Interview with Professor Michael T. Klare: “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources”

Interview with Professor Michael T. Klare: “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources”

As Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), we conducted an interview with Michael T. Klare, a Five Colleges Professor of Peace and World Security Studies, whose department is located at Hampshire College. Klare also teaches at Amherst CollegeSmith College, Mount Holyoke College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a position he has held since 1985. He also serves as Director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies. Professor Klare has written widely on international peace and security, energy policy, and resource politics.  His most recent books include Resource Wars (2001), Blood and Oil (2005), Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (2008), and The Race for What’s Left (2012). He is the defense correspondent for The Nation magazine and has contributed to many other publications, including Current History, Foreign Affairs, Le Monde Diplomatique, The New York Times Sunday Review, Newsweek, Scientific American, and Technology Review.

In addition to his academic and writing pursuits, Professor Klare has worked with many international and non-governmental organizations on issues of peace, disarmament, human rights, and the environment, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association. Klare received his B.A. and M.A. from Columbia University, in 1963 and 1968, respectively, and his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of the Union Institute in 1976.

In this interview, Professor Klare explores the depletion of the natural resources, which, he argues, will be the main cause of global conflicts in the near future. During our interview we questioned  whether the world’s available resources will run out, and reflected on , the most significant international players and their policy decisions in resource wars. Moreover, we discussed if the international community has given enough attention to trying to resolve natural resource conflicts and the threat of ISIS in this global scramble or not. As Research Turkey team we hope that this interview will give provide our readers a view on the whole picture of contemporary global politics and economics.

Synopsis of the Interview

 “Many of us assumed that the level of violence would diminish at the end of the Cold War, as the two superpowers were no longer fighting for global influence; however, conflict remained endemic.”

“Well, what I really tried to say in “The Race for What’s Left” is that all of the world’s easily-accessible resources have been exhausted, leaving only hard-to-get resources in remote and inaccessible locations (such as Siberia and the Arctic).”

“As existing reserves of oil and minerals are depleted, both privately and state-owned companies must search for new reserves in previously inaccessible areas.”

“As climate change advances, water for agriculture will become scarce in many areas and prolonged heat and drought will reduce crop yields, causing widespread hunger.”

“Much of the undeveloped gas is thought to be located in waters off of northern Russia; much of the oil is thought to lie in waters off of Alaska and Greenland.”

“But I believe the continued advance of climate change will make them more aware of the need for new policies, as was evident in the Paris Climate Summit of December 2015.”

“The rise of ISIS has many roots, including a long history of Muslim resistance to Western incursions (originally by the British and French) into Muslim lands.”

Full Text of the Interview

“Many of us assumed that the level of violence would diminish at the end of the Cold War, as the two superpowers were no longer fighting for global influence; however, conflict remained endemic.”

Before we talk on  your recent book, could we just would it be possible to explain the ‘resources wars theory’ that also inspired  the title of your 2002 book,  Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict?

This book was written to help explain the continuing prevalence of violent conflict in the post-Cold War era. Many of us assumed that the level of violence would diminish at the end of the Cold War, as the two superpowers were no longer fighting for global influence; however, conflict remained endemic. Some analysts attributed this to “ancient hatreds” or “a clash of civilizations.” But I wanted to show that many of the conflicts of this era, like those of past epochs, were driven by competition for control over scarce and vital natural resources.

What were the reasons behind this theory?

History suggests that most of the wars of the past were, to at least some degree, driven by the struggle over vital and valuable resources. For example, this drove the expansion of the Roman Empire in ancient times and Europe’s pursuit of colonial territories in the 15th through 20th centuries. During the Cold War, such motives were subordinated to ideological considerations, but close analysis suggests that even at the height of the Cold War, US strategy in Africa and the Middle East was largely governed by the pursuit of oil and key minerals.

In your latest book,  “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources”, which has been published in 2012., you have drawn attention to  the fact that we are reaching the end of the world’s available resources. Can we really possibly claim that?

Well, what I really tried to say in The Race for What’s Left is that all of the world’s easily-accessible resources have been exhausted, leaving only hard-to-get resources in remote and inaccessible locations (such as Siberia and the Arctic). These remote areas do contain substantial reserves of key resources, but they are only accessible to us if we are prepared to spend huge amounts of money and incur great environmental risk. This is also true in the case of extracting oil and gas from previously non-exploitable rock formations, such as underground shale fields.

Who are the main international parties to this global scramble?

The most conspicuous actors are the giant energy and mining companies, such as BP, Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto. These companies have long taken the lead in exploring for and developing new sources of energy and minerals. Increasingly, however, this quest is being spearheaded by state-owned companies, such as Gazprom and Rosneft of Russia and CNPC and CNOOC of China. As existing reserves of oil and minerals are depleted, both privately and state-owned companies must search for new reserves in previously inaccessible areas.

How would you describe the policy strategies of these countries?

In the case of Russia, the government seeks to compensate for the steady decline of existing oil and gas fields by developing new fields in remote locations, especially northern Siberia and the Arctic. The government is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports to finance its operations, so it is desperate to maintain output at high levels. For China, the problem is an ever-increasing demand for oil, gas, and other resources that cannot be met by domestic sources of supply. As a result, the government had promoted a “go out” strategy aimed at increasing involvement by Chinese state-owned companies in overseas extractive ventures.

“As climate change advances, water for agriculture will become scarce in many areas and prolonged heat and drought will reduce crop yields, causing widespread hunger.”

