Courtesy Reuters

Scarcity and Strategy

After a generation of taking the availability of resources for granted, awareness of the politics of scarcity has mushroomed since the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 and the ensuing oil embargo. Clearly, access to resources such as oil, food, minerals and fresh water is now high on the agenda of global issues to be faced in the years ahead.1

As to its political aspects, more gloomy observers cite the apparent growth in the number of incidents involving the use of military force over such access, which they see as one aspect of a new mercantilism involving protectionism and trade wars. They stress the increasing vulnerability of Western oil supplies to physical interruption and price increases engineered by Third World suppliers; the effects of rapid population growth and high prices upon the economic viability and food supplies of the very poor countries; the scramble for the offshore resources of the world's oceans; and, most basically, the sporadic outbreak of actual fighting over resources in recent years and the tremendous increase in arms sales to states that seek, in large part, to protect their resources and access routes.

To more optimistic observers, the emerging patterns of economic interdependence between industrial and less-industrial states, and between communist and non-communist states, are seen as trends that may help to reduce, rather than intensify, the long-term prospects of economic and military conflict. They argue that the problems of "scarcity" will change shape over time and that the present dependencies upon oil are neither necessary nor inevitable; that the dire neo-Malthusian predictions of the "population explosion" made in the early 1970s have not come to pass; that the U.N. Law of the Sea Conference will eventually impose some order upon the new maritime era; and that military skirmishes to date have been more than offset by the rapid expansion of trade and other cooperative ventures between a very disparate group of suppliers and consumers.

Regardless of whose predictions turn out to be more accurate, what can be argued

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