One thing about all the conflicts going on around the world today is that their underlying causes haven’t changed. War has always been all about resources — access to and control over it. This is essentially what aspirations to national “independence” are all about. They start with “oppressed” people complaining about being sick and tired of other people being in charge of their stuff. So independence “movements” are essentially people getting together and convincing themselves — and other people who care to listen — that they are no longer “victims”. Similarly, expansionist aspirations find their origins in similar sorts of desperation. Adolf Hitler rose to power on the back of an entire nation of desperate people longing to be free of other governments’ claims to their stuff as compensation for World War I. Hitler succeeded in turning Germany back into an independent society. Unfortunately Germany’s success went way beyond their expectations. From being merely independent they went on to become the preeminent European military and economic power of the time.
And so, countries form or disintegrate on account of their peoples’ resource access situation. Recently, the province of Crimea decided to secede from the Ukraine, its government voting to declare “independence”. Its fate as a political entity rests on future referenda and parliamentary resolutions within it and in Russia deciding whether it will remain independent or join the Russian Federation. Control of Crimean ports is essential to access to the Black Sea where recent joint exploration deals between the Ukrainian government in Kiev and big-time energy companies like Exxon, Shell, and Chevron have struck paydirt and promise to reduce the Ukraine’s dependence on Russia for its energy needs.
Since the 1980s, the Soviet Union started offshore drilling for petroleum in the sea’s western portion (adjoining Ukraine’s coast). The independent Ukraine continued and intensified that effort within its Exclusive Economic Zone, inviting major international oil companies for exploration. Discovery of the new, massive oilfields in the area stimulated an influx of foreign investments. It also provoked a short-term peaceful territorial dispute with Romania which was resolved in 2011 by an international court redefining the Exclusive Economic Zones between the two countries.
Closer to home, the Philippines’ on-going face-off with Communist China over disputed West Philippine Sea territories is over the same prize — offshore oil. The Philippines is backed by a strong “legal” claim to the territories in dispute and adds teeth to that by invoking an old military treaty with its former colonial master, the United States. Joining government is Manuel Pangilinan’s Philex Petroleum Corporation representing part of the private sector’s agenda in the crisis, amazingly in partnership with Chinese state enterprise China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)…
Philex Petroleum is the controlling shareholder of London-based Forum Energy, which operates the natural gas prospects in the Reed Bank of the South China Sea. Forum Energy had called off in October 2012 the planned survey of the sea floor to determine the potential gas reserves of Reed Bank, citing harassment by Chinese navy vessels months earlier. After Philex Petroleum made a request in 2012 to the Chinese government to consider a joint exploration of the disputed territory, Beijing nominated CNOOC to be the partner for the project.
Even closer than closer-to-home is Mindanao, which the Manila government is virtually shrinkwrapping into little packages to be stamped with one-way delivery bills to Malaysia’s or Indonesia’s modern-day sultans. It is easy to see that Mindanao may one day be the Philippines’ Crimea. But that’s another story to be told.
In both the Black and West Philippine seas, the United States and most of the Western world is behind the “victims” owing to multilateral agreements clearly spelt out in black-and-white. The Ukraine’s sovereignity over Crimea is endorsed by Western powers and the United Nations, and the Philippines’ claims over the Spratly Islands and other disputed islands in the region enjoy strong bases in International Law. Russia’s alleged preemptive military excursion into Crimea and China’s belligerent naval “exercises” in the West Philippine sea are attracting condemnation from “friendly” and powerful governments.
Unfortunately, the United States’ leadership in all this is suffering a crisis of credibility owing to its own sorry history of military adventurism whenever situations suit its national interests…
U.S. President Barack Obama, a former law professor who should know better, has charged Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, with violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in breach of international law.
But it is Obama, following in [former US President George W] Bush’s footsteps, who has repeatedly and cynically flouted international law by launching or backing myriad armed attacks on foreign soil, in Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan to name a few, without U.N. security council authorization. It is Obama’s administration which continues to undermine international law by refusing to join or recognize the International Criminal Court, the most important instrument of international justice to have been developed since 1945.
More importantly, the United States cannot afford to antagonise Russia and China lest it risk its own access to the “essential” resources it needs to keep its citizens fat and happy on a diet of fossil fuels and the “affordable” manufactured goods produced in the Third World.
Suffice to say, all attempts to philosophise war and national agendas lead to the same primal motivation that’s driven practically all of human history. When it comes down to it, at all levels of abstraction — from the individual micro level to the national macro level — we are essentially just sophisticated conduits for dissipating the planet’s stored solar energy into space — just another contributor to the universe’s increasing entropy.
Politicians make the whole exercise sound nice. Science makes it real.
[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the Wikipedia.org article “Black Sea” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site. Photo courtesy Daily Mail.]
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