How is  food relevant to this race  for the remaining  resources?

As climate change advances, water for agriculture will become scarce in many areas and prolonged heat and drought will reduce crop yields, causing widespread hunger. At the same time, population growth will increase global food requirements. As a result, well-watered arable land will becoming increasingly valuable and we can expect intense competition for control over the available supply.

Also how do  over-shared water supplies fit into this picture? Can we say that fresh  water is now a new threat for geo-political stability? If so, which are the most notable conflicts today in this respect?

Climate change will also reduce the supply of water in many shared river systems, such as the Jordan River, the Indus, and the Tigris/Euphrates. Unless the countries that share these river systems learn how to share the available water supply in an equitable fashion, recognizing the essential needs of all involved, it is likely that tensions and hostilities among them will increase. Although armed conflict over water is unlikely, it is not impossible.

You have a chapter about the Arctic that you have described as one of the few places that has not been fully tapped. Could  you please elaborate on this region for our readers?

The Arctic region encompasses about 6% of the Earth’s surface, but is believed to house about 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30% of its undiscovered natural gas; it also harbors large reserves of valuable minerals. Much of the undeveloped gas is thought to be located in waters off of northern Russia; much of the oil is thought to lie in waters off of Alaska and Greenland. As sea ice recedes due to climate change, these areas are becoming more accessible to oil and gas companies looking for new sources of supply.

Despite setting the alarm bells for  the scramble for last resources, your book ends on a positive message. What  makes you this  optimistic?

As it becomes increasingly evident that climate change will produce severe effects for planet Earth, more and more countries will take steps to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels – the main source of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming – and to increase their reliance on renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power. Because renewable sources of energy are by definition unlimited, and because they can be taped from within one’s own territory, the risk of friction and conflict over contested sources of finite, non-renewable resources is bound to decline.

In February 2015, the  UN Environment Program and Department of Political Affairs published a guide named  ‘Natural Resources and Conflict’.  How would you describe this initiative of the UN?

The UN program is intended to show how the various factors I have discussed – growing resource requirements, climate change, population growth, and so on – can combine to increase the risk of conflict over resources. But the UN also hopes to show that the risk of conflict can be diminished if societies use the available resources more efficiently and cooperate with one another to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met. This must be the priority for every country as we move into a climate-altered world.

“I think part of the problem is that we tend to be governed by old modes of thinking.”

There is a common belief that the international community has not given enough attention to trying to resolve natural resource conflicts, would you agree with this? If yes, what are the reasons behind this?

I think part of the problem is that we tend to be governed by old modes of thinking. Although the Cold War is long over, Cold War modes of thinking still seem to govern relations between Moscow and Washington, for example. In Asia, China and Japan still seem to be fighting over interpretations of what happened in World War II. This prevents leaders from perceiving new sorts of problems and developing new strategies and policies better adapted to the new global conditions. But I believe the continued advance of climate change will make them more aware of the need for new policies, as was evident in the Paris Climate Summit of December 2015.

I quote from your 2008 “Blood and Oil” book: “We will never be free from the dangers of endless wars in the Middle East until we disassemble this large military apparatus that has been created for the protection of Middle Eastern oil.”. What are the possible scenarios for the Middle East in terms of Global Conflict on energy securities?

Although the US is no longer as dependent on Middle Eastern oil as was once the case, it continues to view the protection of Middle Eastern oil flows as a major strategic responsibility. President Obama, in a 2013 address to the UN General Assembly, declared that the uninterrupted flow of oil is essential to global economic stability and so must be guaranteed by the US military, if the need arises. Right now, the most likely scenario in which this could occur is an attempt by Iran to block oil shipping through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for US military or economic action against Iran (as they have threatened to do on many occasions); if this were to occur, the US military is certain to take action to counter Iranian moves and reopen the Strait.

“The rise of ISIS has many roots, including a long history of Muslim resistance to Western incursions (originally by the British and French) into Muslim lands.”

How would you explain the growing threat of ISIS on the international scene?

The rise of ISIS has many roots, including a long history of Muslim resistance to Western incursions (originally by the British and French) into Muslim lands. But the immediate causes, so far as I can tell, include the decision by US occupation forces in Iraq to dismantle the Iraqi Army and the Baathist bureaucracy – thereby putting many Iraqi Sunnis out of work – and the determination of Iraq’s new Shiite leadership to marginalize the once-dominant Sunni population, producing widespread resentment of the US-backed al-Maliki government. Together, these factors produced an insurgent force with a fierce ideology, considerable local support among disgruntled Iraqi Sunnis, and military skills inherited from the armies of Saddam Hussein.

How would you describe Turkey’s role with regard to  the energy reserves in the East Mediterranean?

The Levant Basin of the Eastern Mediterranean is believed to harbor substantial reserves of natural gas. So far, the only actual discoveries have been in waters claimed by Egypt, Israel, and the Republic of Cyprus. It is possible that additional discoveries will be made in waters claimed by Turkey and the Turkish enclave on Cyprus, but so far insufficient testing has been done to determine if this is the case.

P.S. Research Turkey would like to thank Ms. Gizem Erdem Öztürk for her valuable contributions to this interview.

Research Turkey

Please cite this interview as follows:

Research Turkey (May, 2016), “Interview with Professor Michael T. Klare: “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources””, Vol. V, Issue 5, pp.20 – 27, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=11823)

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