Courtesy Reuters

Raw Materials and Foreign Policy

THE need for more raw materials has been put forward by various powerful governments as a reason for seeking territorial expansion, colonial or otherwise. In the immense literature to which these claims have given rise there is a general tendency -- whether among statesmen, journalists or economists -- to oversimplify the issues.

The political leaders of the claimant countries present the problem as one of mere possession or non-possession. This contrast they dramatize for their peoples by comparing the poverty of the "have-not" nations with the rich resources of the "haves." The journalists have most of them come to regard the issue as a natural cause for conflict between states. The discovery that the distribution of political control over raw material supplies differs from the distribution of population and military power has been accepted by them as at least justifying the inevitability of attempts, even by force, to lessen this discrepancy. Among economists, the question is generally regarded as created almost entirely by political passions without any particular reference to economic welfare or even to considerations of military advantage.

My object here is not to attempt an exhaustive analysis of this much-discussed subject. I shall rather confine myself to pointing out the complex nature of some of the issues involved and the relationships that exist between them.


In the past, governments often sought to extend their control over new territories in order to gain possession of the raw materials they contained. Yet even before the World War there was widespread doubt as to whether the advantages of such acquisitions really outweighed the disadvantages. The liabilities involved in the political control of territories not contiguous to the homeland had already become evident. At the same time, the advantages of unrestricted international trade as a means for each nation to secure raw materials and other products were receiving ever wider recognition. The problem of the availability of raw material supplies for each and every country was therefore coming to be regarded as

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