21st-century energy wars


Global conflicts are increasingly fuelled by the desire for oil and natural gas and the funds they generate. Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts. At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances. But look more closely, and they share several key characteristics, notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that has been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.

In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighbouring (often intermingled) tribes, sects and peoples. In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos and others.

It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fuelled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets. Make no mistake about it, these are 21st-century energy wars.

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