International Resource Politics 101: Foundations of Resource Politics



Foreword


International Resource Politics is characterized by three terms: International Relations, Geopolitics, and Resources. It explains the influence of natural resources, particularly energy, on state behavior and international politics. Resources have a tremendous impact on the world stage as resource-rich states have power over obtaining, securing, and limiting access to their energy assets, hence shaping interstate relations. Taking into account the three terms formerly mentioned, this series of articles explains the geopolitical advantages and disadvantages provided, namely, by energy while focusing on the development of resources as economic engines and their role in various political events that have occurred in the late 19th century up to present times.


The International Resource Politics 101 series is divided into six chapters:


  1. International Resource Politics 101: Foundations of Resource Politics

  2. International Resource Politics 101: Oil’s Emergence and Historical Implications.

  3. International Resource Politics 101: Economic Illnesses

  4. International Resource Politics 101: Political Implications of Renewable Energies

  5. International Resource Politics 101: Terrorism and Geopolitics

  6. International Resource Politics 101: Blessing Or Curse?



The pursuit of economic stability and prosperity significantly relies on the profusion of resources, geopolitics, and natural resources, three terms that have proven to be magnificent, but dreadful partners (Sarpong, 2021, p. 1). However, in order to properly understand the paradigm of International Resource Politics, it is, first, fundamental to perceive the essence of the interlinked concepts of international relations, geopolitics, and natural resources separately.


International Relations is a vast and thorough field of study in academia. In most academic contexts, it is indicated as a sub-discipline of political science, studying "the relations between political entities and the connections between economics, law, and politics in the global environment"(Steinmetz, n.d.). In this article, the term "international relations" is further explored solely from the political perspective (Steinmetz, n.d.). As a theoretical way of approaching international relations, scholars from schools of realism and transnationalism aimed to provide different explanatory descriptions on this topic (Hollis & Smith, 2022, p. 1). According to Hans Morgenthau, one of the founding fathers of the realist school, international relations "do not practice universal moral principles and as a result of self-interested human nature, there is a struggle for power among nations" (Morgenthau, 1973, p. 3). In the meantime, scholars of the transnationalism theory shifted the focus from states to non-state actors and attributing to the former role of the sustaining peaceful relations among countries. Transnationalists lay emphasis on the fact that the global environment cannot be explained by considering states alone (Hollis & Smith, 2022, p. 35). Therefore, the standard explanation for international relations can be concluded as the foreign affairs and relations among states (Steinmetz, n.d.).



Figure 1: Flags of the members of the United Nations in front of a convention center in Geneva as a representation of unity.


Since the scope of international relations has been broadened, the concept of geopolitics is brought forth. As one of the 20th century's most prominent intellectual domains, geopolitics is shaping the nature of research in the fields of state military, foreign policies, national interests, and the prognostication of regional and global conflicts (Sarpong, 2021, p. 2). Due to the relative youngness of the field and the intricacy of its subject matter, there is no more or less agreed definition of geopolitics. According to Martin Jones et al. (2004), geopolitics is concerned with politics regarding power and resources in combination with the spatial or territorial dimensions of states. This means that spatial differences between certain ‘territories’ are evaluated for their uses in different policy objectives (15). ​

In the meantime, Hayes et al (2006) defines the term of Geopolitics as:

the influence of geographic, cultural, demographic, economic, and technological factors on the political discourse among international actors (5).

Zbigniew Brzezinski (1986), a political scientist and statecraft expert, draws an intriguing difference between the geopolitical, the strategic, and the geostrategic notions:

Geopolitics reflects the combination of geographic and political factors determining the condition of a state or region, emphasizing the influence of geography on politics, strategic refers to the comprehensive and planned application of measures to achieve a central goal or to achieve a specific objective (p.14).

These definitions provide some clarification, but they fall far short of properly capturing the variety of meanings associated with geopolitics. In international resource politics, the strategic geopolitical discourse is formed based on the abundance, availability, and accessibility of natural resources (Sarpong, 2021, p.12). The delicate balance between economic interests and the state of the world's politics is getting progressively precarious as the demand for raw commodities and resources grows tremendously. As a result, any nation-state could undergo some resource manipulation to reach definitive economic or political goals (Chugh, 2012). The ongoing war in Ukraine which has received significant support from the West, particularly from the European Union (EU) which has hosted millions of refugees and sanctioned the entire trade with the Russian market, could be the best example of resource manipulation due to the EU's high gas dependency on Russia (Meredith, 2022). As an immediate backlash to these actions, the Putin administration halted gas deliveries to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Netherlands, and Denmark, all EU member states, for "refusing to comply with the contractual conditions". This caused the coldest and most costly winter in EU history, whilst the rest of the European countries are at stake of temporary gas shutdowns (Deutsche Welle, 2022).



