Resource wars

The US military’s latest strategy document throws in the usual ideological threats — and apparently the “war on terror” now has an acronym, GWOT — but has a very keen on eye on future practicalities: “We face a potential return to traditional security threats posed by emerging near-peers as we compete globally for depleting natural resources and overseas markets.”

An interesting phrase, “near peers”. I’m not sure if this is a subtle slight at Russian and Chinese efforts to restablish/establish themselves as world powers, or a tacit acceptance that US power faces being equalled in the medium term.

Tom Clonan of The Irish Times notes:

This thinly-veiled reference to Russia and China will, perhaps, come as little surprise given recent events in Ossetia and Abkhazia. The explicit reference in this context to future resource wars, however, will probably raise eyebrows among the international diplomatic community, who prefer to couch such conflicts as human rights-based or rooted in notions around freedom and democracy.

The document, however, contains no such lofty pretences. It goes on to list as a pre-eminent threat to the security of the US and its allies “population growth – especially in less-developed countries – [which] will expose a resulting ‘youth bulge’.”

A young, growing population would mean a corresponding growth in resource consumption. It’s valid for a military to consider these sorts of threats — its duty is to protect the nation and its citizens, and so it should be prepared for as many eventualities as possible, and however unpalatable it may seem to the observer. But this is an outline of what strategies and technologies will be needed in the future, rather than a plan of campaign.

That food and water could lead to conflict should not be unexpected. The rocketing price of rice, for instance, has prompted several Gulf states to look into buying farmland in producer countries as a means of safeguarding supplies. If we hear a country saying “Oh, that looks like a nice spot to invade and grow corn”, then we need to worry. But don’t think it hasn’t been said privately.

According to Clonan, the document also looks at hi-tech options for fight wars and conducting military exercises. The space-based perspective might sound like science fiction, but is unsurprising. Any military would want to use all the assets at its disposal — and orbit allows all sorts of perspectives and observation options.

It is also indicative of a drive to reduced US casualties. Mobile-operated drones and such have been mooted and occasionally deployed for some time, although with mixed results. However, the use of hardware over personnel is more PR friendly, as well as a possibility for reducing the used operating budget on pesky things such as food and water. We may not be in Terminator country just yet, but it would mark a major shift in military composition and operation.

If it comes to pass, of course,

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