States Must Transform Natural Resources from Driver of Conflict into Development Tool to Foster Peace, Cooperation, Secretary-General Tells Security Council
Competition over land, water, minerals and other natural resources will increasingly fuel conflict unless efforts are stepped up to manage them for the benefit of local people and engender peace through sharing, the Secretary-General told the Security Council today.
“The exploitation of natural resources, or competition over them, can and does lead to violent conflict,” he said, opening a meeting on the topic. “Shared natural resources have traditionally also been a catalyst for cooperation among States, communities and people.”
Highlighting studies showing that more than 40 per cent of internal armed conflicts over the last 60 years have been linked to natural resources, he said these risks will only grow as climate change and environmental degradation exacerbate scarcity due to trends such as population growth and increased consumption. In particular, competition for oil, gas, minerals, water and land will sharpen.
Among the factors he pointed to were the unfair distribution of natural resources, corruption and mismanagement, factors that could worsen existing ethnic or religious divides within societies. He called for certified extraction and fair trade practices, such as the Kimberley Process for diamonds, with a focus on aiding local communities and directing profits to the national good.
Citing water-sharing arrangements around the world that cement cooperation and serve as conflict-prevention mechanisms, he described initiatives by the United Nations that boost mediation capabilities between organizations and within regions to create more of these arrangements. In this regard, he pointed to United Nations initiatives to strengthen the capabilities of women’s organizations.
Council Members who spoke after Mr. Guterres’ briefing all agreed that conflict was too frequently fuelled by competition over natural resources, although different points of focus were proposed. The representative of Bolivia, whose country holds the Council presidency for October and proposed the meeting, maintained that multinational corporations and foreign interests were often behind the exploitation of natural resources in conflict situations. Corporations, he said, have financed separatist movements and fostered regime changes more friendly to their interests. He called for sanctions to be applied, therefore, to the full chain of actors causing such competition for resources.
Similarly, the Russian Federation’s delegate underlined the role of resources in foreign interventions in Libya and Iraq. Along with the representative of China and others, he called for strict respect of the sovereign rights of States to manage their resources, adding that those who offer to help troubled States must not have covert agendas.
Voicing a different concern, the representative of the United States objected to the framing of the meeting in a way that ignores the crucial issue of internal State mismanagement of natural resources. Nowhere is that more evident than the case of the kleptocratic regime of Venezuela, he said, also citing other situations in which corrupt practices by Governments, not multinational corporations, drive conflict. The representative of United Kingdom, in addition, objected to the insinuation that all international interventions are motivated by a desire to exploit materials. Some, she maintained, were launched to protect people in desperate situations.
Sharing his country’s experience, Kuwait’s representative called natural resources “a divine blessing”. Recounting the damage caused by the Iraqi invasion in 1990 and the burning of hundreds of oil wells, he expressed support for a binding international instrument to prevent such catastrophes.
Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Côte d’Ivoire (also speaking on behalf of Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea), Peru, Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, France and Kazakhstan.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 11:48 a.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTTERES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, affirmed that “the exploitation of natural resources, or competition over them, can and does lead to violent conflict”. Citing studies demonstrating that more than 40 per cent of internal armed conflicts over the last 60 years were linked to natural resources, he said these risks will only grow as climate change and environmental degradation exacerbate scarcity due to trends such as population growth and increased consumption. In particular, competition for oil, gas, minerals, water and land will sharpen.
Unfair distribution of natural resources, corruption and mismanagement often lead to conflict in countries with weak institutions, he said, worsening existing ethnic or religious divides within societies and across borders. Since 1990, 75 per cent of civil wars in Africa have been partially funded by revenues from natural resources. The illegal extraction of minerals, timber, charcoal and wildlife has fuelled violence in a number of regions. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, such exploitation by numerous armed groups has contributed to sustain and prolong conflicts.
More needs to be done, he continued, to regulate the provenance, sale and trade of minerals through cooperative arrangements involving civil society, Governments and regional organizations in a manner similar to how the Kimberley Process reduced the trade in conflict diamonds. Certified extraction and fair trade practices must also have a focus on aiding local communities.
“Shared natural resources have traditionally also been a catalyst for cooperation among States, communities and people,” he said, citing, among other examples, the history of shared water resources among the States of the Senegal River Basin, between Bolivia and Peru, Portugal and Spain and among Central Asian States supported by the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy. In response to Member States’ calls for a greater focus on these issues, the United Nations is seeking to strengthen its capacity to address the growing threat of climate-related security risks.
