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The resource wars of the future

The resource wars of the future
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First Published: Wed, Nov 30 2011. 08 08 PM IST

Jayachandran/Mint
Jayachandran/Mint
Updated: Wed, Nov 30 2011. 08 08 PM IST
War originated as a planned and coordinated form of theft about 10,000 years ago. From the time early man began farming and hunting, tribes that could not grow food or had surplus to barter began raiding other communities that produced food. This was more difficult than hunting animals as their adversaries were equally intelligent and learnt to defend themselves.
The raiding tribe’s strategy depended on attacking defenceless or, at least weaker, tribes at specific times of the year. At the same time, defending tribes began organizing themselves to repel raiders with better emplacements, obstacles and deception. Eventually some tribes focused on farming and others on raiding. While the former created and developed ecosystems for better agricultural yields, storage methods and bartering, the latter developed efficiency in war, communication and fast transportation.
Jayachandran/Mint
Wars are initiated for many reasons. It may be to consolidate federated tribes as Genghis Khan did or due to ideological divides such as in the US Civil War or for “living space” as in the case of Nazi Germany’s concept of Lebensraum. War can also break out because of underlying geopolitical schisms as in many African or East European countries. Another possible reason can be ethnic divides such as in the case of Rwanda or the oppression of minorities in Sri Lanka. Whatever may be the claimed reason, the real and base purpose for all war is the desire to control resources in situations when there are more claimants than the available resource.
This brings us to a worrying conundrum. Mankind has been proliferating with scant regard to the planet’s capacity to sustain the consumerist lifestyle that we take for granted. More perturbing, however, are the patterns of consumption. The United Nations Development Programme’s 2011 Human Development Report reads like a prologue to apocalypse. Human consumption—which has a direct bearing on the planet’s capability to sustain and replenish itself—is at an all-time high and shows no signs of abating. Our requirements of energy, water, food and living space are fast outpacing the planet’s capability to provide them. Nearly 1.3 billion people are directly affected by agricultural depletion, forestry, fishing, hunting and foraging. Millions more will be affected because of rising water levels caused by global warming.
Contamination of water has displaced more humans than all wars put together and new incurable strains of diseases are incubating in a hot and crowded world. A few hundred years ago, when space or resources became a constraint, tribes just moved to new locations. But now, the earth is full. There simply aren’t enough resources for all, especially as a small percentage of our species is consuming more than 80% of the world’s resources, creating an existential threat for others.
This essentially boils down to a simple formula. As resources dwindle and demands increase, conflicts will exacerbate. We will see more wars, violence and devastation in the coming decades. Wars for basic supplies such as water and food are already on in some regions of the world. And several other ideological or political conflicts are simply resource wars masquerading under different euphemisms.
The situation is especially worrying for India. As a nation, we are surrounded by failing states and hostile countries. We need to maintain the second largest army in the world and face the largest one as our foe. We have fought major wars across three fronts and have been facing a proxy war for two decades. We spend nearly 2% of our national output on defence while struggling to provide for education and healthcare. In addition to external threats, we are in the epicentre of global terror and have several internal security issues —the biggest being ultra-Left violence that according to some reports also has elements of a resource war.
Nation-building activities directly and indirectly affect millions of people. Healthcare, education, infrastructure, employment, energy distribution, agriculture and other sectors have economic implications, especially when there are several stakeholders, all of whom can’t benefit equitably. Even if care were taken to be fair to all, several would have to undergo a forced change in their way of living, which is always a cause for dissent. Unfortunately, in these times when the world is embroiled in multiple crises, the only way to draw attention to the issue of dissent is violence. This is especially true for the weaker and minority groups for whom asymmetric war is increasingly becoming the favoured option.
Our next generation of business, political and bureaucratic leaders and managers will be confronted with security related situations more frequently. But our education, awareness and planning systems do not factor their security implication. This deficiency constantly forces us to expend far more resources in trying to confront and contain the dissent rather than preventing it in the first place. In some situations, the latter option is simply not possible because of severe depletion of resources.
Careful husbanding of our resources is essential to balance development and security. Ignorance of this symbiotic relationship is probably the biggest security risk that our nation faces.
This is the final part of a two-part series.
Raghu Raman is an expert and a commentator on internal security
Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Nov 30 2011. 08 08 PM IST