Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The New Imperialism?

Contrary to popular notions, the world does not run on rainbows, unicorns, and skittles. Modern industrial economies need in particular, oil and gas and coal. With the earthquake in Japan turning Western nations against nuclear power (because of perceived risk), something will have to be done to garner critical resources. Which are not equally distributed among the planet, but concentrated (oil in particular) in the Middle East. Since 1945, the Western powers have been ebbing away from that area, preferring to buy oil at a distance from whoever would sell it, no matter how messy. That is likely to change. Recently on CNBC, Niall Ferguson observed that the likely outcome of the current Middle East turmoil is first, civil war, then Islamist take-over, and finally cross-border wars. All of which are going to make oil shipment nearly impossible, no matter how many eager buyers there will be, there just won't be anyone able to sell.















Ferguson of course is bullish on China, while ignoring China's very real problems. A financial sector that is a house of cards (China's State Owned Enterprises are propped up by constant new loans, to keep employment going -- these organizations don't actually make money, they exist to keep people working). China faces massive resource constraints, a largely illiterate interior population, about 30-40 million young men who will never find wives (gender imbalance due to selective sex abortion and the one child policy), a rapidly aging society before it gets rich, and massive ethnic/racial/religious separatist movements in Tibet, XianXiang (Muslim Uighurs) and in the East (Hui Muslims, ethnically Han but devout Muslims). China is the world's largest manufacturer, but its population mostly does not benefit, suffers from massive corruption and pollution, and is mostly quite poor.

Internally, China depends on an annual growth rate of 8-9%, something almost impossible to keep up much longer. There is only so much growth a nation can do by electrifying, building new roads, and so on. This is what the Soviets encountered in 1970 or so. China is quite likely to spark the new imperialism.

It has a certain logic. China needs ever greater raw materials, particularly oil which it must import from the Middle East. China must be tempted to intervene, militarily, to secure its own oil. And perhaps India will be tempted as well, it also depends on growth which means ready access to imported oil, and cheap oil at that, to fuel economic expansion and prevent its own civil war. Both India and China historically have been plagued by civil wars fueled by resource constraints and falling incomes after periods of growth, and their leadership is acutely aware of this tendency.

Europe too, faces challenges. Italy must at some point intervene in Libya, or it will be overrun by Libyans and Africans, becoming a third world hell-hole no different from Tripoli or Benghazi. Italians certainly don't want to fight and die, but neither do they want to be ruled by the Colonel, or people like him. The same holds true for France, and indeed Northern European nations like Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. If fifteen million Africans and North Africans wash up on Italy's shores, be assured that at least half of them will simply start walking north.

And most of these nations are weak. Libya is a set of tribes with flags, Algeria and Morocco little better, the same is true in the Gulf. Weak nations, with resources China, India, and the West need to run their economies above poverty-civil war levels, unable or unwilling to sell oil and gas because they are gripped by civil wars and cross-border wars? That is a recipe for "blood for oil," with the enthusiastic support of everyone who does not want live like a Santa Cruz hippie in the dirt and mud for the rest of their life. China and India seem already edging into confrontation over who will control the Indian Ocean and perhaps the Persian Gulf oil supplies. China has made massive investments in Africa, most of which have not panned out because … the continent is full of Africans. Which means the usual African level of stupid corruption, fighting, and such to garner ten dollars for a tribal chief who could have made ten million had he agreed to let the mining/resource investment proceed.

All the industrialized nations, from the West to China, are hideously vulnerable to Middle East oil being unavailable at any price, or only massively expensive prices. At which their economies seize up and civil wars of one sort or another break out. Internal peace depends in large part on cheap imported oil. Thus each nation is likely to set out, alone or in concert with others, to intervene, first diplomatically, then economically, and finally militarily, to secure the one resource (oil) that allows their economies to function at strife-avoiding levels.

This is particularly true since the idea is not a permanent colony, in unappetizing lands, but mere resource extraction in good old imperialist fashion. Something that goes back to the neolithic, no doubt. The West, and China too, likes to talk about self-determination, about anti-imperialism, human rights, and all that. If it is a question of permanent oil prices at $200 a barrel because Saudi Arabia is involved in a civil War, Iran has invaded the weaker Gulf states, and Libya is collapsing into constant attrition warfare between the Colonel and his enemies, yes both the West and China will intervene. India might as well.

The desire to avoid internal collapse will simply be too strong. China has no real oil reserves of its own. Like Japan it imports nearly all of its needs. China cannot keep its hundreds of millions of factory workers employed with oil at $200 a barrel. Since its rulers like very much, ruling, they will do anything and everything to get oil down appreciably lower, socialist and anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist rhetoric notwithstanding. The same is true for Europe, and ultimately America.