In this context, he described several ongoing efforts, including a new joint initiative involving the Department of Political Affairs, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The Organization also aims at increasing the use of resource mediation as a tool for conflict prevention, in cooperation with Member States, regional partners and international financial institutions, which could be seen with the work of the High-level Panel on Water, which he convened with the President of the World Bank Group. Partnership with the African Union and other regional organizations will also be strengthened in the effort.
Offering another example, he said an initiative to strengthen women’s mediation on such issues, co-led the by United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), UNDP, UNEP and the Peacebuilding Support Office, has already supported women in Colombia in processes related to natural resource use, ownership, governance and benefit-sharing. Finally, he pledged to ensure greater strategic convergence across the Organization to address issues of land use and conflict. “There is a lot of work to do on this critical issue,” he said. “If we address it effectively, we will go a long way towards creating a safe and sustainable world for everyone, now and in the future.”
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), agreeing that many conflicts had competition for natural resources in their background, said that along with the factors mentioned by the Secretary-General, multinational corporations and foreign interests were often principals in such competition. Among many examples, he cited the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the ongoing conflict in Libya and the 2003 invasion of Iraq as driven by interests in petrochemical and other resources, with the struggle over the Democratic Republic of the Congo fuelled by those seeking many valuable commodities. Moreover, corporations often finance separatist movements and foster regime changes to benefit their interests, with South America having had many such conflicts over the past century. Sanctions must, therefore, be applied to the full chain of actors causing such competition for resources, with special attention focusing on involved corporations and financial facilitators. The Council must be able through its subsidiary bodies to investigate such chains and take action. For its part, Bolivia has faced foreign financial interests, leading to the privatization and exploitation of its national wealth for the benefit of transnational companies and to the detriment of the people. Yet, due to the nationalization of control over such resources in the past 12 years, the Bolivian people were now benefiting from their own wealth. Private companies remained because they still benefited, but the bulk of the profits go to the people, with the gross domestic product (GDP) rising to $36 billion from $9 billion and poverty sharply declining alongside improvements in other major indicators of well-being and justice. In today’s debate and in future deliberations, he asked the Council to seriously consider who draws benefits from natural resources after interventions happen.
GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), also speaking on behalf of Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea, said the governance of natural resources remains a major challenge for countries faced with security and related challenges. Many crises in Africa, for example, have morphed into contests over areas rich in resources such as gold, diamonds and other valuable minerals. A lack of governance and inequity in the benefits of funds from the sale of natural resources are major drivers of instability, as seen in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition, armed conflicts are sometimes driven by the direct looting of natural resources by armed groups. Noting that the African Union Peace and Security Council is closely examining the issue, he said all responses must be rooted in strategies allowing for better governance of and oversight over natural resources. Effective structures should be put in place at the national level to ensure that natural resource sales do not fuel conflicts. External actors, including foreign interests, multinational companies and armed groups, must not stand to benefit from the trade in natural resources, which undermines Africa’s development.
