Political Geography of War:
Natural Resources and Armed Conflicts
Philippe Le Billion
Throughout the 1990s, many armed groups have relied on revenues from natural resources such as oil, timber, or gems to substitute for dwindling Cold War sponsorship. Resources not only ﬁnanced, but in some cases motivated conﬂicts, and shaped strategies of power based on the commercialization of armed conﬂict and the territoriality of sovereignty around valuable resource areas and trading networks. As such, armed conﬂict in the post-Cold War period is increasingly characterized by a speciﬁc political ecology closely linked to the geography and political economy of natural resources. This paper examines theories of relationships between resources and armed conﬂicts and the historical processes in which they are embedded. It stresses the vulnerability resulting from resource dependence, rather than conventional notions of scarcity or abundance, the risks of violence linked to the conﬂictuality of natural resource political economies, and the opportunities for armed insurgents resulting from the lootability of resources. Violence is expressed in the subjugation of the rights of people to determine the use of their environment and the brutal patterns of resource extraction and predation. Beyond demonstrating the economic agendas of belligerents, an analysis of the linkages between natural resources and armed conﬂicts suggests that the criminal character of their inclusion in international primary commodity markets responds to an exclusionary form of globalization; with major implications for the promotion of peace.
This paper analyses the role of natural resources in armed conﬂict, through their materiality, geography and related socio-economic processes. Section 2 examines the debate over the role of scarce and abundant resource in armed conﬂicts and extends this approach in building a political ecological framework for the analysis of resource linked armed conﬂicts. A tentative typology of armed conﬂicts is presented in Section 3. Section 4 explores the process by which resources become linked to armed conﬂicts, focusing on processes of inclusion, exclusion and criminalization. Section 5 explores resource-linked barriers to transition to peace and discusses implications for peace-building initiatives. Section 6 concludes.
In Section 2, it has been discussed that the Political ecology has rarely examined the relationship between the environment and a core concern of traditional political science, namely regime security and armed conﬂict, focusing on social conﬂicts over forest resources, protected areas, agricultural regimes, or productive regions; yet neglecting large-scale violent conﬂicts. It has also been said that Political ecology is devised as a radical critique against the apolitical perspective and depoliticizing effects of mainstream environmental and developmental research and practice. Yet, if it speciﬁcally acknowledges the ‘growing human production of nature, and the political forces behind such production’, political ecology has nevertheless until recently contained ‘very little politics’; meaning there was no serious treatment of the means of resource control and access, nor of their deﬁnition, negotiation and contestation within political arenas It has been argued that addressing these two lacunae within a political ecological approach requires approaching resource-linked armed conﬂicts as historical processes of dialectic transformation of nature and social groups. Contemporary resource-linked conﬂicts are rooted in the history of ‘resource’ extraction successively translated by mercantilism, colonial capitalism, and state kleptocracy. The availability in nature of any resource is thus not in itself a predictive indicator of conﬂict. Rather, the desires sparked by this availability as well as people’s needs (or greed), and the practices shaping the political economy of any resource can prove conﬂictual,...
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