Indeed, the absence of America in the Med while Libya implodes and the Colonel promises to push most of his eastern population (into Italy, essentially) has been a wake-up call for Europeans on the need for their own navy, air forces, and army. Expect to see some rearmament being pushed by conservative parties arguing that becoming "Camp of the Saints" is not a wise policy. And that keeping hundreds of millions of North African and African refugees out of Europe requires armed forces of real size and capability. Even constrained, an industrialized Europe could build five-ten aircraft carriers and support ships, plus planes and people to run them. They don't have to be world-beating, just better than what Khadaffi will have, or the mass refugees. And from there, well it’s a short jump to wondering just why all that oil is not pumped for their benefit?

Western guilt is likely to end along with post-war prosperity. No one likes to sit in the cold and dark. Even Europeans expect results. Like the power to go on when you flip the switch.

22 comments:

Grave Of Empires said...

Whiskey, do you really think an attempt to set up resource-extraction colonial projects in the Middle-East will end well for China, the US or India?

How well are our attempts in Iraq and Afghanistan going? Even with the most brutal methods Russia couldn't stick it out in Afghanistan/Central Asia. Let's not forget that it also left the Russians open to Jihad, with Arab foreign fighters pouring into Chechnya to help their fellow Muslims.

China and India with their significant Muslim populations will be hemorrhaging blood and treasure on a very big scale, both at home and abroad. Do they even have the military power projection necessary to attempt these things? Let's not forget the blood-spilling will be beamed live across the world.

But by all means China should give it a try. It will only hasten the fall of the ruling party.

Grave Of Empires said...

Also, I know you think that with the high cost of oil people won't mind the gruesome images being splashed across the mainstream media, but people won't make that kind of connection. They wouldn't (want) to see how having two thirds of the US armed forces in the Middle East is directly connected to fueling up their SUV.

When CNN broadcasts images of amputated kids screaming and drenched in blood, or endless coffins returning, the public won't take the stoic and logical view that these are necessary evils. They certainly won't want to think that this being done on their behalf.

Anyway, all this is moot. We couldn't even secure the area around the Green Zone in Baghdad, nor the road leading to the airport which became the most dangerous highway in the world (Route Irish), how are we supposed to secure natural resource assets from Morroco to Pakistan?

YR said...

RE inability to secure Iraq:

Surely you do not think that the US military (and assorted contractors) were operating at their full capacity? I assume Whiskey is (wishfully) imagining the leash being taken off, so to speak.

Grave Of Empires said...

@YR

Did you read my post? I pointed out that the Russians tried the off-the-leash thing in Afghanistan to no avail.

Not even the genocidal levels of violence that Whiskey dreams of would be enough to create stability required for large scale resource extraction.

Whiskey said...

Damn Blogger ate my reply.

Short answer -- people will do anything to not be poor. So, no, I don't think people will care about gruesome images, or that they will be even shown on screen.

Would you trade a comfortable, middle class life for brutal, starvation level poverty?

YR said...

Surely I would not, but the choice has already been made for me.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eovei355l4o

Turner: Do we have plans to invade the Middle East?

Higgins: Are you crazy?

Turner: Am I?

Higgins: Look, Turner…

Turner: Do we have plans?

Higgins: No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do.

Turner: So Atwood just took the games too seriously. He was really going to do it, wasn't he?

Higgins: A renegade operation.
Atwood knew 54/12 would never authorize it, not with the heat on The Company.

Turner: What if there hadn't been any heat? Suppose I hadn't stumbled on their plan?

Higgins: Different ballgame. Fact is, there was nothing wrong with the plan. Oh, the plan was all right, the plan would've worked.

Turner: Boy, what is it with you people? You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?

Higgins: No. It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food. Plutonium. And maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?

Turner: Ask them.

Higgins: Not now — then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!

vonbock said...

Graves, we've got no real choice if the scenario described in the author's missive is accurate at all and at this point in time it seems to be. We'll have to fight/colonize ruthlessly or let your blog handle become a self-fulfilling prophecy for America's fate.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

It won't be a surprise if the events in Japan will cause a serious backlash against nuclear energy. But it's kind of amazing how such an incredibly crucial, life-and-death issue like energy production can be determined entirely by the emotional whims of people who know nothing about the subject.

Oh wait, that describes almost every political decision. Nevermind.

Anonymous said...

quote:
"China is the world's largest manufacturer, but its population mostly does not benefit, suffers from massive corruption and pollution, and is mostly quite poor."