Emphasizing the need to fully respect State sovereignty in all these efforts, he said each State has the right to control its own natural resources and defend against their illicit trafficking. Pointing out the illicit financial flows stemming from Africa’s natural resources as a related and critical challenge, he said such amounts could soon reach $50 billion per year, twice the total amount of official development assistance (ODA) the continent receives. Equity, transparency and accountability in natural resource management are therefore critical, as is improving the international framework and establishing norms and standards, such as the Kimberley Process for diamond certification. Noting that the African Union is currently integrating the issue of natural resource governance and the threats posed by their illicit flows in its exploration of early warning signs of conflict, he said international partners, transnational companies, the private sector and other actors must also support transparency and promote a greater focus on development. The Council also has a critical role to play, he concluded.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said the control over and exploitation of natural resources have contributed to many conflicts over the course of history. Calling for a rules-based order underpinning the global trading system that wards off “peaks and troughs” in commodities markets, he said the Council should remain aware of such important challenges and work to prevent them. Turning to the mining industry, he underlined the critical role of dialogue between extractive companies and affected communities, urging the former to ensure economic inclusion and help to preserve traditional ways of life. The perception of corruption must always be avoided, as it has in some cases facilitated extremism, the activities of armed groups and human rights abuses. Warning that such dynamics are facilitated and even encouraged by criminal organizations, he said the Council must pay special attention to the illegal trade in weapons and support countries emerging from conflict in strengthening national institutions needed to sustainably manage natural resources.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said the link between resources and conflict is a complex one. Voicing regret that today’s meeting was framed in such a way as to ignore the crucial issue of internal State mismanagement of natural resources, he said nowhere is that challenge more evident than in Venezuela, where President Nicolás Maduro Moros’ kleptocratic regime embezzles and loots the country’s natural resources, resulting in poverty, rapid deforestation and increasing pollution. Those practices are only lining the pockets of President Maduro and those closest to him and have placed a major burden on the entire region. Similarly, in Iran, oil resources are used to increase the wealth of the country’s elites, to finance terrorism and to sow strife across the region. In that regard, the United States is working to sharply curtail its imports of Iranian oil. Turning to the case of South Sudan, he said funds from natural resources have not been used to support the population, which remains in serious need of assistance. In each of these cases, corrupt practices by Governments – not multinational companies – have driven conflicts and humanitarian crises. Citing the positive example of the Kimberley Process, he underlined the importance of United Nations sanctions aimed at cutting off resource flows from the illicit trade in natural resources and urged Member States to strengthen their implementation.
LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said there are many steps that the Council and the United Nations can take to tackle the problem. Natural resources should be part of risk assessments and analyses of the root causes of conflict. Noting the success of the Kimberley Process to reduce the trade in blood diamonds, she underscored the need for companies to undertake due diligence, thus contributing to responsible sourcing and production. “The cost of ending conflict and dismantling networks should be seen as more fruitful than utilizing networks of ivory traffickers, gold and diamond smugglers and mineral dealers to earn a profit,” she said, emphasizing that the illegal trade in natural resources should be grounds for sanctions. Governments must take responsibility for combatting the illicit trade and trafficking of natural resources and for managing related industries. If they fail to do so, then the Council has a responsibility to act.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) anticipated today’s discussion to shed light on the link between resources and conflict while building on previous related resolutions. Such resolutions should be implemented in the areas of strengthening work with regional organizations, mechanisms such as the Kimberley Process and sanction regimes. However, mediation and arbitration remain the best way to prevent conflicts over resources. Recalling that Kuwait was subject to occupation by Iraq in 1990 in a way that severe damaged its resources, he emphasized that “the divine blessing” of such resources should not feed conflict, but enable the well-being of the people. Unfortunately, these resources were used as weapons of war. One example is the environmental catastrophe resulting from Iraq’s burning of oil wells. Highlighting that Kuwait had organized meetings towards the creation of a binding international regime on preventing conflict over resources, he said stable States must be built with stronger institutions and based on the rule of law. Each State has a sovereign right over its own natural resources, which it should manage for sustainable development in a transparent way, as is done in Kuwait.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said a better understanding of the underlying drivers of conflict is critical to helping the Council become more effective in its preventive role and in sustaining peace. While root causes of conflict differ depending on the context, ranging from human rights abuses and gender inequality to poverty and weak governance, natural resources is clearly a major driving force in many situations. Resources such as oil, natural gas and minerals have the potential to benefit populations and improve development outcomes, but can also fuel instability and violence. During the Council’s recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, members saw first-hand how the country’s rich natural resources have yet to translate into more prosperity and stability for the population. Providing several similar examples, he spotlighted several areas where improvements can be made, including strengthening governance and national institutions; combating organized crime; and supporting the critical role of responsible business. African countries are now taking the lead in improving ownership models for extractive industries to better benefit their communities, he said, underlining the importance of transparency to these efforts and noting that such root causes of conflict, which do not recognize national borders, require national, regional and global responses.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the issue under discussion goes beyond the Council’s mandate, falling instead under the scope of the Economic and Social Council’s High-level Political Forum and the General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial). Emphasizing that all nations enjoy full sovereignty over the management of their own natural resources, he said the Council’s job is to ensure strict compliance with all its relevant resolutions and not to hold general discussions on the topic. Warning against artificially politicizing the issue, he said most conflicts are in fact driven by external players, not by arguments over natural resources. Involvement by external players and multinational corporations only veils a “mercantile desire” on the part of some States to get their hands on other countries’ natural resources. Examples of such meddling in the oil-rich Middle East and North African regions include the 2011 intervention in Libya’s internal affairs, the longstanding war in Syria, which led to the occupation of territories near the Euphrates and the secret exploitation of its hydrocarbon reserves, as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Also highlighting current attempts to intervene in Venezuela’s domestic affairs, he said “those who claim to be peacemakers and friends must not have any hidden agendas” nor seek to exploit other countries’ situations for their own material benefit.
