Recent discoveries of oil in some African countries have rekindled a debate about its place in development and international politics. The debate has pitched those viewing oil as a catalyst for development and a more assertive Africa in global politics against others who point to the negative impact of oil on older established African oil-producing states. Oil as a highly priced geopolitical and strategic commodity will for the foreseeable future shape relations between African petro-states and other global actors, particularly international oil companies and energy-dependent established and emerging global powers. The structural position of specific African petro-states in the global political economy and history, and the nature of their leadership, are defining factors in the diverse aspects of local and international politics, including the prospects for development and a more assertive Africa in international politics.
Francisco J. Monaldi
Latin America has seen recurrent episodes of resource nationalism, particularly in oil and gas, characterized by increased state control over the industry and investment expropriation. These episodes tend to occur in cycles induced by structural forces, in particular high resource prices and the end of successful investment cycles, increasing production and reserves. State-owned enterprises tend to play a dominant role in the region, which is magnified during the resource nationalism episodes. During such episodes, governments increase taxes and renege on contracts with private investors. Ideology and institutions can limit or exacerbate the intensity of these events in each country, but the cycle is largely driven by the structural factors. The reverse occurs with resource price busts and when a new investment cycle is needed, countries liberalize the oil sector and the state retreats. Between 2002 and 2012, the production boost produced by the liberalizations of the 1990s, combined with the oil price boom, led to a powerful wave of resource nationalism, including contract renegotiations and nationalizations, in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Even in Brazil, the country with the most successful and stable oil policy in the region, state-control increased. In contrast, after 2014, a new liberalization period has been prompted throughout the region by the decline in commodity prices, the financial weakness of state-owned companies, and the need for a new private investment cycle. Understanding the dynamics behind resource nationalism in the region is crucial for designing institutional frameworks that limit the cycles and induce long term resource policies that foster the development of the abundant resource endowments in the region.
Vally Koubi and Gabriele Spilker
What is the relationship between resource scarcity and abundance, on the one hand, and intrastate conflict, on the other? Under what conditions do natural resources cause conflict? Which types of resources can better predict the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict? These questions and other related questions are needed to discuss how renewable as well as non-renewable resources influence the onset, intensity, and duration of intrastate conflict. In particular, there are two strands of the literature: the first strand deals with renewable resources, such as water, cropland, forests, fish stocks, etc., and examines how the scarcity of such resources leads to resource completion and subsequently to a greater risk of conflict. In this context, it also discusses the more recent literature on climate change and conflict. The second strand deals with non-renewable resources that tend to have a high value-to-weight ratio, such as fossil fuels and minerals, and evaluates how abundance of such resources affects potential “greed” and “grievance” motives of rebels to take up arms as well as a state’s capacity to put down a rebellion, both of which can lead to civil conflicts. Overall, with the exception of the very recent empirical work on climate change as a “threat multiplier,” the bulk of the empirical evidence provides non-robust and often even contradictory results and thus does not allow for a clear-cut conclusion: while some studies support the link between resource scarcity/abundance and armed conflict, others find no or only weak links. The inconclusiveness of the results might be due to various factors, such as the inability/failure of the extant literature to adequately address the mechanisms via which resource scarcity and abundance could lead to conflict as well as which types of natural resources, including climatic changes, matter most. Moreover, empirical studies differ with regard to the type of conflict under study, ranging from violence against the government (civil wars [1,000 deaths], civil conflict [25 deaths], and low-intensity conflict [protests and riots]) to intercommunal violence (conflict that occurs between competing groups within a state), the operationalization and/or measurement of the types of resource scarcity and abundance, and the appropriate level of analysis (individual, household, subnational, national).
Transboundary haze pollution originating from fires in Southern Southeast Asia affects about half of the countries in Southeast Asia with varied intensities on an almost annual basis. Haze not only affects visibility but also causes widespread health problems, transportation disruptions, and other socioeconomic issues. This haze and the fires that cause it have been a key topic for environmental politics research in the region since the late 1990s. This has largely been driven by one overarching objective: how to prevent haze from returning in the following years. However, conditions on the ground (mostly in Indonesia and in the larger Southeast Asian region) have been changing and evolving drastically, which has resulted in a dynamic research agenda that has to keep up. Within the context of environmental politics, fires and haze can be viewed through the broad lens of national interest. There is a strong link between the severity of haze and the burgeoning agribusiness sector in the region: that of oil palm in particular. Oil palm is a very important crop in the region, with Indonesia and Malaysia generating almost 90% of total global palm oil output. Hence, national and business interest theories have often been used as a framework for research in this area, with commercial oil palm plantations often being the unit of analysis. However, this has been called to question lately as these plantations face increasing market pressure to act more sustainably. A new group of actors that have since been highlighted are smallholders, either independent or in contract with larger plantations. There is potentially much to be uncovered with regard to the relationships between smallholders and commercial plantations and how they affect patterns of fire use and global sustainability issues. Related to this is the ever-evolving collection of local, regional, and national policies (and related enforcement issues) on land and fire use in Indonesia. One key area of contention is the use of peatlands. Fires on peat produce the thick, sooty smoke that travels across national boundaries, and they are notoriously hard to put out. Political research in this area is heavily framed by a tough debate between the scientific community and socioeconomic concerns. While peatlands play an important role in the global climate change balance, they also face immense pressure for development fueled by the scarcity of land. The regional context has also been an important theme for haze research. Haze primarily affects the Southern Southeast Asian subregion, and the major players of the palm oil sector come from this area. The Indonesian palm oil sector is a vibrant combination of Malaysian, Singaporean, and local companies. And the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been the hub of cooperation and mitigation activities over haze. Hence, many scholars have searched for answers at the regional level. However, new national developments, such as Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act, suggest that countries may be losing confidence in regional efforts.