Figure 2: The European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen and the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev signing an agreement to ramp up the amount of gas deliveries to EU.


The resource scarcity of some nation-states could drive geopolitics against their will to cover the hugely influencing empty hall in the economy. An example of such case is the enhancement of the strategic partnership of the EU and Azerbaijan (Rankin, 2022). The European Union has been criticized amidst the gas crisis by the international organization Human Rights Watch for signing an agreement to expand the southern gas corridor with Azerbaijan, an already substantial gas supplier to the EU. The reason behind these condemnations is that Azerbaijan is an autocratic, post-USSR state which suppresses opposition leaders and dominates the media (Rankin, 2020). On the one hand, the EU is on the verge of economic failure due to the shortage of energy resources it is currently experiencing. On another hand, it is fully committed to human rights and democracy. Furthermore, EU states are currently trading with a country that does not align with EU ideology and principles which is a testament to the pivotal role resources play in policy-shaping decisions (Rankin, 2020). Therefore, it is vital to note that resources are the key drivers of geopolitics and fundamental in understanding the basic drivers of International Resource Politics (Sarpong, 2021, p.1).


The last pillar of International Resource Politics is resources. Natural resources are "materials or substances which are found in nature and can be used for economic gains, such as minerals, forests, water, and fertile land" (East Riding of Yourkshire Council, 2022). The resources executed in political decision-making or for all facets of social life that are directed at a governing or decision-making body are indicated as political resources (Political Inequality, 2008). Natural resources including hydrocarbons, gold, uranium, diamonds, copper, zinc, and rare earth minerals, which have historically been linked to protracted conflicts and civil wars in some parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, are increasingly reshaping the global geopolitical landscape, influencing foreign policies, and boosting economic growth engines across continents (Chugh, 2013). The role of hydrocarbons, such as oil and gas, are the engines of the economy, and by virtue of their power and influence on people's lives, will be the main focus of this 101 series (Ipieca, n.d.).



Figure 3: An offshore oil and gas processing platform.


There are plenty of regions in the world that could demonstrate the vital role of resources in global affairs and the case of the Caspian Sea is one of them. After the fall of the USSR, the Caspian Basin, which is surrounded by 5 littoral states, became available and accessible to "external powers". According to the calculation of the International Energy Agency, with proven reserves of 48 billion barrels (bn bls) of oil and 292 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas within the Caspian Basin, a "new Great Game" was triggered. If initially, the pool was occupied by two rivalries, the US and Russia, the EU and China also later joined the game. Such an extreme attraction to the Caspian Basin is linked to the plentitude of hydrocarbons which are greatly lacking in the EU and China. For Russia, the attraction is also motivated by the reestablishment of its old dominance in the region (Stegen & Kusznir, 2015). In the meantime, the natural gas reserves of the African continent revealed over 620 trillion cubic feet in 2021. This attracted foreign investment and increased its reputation as an international supplier (Kamer, 2022). Due to their resources, especially oil and gas, these regions are defined as resource-rich and therefore, attract many resource-scarce countries which invest and trade. This creation of trade links and tightening of economic ties causes dependence over crucial resources (Kamer, 2022).


Figure 3: Kashagan field, an offshore oil field in Kazakhstan's exclusive economic zone of the Caspian Sea


To summarize, the framework of International Resource Politics is formed by the effects of international relations, geopolitics, and the availability of resources. The availability of resources in a state affects its political direction and behavior in global affairs. Acknowledgment of the power of resources on the intercontinental level is pertinent due to an increasing battle among nations for access to and control of resources and valuable materials. While realists define international relations as states acting solely out of self-interest, transnationalists perceive the non-states actors as key part of the international system. Consequently, resource-scarce countries with high moral principles, for the purpose of economic stability and prosperity, could partner with resource-rich countries that are holders of lower moral principles and opposing ideologies. Industrial growth, exponentially rising energy hunger, the emergence of new markets, and the alarming destruction of natural resources are all fueling the importance of recognizing International Resource Politics as a fundamental shaper of international political agendas.



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Marzhan Zhailau

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