Wars And Conflicts Over Natural Resources Already Taking Place

(Reporting from Yokohama, Japan)

Imagine that you live a peaceful life on an island that is part of the United States, like Guam or Saipan. Suddenly the Russian government tells you (and the rest of the world) that the island is in fact part of Russia and that it will be taking it over. How would you react? What would the U.S. government do to avoid a takeover of one of its territories? And, what would this sudden move by Russia mean to other countries?

Territorial disputes have taken place throughout history all around the world, specially in war time. A part of a nation suddenly is claimed by another as theirs through conflict. Right now there are dozens and dozens of  these type of disputes happening all around the world: the territory of Azad Kashmir, disputed  by India and Pakistan is perhaps the most well-known. But many disputes are also happening over natural resources.

The likelihood that more territorial disputes will take place in the future is quite high. As nations consume more and more of the natural resources within their boundaries, they are and will be looking elsewhere to get more and they won’t likely be doing it peacefully.

Before the United Nations was established in 1945, hostile takeovers of nations by other powers occurred constantly. Think back to the Roman Empire or the Mongols — or even a few decades ago when Nazi Germany took over whole nations in Europe. History is filled with lots of examples of violent and bloody wars and battles that were fought to expand empires.

Organizations like the U.N. were formed in part to avoid and prevent conflicts between nations. Treaties were signed and everyone was told to get along or face sanctions. But the U.N. has only been able to do so much, these problems continue. The territorial disputes we have now have been mostly off the radar from “world news” sections of newspapers, but they won’t for much longer. Already one major dispute is making daily headlines in Asia: the dispute of the Senkaku Islands between Japan and China. And this one is getting very close to a really nasty war — one that may end up involving the Unites States.


Whose Islands?

Since ancient times the Senkaku Islands have been claimed by Japan. The archipelago is just south of Okinawa and north of Taiwan. Everything was fine and dandy until 1971 when the U.N. released a report stating that the Senkakus were rich in oil and gas reserves. China rushed to claim ownership of the tiny islands and the territorial dispute with Japan began.

In the autumn of 2010, Chinese fishermen that had entered Japanese waters near the Senkakus were stopped and arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard after their boats collided. This incident infuriated both sides — the Chinese government claimed that the fishermen had the right to be in those waters, and the Japanese government defended their actions. Needless to say, the heated debate over who owns the islands erupted into a public outcry in Japan to defend their islands, and in China, to take the islands from Japan.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem have been in vain. At times, both sides were at the brink of fist fights. The most recent meeting between Japanese and Chinese officials happened in early July, where it was clear that the issue may never be solved and that both sides needed to keep their cool to avoid further damaging the ties between the two countries.

Now, similar territorial disputes are happening between China and the Philippines over the Huangyan Island and the Spratly Islands — that archipelago is also rich in oil and gas reserves. Philippine newspapers have been publishing quite desperate stories in an effort to get the attention of the international community on what is happening there.

In recent months, the Chinese have made very bold moves to show that the Huangyan Island is theirs such as letting fishing vessels venture out freely to the island shores. These actions have both infuriated and humiliated the Philippine government and its people.


The American Connection

Both China and Taiwan are involved in about 26 territorial disputes with other countries in Asia. The disputes have been one of the reasons why the United States military continues to maintain its presence in the Pacific aside from the threat posed by North Korea’s erratic and dangerous military stunts.

Both Japan and the Philippines are allies of the United States and there have been times when the U.S. has had to intervene in their conflicts, at least symbolically. In April, when the Philippines and China were in the heat of the dispute over the Huangyan Island, the U.S. military held maritime exercises with the Philippines — a move that angered China.

Maritime exercises between the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific send a clear message to hostile powers looking to make trouble, something in the line of: “Don’t even think about it.” But as the U.S. pulls back troops from the region, these hostile powers seem to be getting more “ballsy” in their attempt to seek areas with more natural resources. This puts in danger the weaker military of nations like Japan, which signed a peace treaty after World War II promising to dramatically shrink its military budget and power. In fact, without the U.S. military presence in Japan, the country would be quite vulnerable in any military conflict.


Going After Natural Resources 

A report published by the International Crisis Group, an NGO with a focus on international conflict, cited that one of the  goals of the Chinese government is to exercise its sovereignty on the South China Sea and have access to natural resources. Here is a quote from the report:

In addition to a desire to protect sovereign territorial integrity, much of the attention on the South China Sea stems from the region’s abundant natural resources and strategic location.

But China won’t be the only industrialized nation seeking to  secure the natural resources it needs to keep its economy going. As these type of nations continue on the path of constant and unchecked consumption, their oil and gas will run out. Minerals used to make electronics will be more and more difficult to find. Access to clean water will be diminished, so what would be left to do?

Certainly all things come to an end and our natural resources are going to run out. This situation will put us back to what the world was before organizations like the U.N. existed. We may once again engage in colonization and territorial disputes that end up as occupations. Our quest for natural resources will be bloody and if we don’t come up with the technology to replace fossil fuels or to purify water in large quantities so that we have enough to drink and for plant irrigation, we’ll be in big trouble.

What is happening in Asia is a wake up call to the rest of the world. The international conflicts that you think are far away from you may soon be right on your backyard. The quest for people and nations to seek greener pastures takes place in many different ways. Some come as exoduses of people moving from poorer countries to richer ones, and others as complete takeovers. In any case, the world is on a race to fight for what is left, if the bombs don’t fall first.

