The Coming Resource Wars

Question: Will we see more wars over resources?

Michael Klare:
Well were in the midst of many conflicts over resources today and I do believe they will be more of them and they will become more fears with time, that is partly because resources themselves are becoming more scarce, because population is growing, but also because global warming will make many of these resources more scarce and the effects will become more severe and things like water will start running out. For example, in Africa there is a very severe conflict underway in the Niger Delta area of southern Nigeria, this is a conflict between the people of the Niger delta. This is where most of the oil is extracted for producing most of Nigeria’s oil. Most of the money from that oil goes to the central government and the Abuja, the capital, that is were the elites that have ruled to Nigeria are located. Very little of the money from that oil goes back to the people in the Niger delta most of who live on a dollar a day, unemployment is 70% or more, the people are desperate and they have reason in revolt against central government. Now, what they are demanding is that more of the oil rents the revenues from oil production come back to them and it’s a ugly war, lot of sabotage, attacks on government facilities, kidnapping of oil company personal. So, I would say there is conflict underway there today. And the United States is involved indirectly, because we provide arms to the Nigerian government. We have military advisers over there. So, in this sense there are conflicts underway already. When you talk about water, there are disputes of all kinds underway within country so far, we don’t hear a lot about these conflicts, but I think that wars over water will become much more severe in the coming decades. Now, let us look Darfur. Darfur, everybody knows about Darfur. This is a extreme humanitarian disaster. Now, the conflict in Darfur has many causes, there are disputes between the government and the rabble forces that are trying to gain were control over the area of Darfur. So, there is a political side to this dispute, but behind the role is the fact that with global warming, the area is becoming dryer and the people who heard cattle that is one of the traditional sources of income in the area, those people are finding harder and harder to feed their cattle, they are intruding into the areas of farmers and they are finding farming harder and harder, because there is less and less rainfall, as less water. So, there is also a resource to mention to that conflict, a water dimensions to that conflict. Pitting the pastoralists, the cattle herders against the farmers and to some degree on one side the government is backing the pastoralists, the rabbles are backing the farmers, so these two things are intermeshed in Darfur. And I think that is the way many of the conflicts in the future will look. They wont be either role, there will be a mixture of ethnic and religious disputes on one hand and resource disputes on the other.

Question: Where will the flashpoints be?

Michael Klare: Well when we talking about energy, we are talking primarily about the Middle East, the Caspian Sea basin of the former Soviet Union and Africa, those are the places where oil is most concentrated and where the conflicts who become more intense. Other sources of energy that are in dispute are natural gas. Natural gas is pretty much found in the same locations as oil. Uranium, now it is also going to becomes scares, as we shift more to nuclear power and there is greater emphasize on nuclear power these days that means the demand for uranium is going to go up, uranium is a lot of that is in Central Asia and in Africa, so those will be sites of likely conflict. Now, when we are talking about water that is going to be focusing on areas that are very dry, here we are talking about North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, but also in Central America, parts of Latin America, even conceivably in the United States.

Recorded: 3/14/08


Will we see more wars over resources? Where will they happen?

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Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

Image: SRF
Strange Maps
  • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
  • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
  • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).

Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.

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