Conflict Prevention and Natural Resources
Expected Council Action
In June, the UK is planning to hold an open debate on conflict prevention and natural resources. Briefers are likely to include Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, a high-level representative of the World Bank and possibly also a representative of the extractive industries. A presidential statement is a possible outcome.
Key Recent Developments
On 15 April, at the initiative of Rwanda, the Council had a briefing on conflict prevention with a specific focus on addressing the root causes of conflict in Africa (S/PV.6946). The resulting presidential statement included language about the illegal exploitation of natural resources as a cause of conflict, the potential role for the UN in capacity-building toward the effective national management of natural resources, and the importance of multilateral mechanisms for commodity tracking and revenue transparency as conflict prevention tools (S/PRST/2013/4).
Previously, under the presidency of Belgium, the Council held an open debate on natural resources and conflict on 25 June 2007. The ensuing presidential statement (S/PRST/2007/22) covered several important themes, including:
- the contribution of the illegal exploitation of natural resources toward the outbreak, escalation and prolonging of conflict;
- the need to improve the work of sanctions committees and associated panels and groups of experts;
- the potential role of peace operations to assist with natural-resource management;
- the function of the Peacebuilding Commission in assisting transitions from natural-resource conflict;
- the importance of the private sector and the need for corporate social responsibility;
- how security sector reform could contribute to more effective customs controls;
- the regional and international dimensions of the trade in conflict commodities;
- the significance of national legislation and regulation for the effective management of natural resources; and
- the need for better coordination with regional organisations.
A substantial body of academic research indicates a correlation between natural resource dependence and the incidence of intrastate conflict, the prevalence of corruption, poor economic performance, low societal welfare and the absence of democracy. The effect of what has been termed the “resource curse” is particularly pronounced with non-renewable, point-source resources, such as oil, gas and minerals.
The dynamics of intrastate conflict and international intervention interrelated with natural resources are numerous. Prominent recurring patterns include:
- chronic national mismanagement of the extractive industries leading to state weakness and a structural opportunity for rebellion;
- grievances related to environmental damage, social fragmentation or revenue distribution providing motivation for the formation of rebel groups;
- the financing of insurgent and state war economies, particularly arms transfers, through natural resource exports;
- facilitating the individual pursuit of economic incentives, whether the looting of commodities by combatants or corruption related to resource revenue;
- influencing relations between central governments and resource-rich regions, including secessionist and irredentist movements;
- illicit natural resource exports through adjacent countries impacting the political economy of military intervention by neighbouring states;
- the exploitation of natural resources increasing the difficulty and complexity of UN peace operations, particularly peacekeeping and mediation; and
- strategic commodities affecting the foreign policies of powerful states which may have either national or commercial interests at stake.
Much of the Council’s agenda concerns countries in various stages of either conflict or post-conflict peacebuilding involving natural resources. The Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia each demonstrate certain aspects of recent or current conflict linked with natural resources. In Mali, the present significance of uranium extraction is less clear, but it has been interrelated with conflict between the Tuareg community and the government in the past. Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Libya and Sierra Leone are each in different modes of post-conflict peacebuilding largely financed by natural resource exports. Meanwhile, Iraq faces disputes over oil rights between the central government and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and Afghanistan is on the brink of a massive expansion of mining and oil operations. Both present risks of future conflict.
Natural Resources and UN Sanctions
|Country||Natural Resources||UN Sanctions on Commodities|
|Côte d’Ivoire||diamonds||15 December 2005 – 30 April 2014|
|DRC||coltan, gold, diamonds||none|
|Iraq*||oil||14 April 1995 – 21 November 2003|
|Liberia||diamonds, timber||7 March 2001 – 27 April 2007 (diamonds); 6 May 2003 – 20 June 2006 (timber)|
|Libya**||oil, gas||17 March 2011 – 16 September 2011|
|Sierra Leone||diamonds||5 July 2000 – 4 June 2003|
|Somalia||charcoal||22 February 2012 –|
|*=Oil-for-Food Programme **=asset freeze on oil corporations|
Thus far, the Council’s most common response to natural resource-related conflict has been to authorise commodity sanctions, often in conjunction with a Panel of Experts or a Monitoring Group, but this has been an imperfect solution at best. The limitations of commodity sanctions as a tool of prevention are readily apparent as they are almost always applied after an armed conflict has already started.
