PUNDITS, JOURNALISTS and Sunday morning news show commentators sometimes say silly things about the links between resources and war. "Iraq is all about oil" or "Global warming caused the Darfur genocide." And, sometimes, NGO leaders and policymakers say similar silly things when they want the media to pay attention to a particular region or issue. It's easy to criticize these statements. But thoughtful commentators, of whom David Victor is normally one, know they contribute little by doing so. Yet, in this case, he's pulled together several oft-heard arguments about why threats from resource wars are overblown. Some of the skeptical positions have merit, but many are deeply misleading. No serious scholar of this issue says that resource stress causes violence by itself; almost none asserts that the causal links between resource stress and violence are direct; and very few argue that interstate war is the most likely outcome. Resource stresses are security dangers, though they are one among many. They will not be the only cause of conflict, but they will add to the risk of war.
If you listen to Victor, though, you might just get lulled into a false sense of security. He beats down straw-man arguments, in the end offering nothing but false reassurances about the security risks posed by resource stress. If the author had been willing to take on nuance, he wouldn't have been able to write the kind of simplistic and ideologically charged article that appeared in these pages. That's because serious scholars who have spent years studying the links between resources and mass violence-and I count myself in that group-rarely, if ever, make the kinds of arguments Victor so boldly attacks.