Photo Credit: The Commons

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9 Responses to Wars And Conflicts Over Natural Resources Already Taking Place

  1. Gilbert Mercier
    +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    July 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Good article, Dolores. But I would say that wars and conflicts have always been mainly about natural resources. It was the case during the European colonial era, with the conquest of the Americas, and later of Africa by the British and French empires. With a sinister twist in the case of Africa where human beings were turned into slaves to become a “natural resource” as free labor for the New World. The same can be said of course for Iraq (oil) and Afghanistan- lithium and yes sadly enough opium.

    But Dolores, you cannot blame China for flexing its muscles in the region. After all, the American empire has been doing this since 1945. And no, you cannot portray the United States as a “benign force” in the region. A lot of people in the Philippines want the US military out, the same goes for South Korea and, yes, Japan. China is a power on the rise, and if they are now seeking a rapprochement with Russia, it is precisely to counter balance the power of the United States in South East Asia and elsewhere.

    • Vote -1 Vote +1Suzuki
      July 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

      Japanese want Americans out, but we have not enough army so we need to grow a big army again. China and north Korea don’t like Japan. We must defend.

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Anthony1223
    July 16, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    “The Tiaoyu Islands (Senkaku Island) are China’s Territory”

    by Kiyoshi Inoue
    Professor of History department
    Kyoto University, Japan

    Sun Saitama, Japan’s former Ministry of Foreign Affairs International Intelligence, explained that China’s military influence in the 14th century had extended to the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent waters, while the Diaoyu Islands belong to Taiwan, Taiwan belongs to China, that is, the Diaoyu Islands is China’s territory.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Suzuki
    July 16, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    The Senkaku are of Japan, always. China makes up history to abuse power.

  4. Gilbert Mercier
    +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    July 16, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Suzuki, with all due respect, both China and Korea (South and North) would have some big issues with a substantial re-militarization of Japan. Nobody in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam etc has yet forgotten the atrocities committed by Japan’s imperial army from 1936 until 1945. Koreans will not soon forget the “comfort women” and China will not forget the atrocities of Manchuria either. So, it is a very tricky balancing act.

  5. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Maria Odete Madeira
    July 17, 2012 at 4:49 am

    What a complication: Cybercapitalism/CyberImperium (Type I Civilization?! (Kardashev)), Nation State Imperia: US Imperium, Chinese Imperium, Russia Imperium…, d’oh! All playing in the competitive pool trying for a zero-sum game: for me to live, you must die! What is the final feeding of the nascent Type I Civilization? The Nation States of course! The end of the Nation States!

    And, to complicate things, we have Nuclear Power as a power of the cyberimperium and of the Nation State Imperia…, where’s God? If god exists please come, but leave the biblical weapons in the Eden and bring a homeopathic Christ, for some illusionist peace!

  6. -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Marty Morris
    July 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    The truth is that anyone who doesn’t live in the Pacific doesn’t know what China is becoming. The capitalism practiced in the “communist” nation is of the worst kind. You think the US is a monster, well wait until Chinese corporations reign the world. You’ll look back and think CocaCola was a saint. The world doesn’t yet know what atrocitious and merciless capitalism is. Come to China and look at what the future will look like.


  7. Gilbert Mercier
    +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Gilbert Mercier
    July 18, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Marty, The world knows all too well what “merciless capitalism” is. Cannibalistic capitalism, as Liam Fox- one of our editors- branded it started in the United States not in China. Since the Chinese revolution, the only country that has suffered from China’s imperialism is Tibet. In the case of the United States, it is across the globe.
    But, I think that the main points here, to echo what Maria wrote, is that national imperialism either from the US, China or Russia is on its way out and what we are in the process of becoming- unless it can be undone by a global revolution- is a transnational corporate imperialist system.

  8. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Maria Odete Madeira
    July 19, 2012 at 3:46 am

    I think, Gilbert, that if we place us, as observers, in a panoptic Laplacian scene, then we can perceive some sort of territorial emergence of a locality by synthesis of a globality’s nonlocality.

    That is: we can now talk about a cybernetic transglobalization, in which the local social webs are weakened by paradigmatic integration in a systemic holistic in which the game takes place between the systemic nonlocality and the locality by synthesis.

    This becomes something like an expansion of a god that by nature is omnipresent, but comes to be present by synthesis of his omnipresence (a bit Hegelian, Marxian and Gigerian?! Perhaps!), this is tremendous because the parts of the system are constituted by the nonlocality of the system itself, that is, the parts of a god without parts, and what happens to the AgentCreatures such as Nation States, People, Species, etc…?! They do not count for the game, they are a sort of extras that limit themselves to contemplate the god playing the game with himself.

    At this juncture, to speak of Nations, National Politics,…, ok it serves to entertain us, to delude ourselves, it is important to keep the hope, but the truth is that we have enacted, with the help of our technological development, a monster even fatter than Plotinus’ Unus. We are left with the hope that it happens as with Plotinus’ Unus, a piece falls off and that it is the better piece. Well, Plotinus’ Unus was radically good, but the capitalism…, whatever! We can no longer go back! We, now, need to survive without losing our dignity…