The Geography of Resource Wars
- Philippe Le BillonPhilippe Le BillonDepartment of Geography, University of British Columbia
“Resource wars” refer to the linkages between armed conflict and access to natural resources.Geographically, these wars are frequently represented through world maps of “strategic resources,” combining the physical scarcity and non-substitutability of resources with their uneven spatial distribution and relative geopolitical location to pinpoint “hot-spots.” Yet perspectives on the links between war and resources are much broader than the continuation of resource policies through the use of military force. Similarly, the geographical dimensions of, and geographical perspectives on, these links are more diverse than maps of “strategic” materials. Classical geopolitical perspectives have most frequently linked the concept of resource war to interstate conflicts over the supply of strategic resources, giving way to a narrow and militaristic notion of “resource security.” To explain potential relations between resources and wars, political economy perspectives have articulated three main arguments about resources: an institutional weakening effect increasing vulnerability to conflict, a motivational effect increasing the risk of armed conflict, and an opportunity effect associated with resources financing belligerents. The other set of perspectives originates from political science and development economics studies, and is based on the assumption that the significance of resources in wars is largely rooted in questions of resource scarcity, abundance, or dependence.