The independent resource on global security

2. Resources and armed conflict

Summary

In the past two decades the relationship between natural resources and conflict risk has re-emerged as a key issue in international security. The current debate about the linkage between natural resources and the onset, duration and termination of conflicts around the globe focuses on three distinct perspectives: economic theories of violence; environmental factors, especially linked to climate change, as risk multipliers for conflict; and resource geopolitics.

These approaches highlight the direct and indirect ways that resource issues can cause conflict. For example, both resource scarcity and resource dependence can interact with social and institutional vulnerabilities to create the conditions for conflict. Key elements of this include informal or illicit trade and violent criminal groups pursuing illegal exploitation of and trade in natural resources. National over-dependence on natural resource revenues is also closely associated with state weakness, even failure, producing conditions under which armed groups can emerge.

The rise of dynamic and large consumer markets in Asia—principally China and India—has also raised the priority of resource issues on the international security agenda. Record levels of demand and commodity prices have led international organizations, governments, businesses and civil society to launch various initiatives designed to mitigate the interactions between resource issues and conflict. Other responses include the creation of conflict monitoring and early warning systems and efforts to incorporate resource management into peacebuilding agendas.

Several high-level initiatives have been established to regulate illegal resource trade, most notably the Kimberley Process for ‘conflict diamonds’. Provisions in national legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, are designed to obstruct trade in ‘conflict resources’. However, efforts to manage the different aspects of natural resources and their relationship to conflict and security—notably the effort to regulate trade while still ensuring market access—have highlighted the complex balance required in such initiatives. Thus, more effective global resource governance frameworks should be part of the international effort to weaken and eventually break the links between resources and conflict.

 

 

Dr Neil Melvin (United Kingdom) is Director of the SIPRI Armed Conflict and Conflict Management Programme.

Ruben de Koning (Netherlands) is a member of the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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