Kemp, Geoffrey
January 1978
Foreign Affairs;Jan1978, Vol. 56 Issue 2, p396
The article examines significant issues related to the use of military force in securing available economic resources. 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. 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. And on the question of which scarce resources are the most important, if history provides any lesson at all, it is the difficulty of predicting exactly where the most critical future shortages will come and what the strategic and economic implications will be. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the most important strategic material was the coal needed to fuel the navies and railways of the world.


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