In This Review

Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict
Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict
By Michael T. Klare
Henry Holt, 2001, 277 pp.

In a world seemingly awash with ethnic and sectarian strife, the author reminds readers that many of these clashes are over natural resources, especially oil, water, timber, and minerals such as diamonds. These conflicts often appear to be ethnic -- and indeed may have evolved into such -- but they risk misinterpretation if scholars ignore their origins in resource disputes. Oil dominates the book, but Klare also discusses the river systems where human demands press against limited supplies (the Nile, Jordan, Tigris-Euphrates, and Indus) as well as conflicts over timber rights and minerals in Africa and Southeast Asia. He forecasts increasing conflict in resource-rich Africa, where sales of raw materials finance mercenaries and purchases of foreign weapons. To reduce international engagement, the author proposes the creation of new international agencies focused on preventing conflict and allocating resources in periods of temporary scarcity, if necessary. Yet he fails to inform readers exactly how such agencies would accomplish their aims.

Most resource-based conflict occurs in very poor countries with weak governments that often align with foreign companies to market their resources globally. Only now are societies starting to recognize that a country's most vital resource is its people, not its natural endowments. But as the author rightly concludes, human development takes time and social order -- and short-term calculation will too often dominate the present and would-be leaders of poor countries.