The ascendance of China and India has more than doubled the number of people competing for the resources that were 15 years ago consumed primarily by North Americans, Europeans and Japanese.
It’s not just oil and energy. Nations care about industrial metals as well, along with fertile land, corn and wheat. The metals can be recycled. Just because a person uses aluminium to make a can doesn't mean that quantity of aluminium vanishes from the earth. It can be turned into a wire, an aircraft part or another can. Similarly, corn is renewable. People eat it, excrete it and grow more.
But 600 million years ago a sea dinosaur died and was buried at the bottom of the prehistoric ocean. Mingling with other animals under heat and pressure, it became the hydrocarbon sludge we call oil. Three months ago it was sucked from the ground, shipped to a refinery, cracked, turned into gasoline, trucked to a service station and sold for $1.30 per litre. Then the dinosaur gets incinerated in five seconds when passing the old lady in the fast lane.
There is no reusing oil. Once burned, it's gone forever. Oil is unique among the competitive resources. If there is no oil in the next 20 years, it will mean industrial and economic death for a good chunk of the developed world. So it follows that if there are 10 years of oil left in the world or 500 years, it will be easier to fight conflicts over resources now than to wait until later.
The reason humans will continue to fight is not that we are using too much oil for fuel, but that oil is a production input for everything. People who own oil effectively control a percentage of the world’s economic activity, because all economic activity uses oil. No other industry can tax the whole of economic activity like this (except governments).
Alternatives could replace fuel oil, but we're just delaying the inevitable because oil is only about 50%-60% used for energy. An almost equal amount is used for chemicals and electric cars will still need to lubricate their chassis and gears. Those lubricants are oil-based, as are many household products. Besides, recycling plastic is inefficient and often ineffective.
The sphere of a country’s national interests extends to every place on the planet on which it depends on for trade, resources and security. There is no shame in admitting that a country depends on the Middle East for oil or on Japan, Korea or China for trade. It also has the benefit of being true. We need oil and trade to survive. That's the reality. And therefore certain things need to happen.
Countries are hard at work making things difficult for their rivals. Borders are meaningless. Where are the resources? Where are the most economical routes for tapping those resources? That's the map that everyone should look at. If someone is already claiming those resources, the game is to get them to sell, force them to sell, encourage them to leave, force them to leave, try to steal it from them – and failing all that, just kill them.
It astounds me that people still think because the US bungled in Iraq that it bungles everything everywhere. If that were true, the US would never have achieved the level of power and influence it has in the world. When it comes to resources, the US wants to ensure no other nation on earth is powerful enough to do what it did in Iraq. What did it do in Iraq? Seize control over – surprise – the world's largest oil reserves. Resources aren’t everything, but it’s a major factor.
The strategic behaviour of nations in relation to resources determine nations' ability to compete and survive. It is very easy to say the US could have done much better in Iraq, but it is hard to argue that the US would have been better off in the long term if those oil reserves were outside its control, or worse in other country’s control. Even if most of Iraq’s oil in 2003 and in 2017 goes to China.
But regardless of the outcome of these future wars, "we" don’t matter. "We" do not own or control the oil industry, "we" do not operate defence contractors. "We" are the people slaving away in the fields to pay taxes to our respective kings. When the taxes aren't enough for Our Majesty's liking, we offer up our first born to go fight the firstborn in another kingdom.
We do this gladly, as our patriotic duty, praying for our knights as they ride into battle, and will glorify and sing songs to remember their valour and honour on the battlefield. And throughout it all, we forget our royal family has married into their royal family, and that our king considers their king "a friend." The lesson? Certain outcomes are inevitable when resources are scarce.