause damage or danger. A blessing is a beneficial thing for which
one is grateful. What is important is to now define what security is? The wider approach to security
defined the term in a narrower sense, by highlighting that security refers to the absence of military threat to
a state (Baldwin, 1997). The traditional approach to securitisation is more state centric and emphasises
more on issues to do with state sovereignty. Scholars argue that the understanding of security is intricate
and an ambiguous symbol (Rumaguru, 1993:p3). The concept of security is regarded as complicated
value laden, normative, emotive and relative and this prompts the political military approach. The state of
nature according to Hobbes is at war of all against all. Buzan (1997) states that the issue of security
triggers questions like who defines security all how much security is enough. Security is defined as the
ability of national states to protect its internal core values. It is from the last statement that the wider
approach to security dwells. According to Wolfers (1952:483), defines security as, the absence of threats
to acquired values. Of which this definition was later reformulated by Baldwin (1997: 13), to define
security as a low probability of damage to acquired values. These acquired values may include these
factors, military, economic, social and food security.
For purposes of theoretical framework, this paper is going to be premised along two or three theoretical
perspectives. These are the Traditional Malthusian theory, Marxist theory, Homer-Dixon theory and the
Schnaiberg and Gould theory. These are the theoretical perspectives that can be very useful to this study.
Traditional Malthusian theory suggests thatdue to population growthhuman consumption needs will
eventually exceed the availability of natural resources (particularly food), causing a myriad of negative
social outcomes like war, disease, and famine (Malthus: 1798). From this first theory conflict is largely
emanating from resource scarcity that would have been propelled by over consumption as a result of
population growth. On the other hand the Marxist theory as highlighted by Green (2005:02), Theories in
the Marxist tradition have emphasized the conflicts of interest between groups with more or less control
and ownership of natural resources. These approaches argue that free markets create such great disparities
between the haves and the have-nots that social conflict is inevitable. In other words, it is natural
resources that make the world divided into classes- those who manage to accumulate natural resources
versus the poor who could not accumulate wealth- that eventually make conflict inevitable between the

Another theory that is worth putting into cognisance is the Homer-Dixon theory. According to ibid, T. F.
Homer-Dixon (1999) claims that natural resource scarcity can cause conflicts due to its social effects. His
conclusion, based on more than a decade of research on environmental causes of acute conflict, is that
natural resource scarcity can cause conflict indirectly through its negative social consequences. The
negative consequences of natural resource scarcity may include human migration and expulsion,
receptivity to insurgency, decreased economic productivity, and a weakened state. The Schnaiberg and
Gould theory is a theory that within environmental sociology. According to ibid. 3, Schnaiberg and Gould
have posited a conflict oriented theoretical approach that specifies why groups may dispute natural
resource issues. To quote the words of Schnaiberg and Gould (1994:234), The wide variation between
the levels and types of ecological damage inflicted by the nations of the world guarantees that nations will
come into conflict with one another over solutions to global environmental problems. Similarly, the wide
variation among nations in terms of the distribution of benefits received from ecosystem withdrawals and
additions will also necessitate conflict in the international arena.

The above theoretical perspective from which the issue at hand can be best understood have
given rise to two basic concepts which are Natural resource conflict and Natural resource
scarcity. The former is interpreted by Green (2005: 04) in the following words, Natural
resource conflict can be broadly defined as a dispute between groups who are competing for
the control over, use of, or responsibility for natural resources. Natural resource conflicts
may take up many forms which may include legal and political challenges; civil
confrontations which may in some cases are violent clashes. Natural resource scarcity is
defined by ibid as the extent to which valuable natural resources, like water, land, and fuel,
are available for use by individuals. It is also fundamental to note that natural resources can
be either non-renewable or renewable. Non-renewable resources can be said to be scarcer if
they have been used up and are now limited or absolutely diminished. Whilst renewable
resources are said to be scarcer when they can no longer sustain the population. This will
eventually lead to massive competition to control these resources which will eventually lead
to conflict within the society.

The notion that natural resources have become a threat to international security can be
assessed against the backdrop of international fresh water conflicts that are adamant in both
history and contemporary times. According to Schiffler (1998), Because water is a valuable
resource, which frequently crosses political borders, the right to exploit water resources has
often come into dispute. Dispute over water resources emanates from the fact that most
countries have got sources of their water from rivers that do not originate within their
borders. This has exacerbated conflict between and among nations. This can be bets situated
within the theoretical perspective of scarcity. A case study may be that of the Middle East.
According to Green (2005: 08), Inequitable distribution of water in places where water is
scarce may also increase the likelihood of conflict. Since rivers and aquifers do not respect
international borders, it is often the case that countries receive much of their water from a
river source that does not originate within their own borders.
Further to the above, empirical evidence may be derived from the confrontation between
Egypt and Ethiopia in the 1970s. Egypt had begun plans for distributing some of the Nile
waters with those living in the Sinai Peninsula and conceivably Palestine. Ethiopia responded
that this would be a misuse of the Egyptian share of the Nile waters. Egypt also made a
further response to the plea of Ethiopia. According to Biswas et al (1997:25), Anwar Sadat,
the Egyptian premier replied that, any state that tampered with Egypts water supply would
risk a military response. This is a clear example that illustrates how inequitable distribution
of natural resources and competition over those natural resources can fuel disputes and
conflicts, thereby making natural resources a threat to international security.
Another assessment that can be made is that proceeds from natural resources can be used to
support and fund armed conflict thereby making them a threat to international security.
According to the United Nations Report (2006: 07), Natural resources have been shown to
play a key role in the conflicts that have plagued a number of African countries over the last

decade, both motivating and fuelling armed conflicts. Revenues from the exploitation of
natural resources are not only used for sustaining armies but also for personal enrichment and
building political support. A very good case study can be derived from the Angolan Civil
War that plunged the country soon after its independence in 1974 up to 2002. According to
ibid. In Angola, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unio Nacional
para a Independncia Total de Angola, UNITA) financed its war largely through the taxation
and encouragement of the illicit trade in diamonds from the mid-1990s until the war ended in
2002. The civil war killed thousands of people and Jonas Savimbi who was the leader of
Angola managed to prolong his rebellion through his grip on some diamonds mines in the
country and illicit trading in these diamonds. This is not only the country that that saw armed
conflicts being funded from natural resources. The civil wars in Angola, Colombia,
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, and Sierra Leone are often cited as examples
of this dynamic. Hence, one can critically assess that natural resources can be a potential
threat to international security.
Natural resources have also fuelled corruption in many countries thereby minimising the
human security of those countries and having spill over effects to other neighbouring
countries thereby becoming a threat to international security. This vice is usually associated
with governments of resource-rich states. According to ibid. Too often, government control
of important resources and the revenues that flow from those resources goes hand- in-hand
with endemic corruption, a culture of impunity, weak rule of law, and inequitable distribution
of public resources. Such governments are usually associated with massive human rights of
their populations and impoverished populations as money from natural resources end up in
the hands of a few elites. The World Bank classifies such governments as Predator
Autocracies. Angola in the late 1990 can be cited as a case study. According to the UN
Report (2006: 52), The government of Angola, largely dependent on oil during the latter

years of its war with UNITA, is one example of such an unaccountable, predatory state
However, this conflict had been transformed into a low intensity conflict by the end of 1998,
and the government of Angola increasingly took on the attributes of a predatory state. During
the last years of the war, huge sums of money simply unaccountably disappeared from
government coffers, and the population grew ever more impoverished.
Moreover, to the above, this corruption saw the larger population becoming impoverished
thereby posing a danger to the human security of these people. This usually has got spill over
effects to other neighbouring countries as people are likely to migrate to other countries in
their search of greener pastures and good standards of living. This put the whole security of
the international arena on the limelight. Hence, due to the fact that natural resources can
contribute to corruption that jeopardises the human security of populations, one can safely
concur that natural resources are just but a potential threat to international security.
Another factor that highlights or supports natural resources as a threat to international
security is that they propel the exploitation of many poor countries that are resource endowed
by wealth industrialised countries. This can be best explained within the auspices of the
Marxist theoretical perspective. Baran (1957) highlights how in the dependency systems how
wealthy nations exploit other countries for their natural resources. Cases studies are adamant
through the colonial periods whereby a whole lot of the world citizens security was
threatened by the need by the advanced capitalist countries of the West to obtain natural
resources for their industries. This move threated the lives of third world populations in
almost every facet be it political, economic, social etcetera.
Building from the above, they is a general belief among certain scholars that wars that are
being witnessed today are as a result of finding a proper way to exploit natural resources. One
such scholar concluded that where there is conflict there is easy access to resources. The

United States involvement in many countries under the pretext to fight terror has been
questioned by many analysts who view natural resources as the major reason behind.
Ebrahim (2013:15) argues that The consequences of the American invasion of Iraq have
meant that by 2006 the USA was already receiving twenty-two per cent of its oil from Africa,
and by 2007 US oil imports from Africa eclipsed its imports from the Persian Gulf. The
fastness of the United States in Libya was also seen as a mechanism to create conflict in the
North African rich in oil country such that USA firms may benefit. Hence, due to the fact that
most international wars are being fuelled as a way to have unhindered access to natural
resources, it can be assessed that natural resources are a threat to international security.
Proceeds from natural resources have also been used to fund terrorism thereby resulting in
natural resources becoming a threat to international security. According to Cilliers (2003),
To confine the debate in Africa to statistics that seek to calculate instances of international
terrorism would, however, do a terrible injustice to Africans. Terrorism in Africa is
widespread. It is overwhelmingly of a domestic, sub-state nature that kills, mains and affects
millions of people. Many latter day insurgent movements and government forces have
adopted practices that rely heavily on the use of fear and terror. These include UNITA and
RENAMO in Angola and Mozambique, the Mai Mai, Lords Resistance Army, the LURD,
MODEL, and so on. The list is almost endless. Some of the groups mentioned above that
have inflicted terror on citizens of their particular countries managed to fund their operations
mainly because of their grip on certain natural resources. According to Dzinesa (2013:02),
RENAMO has managed to prolong its terror and war efforts mainly because the leader
Alfonso Dlakhama has mines that are under his jurisdiction.
However, on the other hand although natural resources can be a threat to international
security, a critical assessment of the notion will reveal that if used wisely natural resource can
actually increase international security. An increase of international security herein means

that security will be reinforced. This is possible if natural resources are utilised in a way that
is to benefit everyone. An equitable distribution of natural resource can be a blessing to
international security. Botswana has proved this point. In 1966, when Botswana gained its
independence, it was one of the world's poorest countries. One year later, diamonds were
discovered in Botswana's Kalahari Desert. According to Hannen (2011), More than 50% of
the profits go to the state and the government of Botswana not only has the political will to
redistribute these profits equitably; it also has well-functioning institutions, democratic
structures and according to Transparency International the lowest level of corruption in
sub-Saharan Africa. This is a clear example of how natural resource can be used to enhance
human security.
A critical analysis gives incite to the fact that natural resources can foster cooperation among
nation-states of the world. Particular reference can be made to water resources, specifically
the sea. States have managed to foster cooperation among themselves over sea resources.
This can be seen through the law of the sea. According to Shaw (2008:553), The seas were
at one time thought capable of subjection to national sovereignties. The Portuguese in
particular in the seventeenth century proclaimed huge tracts of the high seas as part of their
territorial domain. This fuelled grudges and conflict among nation states but today the
states of the world now agree that these natural resources should be utilised for the benefit of
everyone. This has saw the coming into being of the Law of the Sea Convention that try to
benefit all nation-states of the world be they land locked or not include the following:
freedom of navigation on the high seas and freedom to use them as a communication
mechanism. Hence, natural resources are a blessing in that they have fostered cooperation
among states thereby limiting chances of them conflicting.
Therefore in the final assessment, this paper tried to come up with a critical assessment of
how natural resources can be a potential threat and or blessing to international security. The

essayist argued mainly that natural resources are a threat. This has been shown through the
theoretical perspective of the Traditional Malthusian theory, Marxist theory, Homer-Dixon
theory and the Schnaiberg and Gould theory. How they are a threat was shown through the
following factors, they have been used to fund armed conflicts, a major source of funding for
terrorism, exacerbated corruption in most countries, led to the massive violations of human
rights and fuelled neo-colonialism. However, it has been critically analysed that natural
resources if used wisely can be used to maintain international security through being used to
enhance the economic being of the world populations and they have also been used to foster
cooperation among states.

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