Smoke and Mirrors


  • David G. Victor
Publish Date:
January 2, 2008
Publication Title:
The National Interest
Magazine Article
  • David G. Victor, Smoke and Mirrors, (in Thomas Homer-Dixon, Michael T. Klare, Sherri W. Goodman, Paul J. Kern and David G. Victor, Debating Disaster: The World is Not Enough), The National Interest, January 2, 2008.


In the last issue of The National Interest, David Victor argued that the threat of resource wars is overplayed and overblown. To recap:

Rising energy prices and mounting concerns about environmental depletion have animated fears that the world may be headed for a spate of “resource wars”—hot conflicts triggered by a struggle to grab valuable resources. Such fears come in many stripes, but the threat industry has sounded the alarm bells especially loudly in three areas. First is the rise of China, which is poorly endowed with many of the resources it needs—such as oil, gas, timber and most minerals—and has already “gone out” to the world with the goal of securing what it wants. Violent conflicts may follow as the country shunts others aside. A second potential path down the road to resource wars starts with all the money now flowing into poorly governed but resource-rich countries. Money can fund civil wars and other hostilities, even leaking into the hands of terrorists. And third is global climate change, which could multiply stresses on natural resources and trigger water wars, catalyze the spread of disease or bring about mass migrations.

Most of this is bunk, and nearly all of it has focused on the wrong lessons for policy. Classic resource wars are good material for Hollywood screenwriters. they rarely occur in the real world. to be sure, resource money can magnify and prolong some conflicts, but the root causes of those hostilities usually lie elsewhere. Fixing them requires focusing on the underlying institutions that govern how resources are used and largely determine whether stress explodes into violence. When conflicts do arise, the weak link isn’t a dearth in resources but a dearth in governance.

Now we hear from Victor’s critics, Thomas Homer-Dixon, Michael Klare, Sherri Goodman and Paul Kern. they tackle him on everything, from climate change to the impact of oil shortages and the mass spread of disease. Victor has the last word.