Conflict From Environmental Scarcity or Lust For Wealth?
In “Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict,” Thomas F. Homer-Dixon writes about the possible conflicts that are caused by environmental scarcities, using three different hypotheses’s to do so. I found the first hypothesis to be most compelling because I feel it is the most prevalent in the world today. The first hypothesis in “Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict” states that environmental scarcity causes simple-scarcity conflicts between states . I selected “Lust for diamonds kills thousands in African wars,” which I found on the web page www.cnn.com, to test this hypothesis. Homer-Dixon’s hypothesis that environmental scarcity causes simple-scarcity conflicts between states is a valuable one and I feel that some conflicts such as the one involving diamond wars in Africa give this hypothesis merit although the wars in Africa cannot be solely based on it.
Although Homer-Dixon concludes that the first hypothesis lacks empirical support, I feel that it is more interesting and easier to draw conclusions from it then the other two because of its simplicity. Unlike the other two hypothesis which are inter-woven with several elaborate ideas that all must coincide in order to justify it, the first hypothesis relies on the simple fact that a lack of resources and states quest for these resources drive the possibility of conflict and violence. I also like the examples used to support it such as Japan’s strategy during World War II to obtain resources from China and the Persian Gulf War, which the United States was involved in. I lived through the Gulf War and believe that the war was almost solely based on the importance of obtaining oil from the Middle East. Contrary to what the United States wanted people to perceive, they where not simply helping out a weaker country like Kuwait in time of need but rather looking out for their own well being which meant controlling a situation that involved our most sought after natural resource, oil. This type of evidence can still be seen in conflicts around the world today.
The revised version of the first hypothesis is particularly interesting because it concludes that the majority of environmental scarcity conflicts result from the conquest of non-renewable resources. This concept holds true in the conflict between African’s rebels fighting over diamonds, which is a non-renewable resource. One of the few differences between the first hypothesis and what is taking place in Africa is that in Africa the environmental scarcity is not always causing conflict between states but rather between the government and rebel forces or groups of African people within the same state. If I where to revise the hypothesis it would read: environmental scarcity causes simple-scarcity conflicts between states and/or within states.
The wars involving diamonds that have taken place in Africa have also been directly associated with the seven-year war in Sierra Leon. In the article it says; “the seven-year war in Sierra Leone was fueled by warlords, gangsters, government officials and international mining firms willing to go to almost any length to obtain valuable stones.” Corruption and greed are other parts of the formula, which I feel has contributed to these wars, which is not included in Homer-Dixon’s article.
The wars between rebels for these “conflict diamonds” are not limited to Sierra Leone. They also are found in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Angola, and several other African countries. In Angola the war has gone on for 25 years and the rebel forces known as UNITA have earned almost $4 billion from “conflict diamonds”.
Homer-Dixon uses water as an example of a resource that causes conflict and war because it is so important for survival. What is sad is that diamonds are not a critical resource like water but one that is sought after simply for wealth. I believe that the simple the pursuit of wealth is one of the factors contributing to these wars for diamonds in Africa that cannot be overlooked. Regardless of what hypothesis can be made to try to explain such events as these, one must keep in mind that throughout history human nature’s violent tendencies have helped make such wars possible.
The justification behind the wars that have been taking place in Africa can be paralleled to the first hypothesis made by Homer-Dixon although the differences cannot be ignored because they also greatly contribute to the conflict. Although I feel that this conflict is strongly supported by the hypothesis I feel that there are other plausible explanations for why these diamond wars have been taking place in Africa such as greed and corruption. Since these events, which have taken place usually smaller groups rather then states, I believe that greed is one factor that indirectly drives these wars. Although many of the rebels are trying to escape poverty the African rebels are not always killing out of necessity but rather because they want to make money by any means necessary, even if it involves ruthless violence.
The wars have gone on for several years and unfortunately will continue to, as the attempts to stop these wars have been almost futile. Reading Homer Dixon’s article, “Environmental Scarcity and Violent Conflict” and the article “Lust for diamonds kills thousands in African wars,” has lead me to believe that the wars that have been taking place in Africa are a combination of conflict from environmental scarcity and lust for wealth. If there the diamonds where not so scarce perhaps these wars would not take place but on the other hand perhaps it is mans greed that has lead to such violence in many African territories.
Homer-Dixon, Thomas F. “Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict.” 1994
“Lust for Diamonds kills thousands in African wars.” Hunter-Gault, Charlayne cor.
& Reuters http://www.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/africa/01/12/africa.diamonds/index.html
January 12, 2000