What's In Blue

Posted Mon 15 Oct 2018

The Role of Natural Resources as a Root Cause of Conflict Briefing

Tomorrow (16 October) the Security Council will hold a briefing at the initiative of Bolivia, this month’s Council president, on the role of natural resources as a root cause of conflict. Secretary-General António Guterres is scheduled to brief, and Council members are expected to make statements following the briefing. No formal outcome is anticipated.

In a concept note circulated earlier this month, Bolivia requests the Council to explore the relationship between natural resources and conflict by discussing the “role of armed groups, multinational companies, international finance networks and foreign interests, whose presence and actions on the ground are an important factor in either contributing to keep stability or generating the conditions for the outbreak of violent conflict.” It contrasts this approach to previous Council discussions of natural resources and conflict, which have focused on the lack of governance or poor management of natural resources on the part of the affected state, according to the concept note.

The concept note raises a number of issues that members may want to address during their interventions. These include:

  • how to ensure compliance with the UN Charter to prevent conflicts and make sure that sovereign states manage their national resources in the interests of their people;
  • how the Security Council can act when a state’s sovereignty is violated by a third party interested in the control, exploitation and access to its natural resources;
  • how to enhance the ability of states in conflict to protect and extend their authority over their sovereign territory; and
  • how the UN, its members and the private sector can work together to have companies in conflict areas act responsibly by conducting risk-based due diligence and supply chain checks.

Consistent with the concept note, Bolivia and some other members may reiterate the importance of upholding state sovereignty and resisting corporate exploitation in order to protect and manage natural resource wealth. In this regard, when it was last Council president in June 2017, Bolivia hosted a briefing on “preventive diplomacy and transboundary waters” in which its president, Evo Morales, stated that privatised water in Bolivia had led to higher costs and greater needs in cities; as a result, in the country’s 2009 constitution, “the people of Bolivia agreed that natural resources are strategic resources and belong to the public”, he said (S/PV.7959). In a similar vein, Russia stated during an open debate on the theme “addressing complex contemporary challenges to international peace and security” in December 2017 that it would be helpful to “take a look at the problems caused by the rapacious exploitation of natural resources by transnational corporations” (S/PV.8144).

Some members may draw connections between security, development and human rights in noting the importance of the fair and equitable use of natural resources. The relationship between security and development—and how the use or misuse of natural resources pertains to this relationship—has been explored before by the Council, including, for example, in the February 2011 debate on the interdependence between security and development (S/PV.6479), in the June 2013 debate on conflict prevention and natural resources (S/PV.6982), and in the January 2015 debate on inclusive development (S/PV.7361).

Participants in the meeting may also refer to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, including its emphasis on “the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources” and its call in Goal 16 for “peaceful and inclusive societies” and “effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels”. Goal 16 would appear particularly relevant to the notion of effective stewardship of natural resources through fair and transparent regulatory frameworks that do not exacerbate intra-societal tensions with the potential to lead to conflict. In the Council’s 10 September briefing on corruption and conflict, six members—China, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Peru, Poland, and Sweden—noted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in their interventions. During the same meeting, the Founding Director of the Enough Project, John Prendergast, maintained that several of the conflicts in Africa are “battles over the control of hijacked States and the natural resources that enrich the countries involved”, adding that “[c]ontrol of the State is the surest way to access these resources.”

Some members may further emphasise the effective and just management of natural resources as an important element of conflict prevention. This could include a discussion of the means available to enhance transparency with respect to the use of natural resources, to combat their illegal exploitation, and to promote inclusive development. There are various multilateral mechanisms that aim to help avoid conflict over natural resources, including the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. One or more of these initiatives may be referenced during the meeting as an example of international efforts to combat the illegal or unethical use of natural resources to fuel conflict.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails