Focus on Resources

“Rare minerals. Food and water. Arable soil. Air-cleansing forests.

In the intellectual heart of the American military and policy-making world, these are emerging not just as environmental issues, but as the potential stuff of conflict in the 21st century.

In some ways, the role of resources in shaping conflict is nothing new. Much as the Spanish conquistadors sought gold, Saddam Hussein fought for Kuwait’s oil. And downstream lands have long worried that neighbors will limit water flowing in the Nile, Euphrates and Jordan.

Now a new field of systematic study is opening within research centers, the Pentagon and intelligence institutions. It assumes that the 21st century will be shaped not just by competitive economic growth, but also by potentially disruptive scarcities — depletion of minerals; desertification of land; pollution or overuse of water; weather changes that kill fish and farms.

National security experts have begun to label such factors threats to ‘natural securityand to study them, often alongside environmental or advocacy groups. A basic question frames their thinking: What are the new relationships among resources, diplomacy, crisis and conflict?

Senior military and intelligence officials who focus on ‘natural security’ issues say the Obama administration has shown a greater understanding of the subtleties than its predecessor, in part because it does not challenge basic assumptions about the harmful impact of climate change.

‘But the issues are so complex, the number of actors and the uncertainties are high,’ the senior American intelligence officer said. ‘So the analysis is still speculative. It makes planning much harder and preventive action much harder.’ ”

See article at: NYT 12Dec10: “Why We Might Fight, 2011 Edition”