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.
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