Natural resource scarcity poses a far broader challenge to U.S. prosperity and national security than traditional military threats. Consider also the food crisis that precipitated the Arab Spring uprisings or the drought that has sharpened conflict in Syria. Those challenges are detailed in my recent book, “In Pursuit of Prosperity,” which examines how both proximate and more distant resource constraints shape and influence our economy and security posture.
In the future, that stress will further intensify: Climate scientists recently announced that “mega-droughts” lasting some 35 years have a 90 percent probability of afflicting the region and the Midwest. That scenario would lead to widespread disruption of livelihoods and communities, and ever-sharper challenges to the comity that has tenuously prevailed between the two countries. It’s not hard to imagine that such change in the region’s environmental conditions would spark a surge of climate refugees moving northward from Central America, posing new challenges to the U.S. political landscape.
The nine-country and regional studies offered in the book, including the South China Sea and the U.S.–Mexico border, identify five pathways through which resource scarcity and climate change will threaten U.S. prosperity and national security:
• Diminished agricultural productivity will disrupt global supply chains, as typified by recurrent drought conditions in the Brazilian Amazon;
• Harsh resource constraints and degradation will spark domestic instability, exemplified by the tens of thousands of protests per year in China, many for environmental reasons;
• Declining fish stocks coupled with drought in the Horn of Africa have destabilized regional relations as piracy and insurgencies have multiplied;
• The collapse of agricultural production, drought, and failed policies have fueled internal migration in India that, in turn, threatens to destabilize U.S. regional partnerships;
• International criminal networks and nonstate threats have multiplied, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, due to failed governance arrangements, which give rise to international lawlessness and state failure.
The ISIS War
The harsh reality of current conflicts in the Middle East drives home the complexity of addressing natural resource scarcity when terrorism and insurgency beset a country or region.
The role of natural resources came to the forefront of the conflict with the Islamic State (ISIS) when, in August 2014, ISIS forces seized and then threatened to blow up the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River. In the balance were the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living downstream. After dogged fighting, Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, recaptured the dam several weeks later.
But behind that violent conflict lies the fact that the region has been hit in recent years by the deepest drought in over a millennium.
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