The Passage Crisis & the Return of Imperialism


According to Helio Jaguaribe, the accelerated industrialization of Asian countries, mainly China and India and the slow incorporation of their immense populations as consumers, causes a matter of extreme graveness to arise?:

The lack of willingness, in a corresponding proportion, or even in absolute terms, of several essential scarce minerals for the industrial process, such as petroleum, natural oil, uranium, molybdenum, tungsten, cobalt, lead, zinc will be very scarcely available from 2075 on. (Jaguaribe, 2006; 14)

According to the projections from the American Department of Energy, China’s energy consumption is going to increase 4.3 percent per year until 2020, “which will imply an increase of 150 percent in the consumption of oil, of 158 percent coal and more than 1,100 percent in natural gas” (Clare, 203: 36). A similar pattern can be seen in India, where the consumption of energy will increase 3.7 percent until 2020. It is a fact that the demand if lots of key raw materials is growing at an unsustainable rate. In this state of things, Jaguaribe states:

Or a wide and deep reorganization of the industrial civilization is achieved –which is not being done, nor is it being though about seriously- or the world will face in the last third of this century a gigantic industrial crisis. It is probably that in the presence of that crisis the most powerful countries, above all the United States, will be taken into a fierce imperialism of supplies and they will take hold of the scarce sources of resources to the detriment of smaller nations. (Jaguaribe, 2006: 15)

To some experts in international security, like Michael Clare (2003: 23), the dispute for resources is bringing about a rift that is becoming more and more noticeable in the international system. To Klare, the most important objective of the strategic agenda of Washington is to “guarantee American access to vital sources of resources abroad”. Thus it is evidenced by “not only the geographic dimension of strategic proposals, the greater and greater emphasis dedicated to military operations in the Persian Gulf, in the Caspian and in other energy producing zones, but also operative aspects. […] This new focus can be observed, for example, in the attention dedicated to energy problems on behalf of the North American Intelligence Services” (Klare, 2003: 23).

The hypothesis of the return of supply imperialism is addressed by Thomas Friedman, who states: “The main disputes over resources will be resolved through market mechanisms” (quoted by Klare, 2003: 33), given that the increase in prices, as a result of scarcity, will cause substitution materials to be developed. According to Klare, Friedman’s thesis overlooks the historical fact that on numerous opportunities governments from any political symbol “have turned to weapons for what they consider vital national interests, among which figure petroleum supply and potable water” (Klare, 2003: 33). And nowadays in almost all countries on earth, claims Klare, “the plan to protect essential raw materials has become a primordial part of the planning of national security” (33). Furthermore, contrary to Friedman’s opinion, market forces could be counterproductive in the sense that “if the price of crude were to increase so much that great economic hardships were necessary in the importing countries [these] could begin military operations abroad. An action that in fact has been completed by North American strategists in the past and could reveal itself as the preferential option before future crisis of the same genre” (83). Furthermore, Klare adds that “no advanced industrial society and subsist without a substantial stockpile of petroleum. Therefore, any situation susceptible to seriously compromising the continuation of the supply can originate a crisis and, in extreme cases, provoke the employment of military force. Any of the great producing regions is exposed to an incidence of this type” (47), logically including the petroleum regions of South America.

In his book The Economy of the Hydrogen, Jeremy Rifkin (2002) observes that we draw near to a critical point in the era of fossil combustibles, of potentially disastrous consequences for industrial civilization. If up until now, he states, experts had evaluated that there is even enough raw petroleum left for forty more years approximately, some of the main geologists have already began to suggest that global production could touch the roof and begin its continuous decent much sooner than what was foreseen, maybe at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. The producing countries –not belonging to the OPEP-, he points out, are already drawing near their production roof, which leaves the majority of the reserves left in the Islamic countries of Middle East, marked by their political instability. However, he states, a new energy pattern is being born, a new source of energy that will replace petroleum just as this replaced, in its time, coal. Rifkin affirms that that new source of energy will be hydrogen energy.

It seems logical to speculate that, as Friedmann stated, market mechanisms will orient scientific investigation into the development of substitution materials and into the creation of new sources of energy. Nevertheless, it also seems logical to think that, between the birth of a new chief energy and the death of the old chief energy, there might be a “crisis of passage” of an undetermined duration. Identical reasoning can be applied for the apparition of the substitution materials. Thus it will be highly probable that during this “crisis of passage” the subordinates States be taken to a “supply imperialism”, to take by force the sources of scarce resources.

A thorough and palpable show of this almost inevitable –and probably growing- struggle for increasingly scarce resources is constituted by the recent dispute over the dominion of the Arctic that has come up since around mid-2007, when Russia planted its flag in the southern most region of the world making of it an act of sovereignty. In effect, the Russian government states that a large part of the sub-marine floor of the polar north –known as Lomonosov Mountain Range- happens to be a geological extension of their country. This postulation would allow it to claim that space before the UN. Also, Denmark, Norway and Canadaare carrying out their respective investigations to show that the Lomonosov mountain range, that extends underwater from Russia by the North Pole and over to the Canadian Islands of Ellesmere and Greenland, is the continuation of respective platforms and that, therefore, they belong to them. The dispute is not casual. The American government agency of hydrocarbons states that 25 percent of world resources of crude oil are north of the Arctic Polar Circle. Furthermore in the Arctic there are rich gas, gold and diamond deposits.1 Another zone that one day, not too far away, will become a battle field of this war of supplies is the Antarctic, in which there exist proven and abundant servers of petroleum and gas, as well as enormous mining riches. This is no other than the logic that explains that Great Britain wants to extend its dominion to around the Falkland Islands to an area of about 350 miles (563,3 kilometers).

But this dispute for strategic supplies very probably will go from the most icy and unhospitable regions of the planet to the much more benevolent and accessible South America. Our subcontinent has more than respectable reserves of petroleum, gas, copper, uranium, tungsten, zinc, titanium, the largest reserve of fresh water on the planet and a rich biodiversity. Due to that, when things grow tough – during the “crisis of passage”- the lack of energy, water and raw materials, the most powerful countries will direct their gazes toward our region. We can have the hope –if “supply imperialism” is not unleashed- to be the rich in the future. But if our hope is in the reserves, history proves that, when the big and strong have need of them, they will take them by good or evil.

From that hypothetical international stage comes our main preoccupation. Due to that a vital objective of the medium-term creation of the “South American Armed Forces” that might come to possess a dissuasive and strategic capacity in such a way that would make the cost of a military venture against the region be greater than the benefits that could be extracted out of it.

In some countries of the region there is already a clear preoccupation and an open disposition to bring up the topic. Thus, in Brazil, in November of 2007, the army General Jose Benedito de Barros Moreira, with a notable frankness and an analysis of the future world stage that was difficult to criticize, publicly stated before television cameras that: “Brazil is an object of world greed because it has water, food and energy. For that reason we need to place a strong paddle lock on the latch”. General Moreira is an extremely high official activity and secretary of Strategy of the Ministry of Defense, circumstances that granted him enormous relevance to his declarations. To further clarify the existing disposition, he added:

The current panorama reveals a violent and dangerous world, and no nation can feel safe if it does not develop the technology that will allow it to defend itself in a time of need.

During 2006 as much in Venezuela as in Brazil the creation of a “South American Military Force” was proposed. Now all that needs to be done is to go from a rhetorical to an operative level.