December 13, 2010

On the NYT Natural Security Piece

In addition to giving a strong pat on the back to The New York Times for its piece yesterday highlighting the connections between resources and U.S. security, “Why We Might Fight, 2011 Edition,” I have one primary reaction. The piece could be balanced a bit by focusing less narrowly on conflict. The potential for conflict involving resource issues should not eclipse the benefits of and vast array of opportunities for cooperation over these issues. In terms of what the United States can realistically do to promote its “natural security” interests, diplomacy certainly tops the list.

Of course, I'm not implying that the author (note, who was a former writer in residence at CNAS though unaffiliated with this program) thinks that resources will only serve as cause for conflict. This is a vast topic, as we well know, and scoping out a slice of it requires omitting more than you include. The Times's choice to show the conflict side of the coin is very interesting though: I don’t have more than an educated guess on who his sources might have been for this piece, but clearly there are DOD and intelligence officials highly concerned with resource issues as drivers of instability or conflict. Several years ago, I would far more frequently hear government officials dismiss the driver-of-conflict aspect if for no other reason than to brush off any need for DOD or the IC to seriously consider resource issues. This has gradually changed, as consideration of the instabilities often tied to resource issues has emerged more prominently in SOCOM’s Strategic Appreciation, NIC annual threat assessments, and similar documents in recent years. I think the conclusions they speak of in the Times article about the role of sources in shaping the global security environment are inescapable.

So then, I challenge our reporter friends: who will tackle the other side of the coin and do a full-page spread on the importance of natural resources in diplomacy and development?

If we hear any further reactions stemming from all the natural security news coverage over the weekend, we’ll be sure to share them with you here.