Devising a preventive means of addressing the “resource curse” in vulnerable countries is a key issue for the Council.
Determining precisely where the Council may have an institutional comparative advantage and what are the most useful entry points for the prevention of conflict linked to the exploitation of natural resources is a related issue.
Harmonising the Council’s policymaking short-term goals with the long-term nature of the processes of peacebuilding and statebuilding in conflict-prone natural resource dependent countries is a further issue.
The open debate and a potential presidential statement are likely to reference existing multilateral mechanisms that may facilitate the prevention of natural resource conflict, such as:
- the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative;
- the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme;
- the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; and
- the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.
Following up on the Secretary-General’s identification of the need for a multi-disciplinary task team on the “economic drivers of conflict” within the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia and looking at the feasibility of a similar approach within other Council-mandated operations is another option.
A further option would be recommending an accelerated development of institutional capacity within the UN Secretariat specifically regarding: analysing the economic dimensions of conflict; assessing the influence of natural resources and the extractive industries on conflict; and designing effective mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution in natural resource dependent states.
Council and Wider Dynamics
There is a risk that divisions could emerge in the Council that mirror policy differences between the so-called traditional donors of developed countries and certain emerging economies in terms of how they approach development assistance. There is a perception among some countries that reform of the extractive industries is a primarily western-driven agenda. In order for the Council to make progress on natural resource conflict prevention initiatives, there may need to be a shared understanding that both resource exporting countries and resource importing countries—whether developed, emerging or developing—benefit from stability.
Commercial interests among Council members could also influence decision-making. Many of the world’s largest oil and mining companies are headquartered in Australia, China, France, Russia, the UK or the US. Council members may be wary of initiatives that they perceive could potentially put their corporations at a competitive disadvantage. In this sense, the UN could become a preferred multilateral forum for negotiation as agreements would be globally applicable. Council members may also be supportive of conflict-prevention initiatives in countries where their nations’ corporations invest, in which case natural resource dependent countries where the UN deploys peacekeeping, peacebuilding and political missions could benefit.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|25 April 2013 S/RES/2101||This resolution renewed for a period of 12 months the sanctions regime on Côte d’Ivoire and the mandate of the Group of Experts.|
|22 February 2012 S/RES/2036||This resolution authorised an increase in AMISOM’s troop ceiling as well as an expansion of its UN support package and imposed a ban on importing charcoal from Somalia.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|15 April 2013 S/PRST/2013/4||This was the presidential statement adopted at the conclusion of the meeting on “Prevention of conflicts in Africa: addressing the root causes”.|
|25 June 2007 S/PRST/2007/22||This presidential statement was on the role of natural resources in conflict.|
|Security Council Letters|
|19 April 2013 S/2013/239||This was from the Secretary-General regarding the findings and observations of the TAM.|
|2 April 2013 S/2013/204||This letter transmitted the concept note for a briefing in the Security Council on Prevention of conflicts in Africa: addressing the root causes.|
|6 June 2007 S/2007/334||This was the concept paper for the 25 June open debate on conflict and natural resources.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|15 April 2013 S/PV.6946||This was a briefing on “Prevention of conflicts in Africa: addressing the root causes”.|
|25 June 2007 S/PV.5705||This was the record of a meeting on maintenance of international peace and security, focusing in particular on the links between conflict and natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.|
|25 June 2007 S/PV.5705 (Resumption 1)||This was the resumption of a meeting focusing on the maintenance of international peace and security.|
|Sanctions Committee Documents|
|11 July 2012 S/2012/544||The final report on Somalia of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.|
|Human Rights Council Documents|
|21 March 2011 A/HRC/17/31||This included the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.|
Useful Additional Resources
2013 Resource Governance Index: A Measure of Transparency and Accountability in the Oil, Gas and Mining Sector, Revenue Watch Institute, 2013.
Africa Progress Report 2013: Equity in Extractives, Stewarding Africa’s natural resources for all, Africa Progress Panel, 2013.
Philippe Le Billon, Wars of Plunder: Conflicts, Profits and the Politics of Resources (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).
Michael L. Ross, The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).