MA ZHAOXU (China) said natural resources are critical for development and their illicit exploitation and trafficking, as well as their inequitable distribution, can fuel conflicts and undermine peace and security. Countries must be supported along their own chosen development paths. Underlining the need to respect the rights of States over the exploitation and management of their natural resources, he said multinational corporations should respect the sovereignty of their host countries. The Council, for its part, should place a stronger emphasis on good offices and mediation, with a focus on conflict prevention. Sanctions are never an end in themselves, he said, urging the Council to impose them only in the most targeted way possible as to avoid affecting civilian populations. Citing concerted efforts among African nations to improve natural resource management and combat their illicit trade, he said China fully supports such efforts and works to help its partners to leverage the potential of natural resources into development gains and economic prosperity.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) expressed concern that, in many parts of the world, access to and control over natural resources frequently becomes a root cause of conflict. Despite the potential for social and economic development, many States struggle with poverty, unemployment, epidemics and violence, while weak border control and poor infrastructure exacerbate these situations. There should be no tolerance for cases where authoritarian regimes are supported just to safeguard the interests of armed groups or companies benefitting from lucrative industries. Emphasizing that the Council’s debate on the issue should remain well focused, she said respect for international law and State sovereignty must be the starting points for all discussions. Governments have primary control over their natural resources, but the engagement of the private sector and support from regional and international organizations are also crucial. Turning to the role of the Council, she underlined a need for a comprehensive and innovative approach to the issue, as it relates to the actions of private companies, armed groups and local communities. United Nations missions and peacekeeping operations, among other tools, can help Governments, with full respect for their sovereignty, to prevent the illegal exploitation of their natural resources from further fuelling conflicts.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the rational management of natural resources is an important part of both sustainable development and conflict prevention. For this reason, short-term crisis responses must be coupled with long-term attention to the way resources are exploited. He called for the full integration of natural resource factors into reports and the development of capabilities for analysing such factors. Those speaking out on natural resource mismanagement must be protected. In cases where natural resources perpetuate a state of conflict, actions must include sanctions, which could be improved through the engagement of experts and follow-up with the private sector. Mechanisms such as the Kimberley Process should be extended to more commodities, including gold. In post-conflict situations, security-sector reform is necessary to prevent recurring illicit exploitation. Appropriate regulation of private security and extraction services is also needed. The international community can help States to exercise their sovereignty in all these areas, he said, underlining the importance of ensuring equitable land rights, particularly those of women. Attention is required in all sectors, in fact, to ensure that resources are drivers of sustainable development rather than of conflict.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), surveying conflicts driven or maintained by resources alongside peace agreements strengthened by resource sharing, said national responses have not been adequate in many cases to deal with the complex issue. In that vein, global cooperation and the application of international law is critical. International sanctions and regulatory schemes were important as well. However, the success of such strategies relies on the compliance of all stakeholders, particularly every Member State and the private sector. Noting the United Kingdom’s involvement in strengthening the Kimberley Process, she favoured the creation of similar regimes covering gold and other precious substances. She also described national and European efforts to assist with the rational management of resources. Responding to the statement made by her counterpart from the Russian Federation, she said not all interventions are motivated by desires to exploit natural resources, defending the need to protect populations when States could not meet their responsibilities in that regard.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) said disputes over natural resources have been on the international agenda for millennia. The advantage today is the United Nations, through which coordinated global action can be taken. Suggesting that a collective management system be established to address issues related to natural resources, he said stronger coordination between specialized agencies and United Nations programmes is also needed to improve State management of natural resources in conflict-affected countries. For its part, the Council must address natural resources, environmental consequences and their potential for fuelling conflict as an integral part of peacekeeping. Environmental issues can thus become an effective platform for enhancing dialogue, building confidence and broadening cooperation between groups and States.