History has proven that an equal distribution of wealth is NOT a requirement for a nation to achieve greatness. Rome, Great Britain, and the USA....they all share something in common. If socialism is the far left edge of a pendulum swing then all these nations were on the extreme right at their pinnacle.

The Chinese can lift 1/3rd of their population into prosperity while leaving the other 2/3rds behind in absolute poverty and that would be enough to make China the next world superpower. Of all the problems China has, the fact that the majority are quite poor, is the least of its concerns.

War Blogger said...

The events in Japan so far have had no impact on China's energy policy. Matter of fact, when the first news of trouble at Fukushima emerged, China had just decided to increase its own nuclear power production 8 times its momentary capacity. If there's one regime making halfway rational choices right now, it's the Chinese. They are a very historically aware people; they know the dangers that are ahead of them. I think there can be no doubt that there are many a scenario already being contemplated in Beijing about how to best handle the country's surplus of males, and in my opinion it all boils down to whatr Ferguson stated on Egypt: internal purges and external aggression. If this thing comes to blows, I wouldn't want to be a Muslim in China, and I wouldn't want to be one of China's direct neighbors (sans India) either.

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

I doubt India is going to start hand-wringing over nuclear power either.

The problem with the West might be that it believes itself to be invincible and guaranteed to always maintain current standards of living, no matter what. So people build "green energy" and import hordes of third worlders because these things make everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside. They think they can afford to do this and don't have to be concerned about practical matters or the future. This mentality is also reflected by the way we're completely preoccupied with utterly trivial matters like what some random student said on YouTube.

Prasad said...

I think oil prices will not come down in the next two months

The Anti-Gnostic said...

We'll have to fight/colonize ruthlessly...

And you'll be in the vanguard, right? Taking one for the team in the heart of darkest Africa? Locking and loading while surrounded by a lynch mob in Jeddah?

When or if resource wars start happening, the military will be at least half Latino. They'll just loot the neighborhoods around the base. I'm not sure what all the female helicopter pilots, affirmative action generals, pregnant sailors, and loud, proud, all-gay platoons will do.

Even assuming the US stays a viable nation-state, we already know the imperial endgame: huge, unwieldly bureaucracy, corruption, stifling taxes and regulation and an influx of colonial natives to the homeland. Ask our British cousins how Empire ended up for them.

Got any other ideas?

Whiskey said...

Anti-Gnostic -- you are thinking old school. The point of the new imperialism is not to rule foreign peoples. It is to extract with the maximum efficiency and minimum fuss the vast majority of critical resources failed states that are weak and incapable of doing it themselves.

Suppose for example, Libya devolves into Somalia plus. Khadaffi in power, but only nominally, too weak to protect the oil fields and provide security, not strong enough to rule with an iron hand, the rebels still holding territory.

What then? Naturally that invites the idea that holding only the places where the oil is pumped, and sent in pipelines, can make countries rich. Someone will do it. China is already on its way.

Spain had a huge empire, and did not import most of Mexico nor Peru. Neither did Rome, or Persepolis, or Moscow, import the periphery.

The New Imperialism is not about White Man's Burden. It is about grabbing from failed states/peoples valuable resources because they can't even get it together to sell it you at any price. China is already making that happen. India too. Russia's "adventures" in Georgia are a taste -- not rule but constant knocking down of foreign and weak neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Whiskey, do you realize how much infrastructure you need on the ground to extract resources? Take for example the vast stretched of oil and gas pipelines. There's absolutely no way you could defend them from attack.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Current Marxists say the same sort of thing: the Soviets just didn't do it right. We will! Because we're so smart!

Like they're saying on Sailer's thread, good luck whipping your Americorps diversitroops into that mindset.

Anonymous said...

Anti-Gnostic, are you White?

Anonymous said...

Anti-Gnostic, are you White?

map said...

"Like they're saying on Sailer's thread, good luck whipping your Americorps diversitroops into that mindset."

This assumes that the military as a viable entity will still exist. Remember, the racial breakdown of the services falls this way: Trigger-pullers heavily White and support troops heavily black and hispanic. With the attempted "gayification" of the armed forces, it's quite possible that the White, military-trained combat troops will simply join private mercenary companies like Xe and Diligence, and US military spending will shift to these private defense contractors that will fight the wars for us.

Ironically, gays and women in the military will assure that the Republican Party gets its own mercenary army.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

map,

That'll be useful. Xe and Diligence roaming around the Saudi peninsula when Aztec cartels start taking over California and Arizona towns.

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