June 20, 2010

This Weekend’s News: Minerals in Afghanistan & Two Approaches to Considering Natural Security

Much has been said of last week’s big minerals-in-Afghanistan news. Most critiques of the timing of the news and of the many difficulties in producing these potential reserves were raised in the media and by commentators through last week and this weekend (though if you missed it somehow, just read this from New Security Beat), so I won’t repeat it all.

Instead, I thought it would be fun to apply the concepts that Will (from whom you will not hear this week while he presents a paper in Tokyo) and I laid out in our recently released natural security report to the case of minerals in Afghanistan. In Sustaining Security, we outline two categories of approaches that we think could be useful concepts as security types increasingly consider natural resources issues in their security analysis (while the report focuses much on renewable resources, it works for nonrenewable resources as well if you alter the terminology appropriately for preservation, extraction, etc.). The minerals assessment by the Pentagon is a clear case of this type of work in action – a positive step forward, however the federal government doesn’t really have a solid framework yet for going about asking what does this mean in these circumstances. We described our recommended approaches thusly:

A targeted approach would consider the role that natural [resources play] in specific geographic areas, particularly in current or potential zones of conflict. When taking this approach, analysts should assess how natural resource conservation could ameliorate drivers of conflict and assist the national security community in addressing current or potential instability in the near term…a systemic approach would consider the interconnection of natural resources and their broad strategic consequences. For instance, food and land use, hydrological and forest systems, energy and climate change are all tightly interrelated, and to address any one of them carries implications for the others, as well as for economic development, politics and national security. Analysts taking a systemic approach must look regionally or globally and consider the potential impact of conservation and environmental restoration in bolstering traditional security strategy.

We would label our handling of the current case of vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan an example of the targeted approach to integrating resources into security analysis. The United States did not seek to consider minerals as part of its Afghanistan strategy; it is an opportunity that U.S. and Afghan officials stumbled upon, and an opportunity that policy makers are now targeted. The immediate task should be to game out (hopefully with the help of trusted Afghans) the various ways in which minerals extraction and management may affect stability and internal dynamics in Afghanistan, work with central government and local leaders to choose a preferred development roadmap for these minerals that ensures that profits contribute to the country’s economic growth, and leverage related U.S. government and ISAF efforts toward that path. Though much of the necessary decision making on these minerals will not be in U.S. or ISAF hands, the coalition does have the opportunity to be deliberate in gaming out how these resources could fit into the current strategy; the alternative, which most often happens with natural resources issues, is not ideal: conducting work related to these potential deposits without considering broader U.S. goals, its broader strategy and military operations, or planned timelines. (My impression is that DOD is doing the former, not the later, in some form.)

A systemic approach would mean us, U.S. government folks, you, your drinking buddies, and any interested security types pondering and debating the interconnections among natural resources and the broad strategic environment, including analysis of the important regional and global trends that these newly discovered deposits could affect depending on how Afghanistan’s government manages them. What does an Afghan economy centered on extractive industries mean for its long-term bilateral relationships? How might Afghanistan’s new mineral supplies affect feelings of cooperation or competition between the United States and China, depending on the structure of future contracts? If new-found resource wealth destabilizes Afghanistan, how is the full range of U.S. interests in the region affected? How would this destabilization affect Pakistan and India? Does Afghanistan’s natural security base provide many economic options that could provide more stable development paths? And where is Russia in all of this?

See, doesn’t natural security make for fun parlor games? Though not as much fun as Colbert's assessment in The Word last week, flagged for us by recently departed intern Dan.

Also see these two quality political cartoons on this minerals news: Ed Gamble and Chip Bok (disclaimer: I’m not saying General Petraeus passing out was funny, as it was not, but just that it is a good political cartoon).

And also in the news, police in Basra killed one Iraqi in protests over insufficient electricity supplies. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more on this through the week.


The Week Ahead

Up on the Hill Monday at 2:00pm, Rear Admiral Cullom, et al. will discuss Biofuels: The Future of Aviation? Implications for Climate Change and National Security, sponsored by the Center for National Policy. Wednesday at 9:00am, Resources for the Future is holding an event marking the release of its new report, Toward a New National Energy Policy: Assessing the Options (I am really looking forward to reading this report, and recommend this highly; you can also webstream the event). At 10:00 the House Committee on Science & Technology also holds Deepwater Drilling Technology, Research, and Development. At 4pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will have an event on Prospects and Challenges for U.S.–India Technology Cooperation that promises to look at clean energy in that bilateral relationship. Thursday at 9:00am you can hop over to the Wilson Center for Electricity With Chinese Characteristics: The Complexities of Decarbonizing China's Power Sector. Have a great week everyone!