The importance of resources in the world

[1] The ever-present necessity of gaining resources in the world, but to what costs throughout history?

One of my favourite parts of history apart from the Cold War era, has to be the imperial and colonial period in the world by the European powers of Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy during the 15th to mid-20th centuries covering all the corners of the globe. I have used different components to try answer this idea of importance in resources, from the definitions of imperialism and colonialism, to causes of wars and to expand these ideas in full, a few examples throughout history (from the ancient era all the way to the present times) are utilised to evaluate this notion. As per usual, any constructive comments are welcome and I hope you enjoy your read here.

Before we focus on the various reasons why countries vie for resources, let us understand two main and recurring ideas of ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’, particularly in what I am about to analyse and in international relations.

Firstly, imperialism is defined as a way of administration, influencing a territory with forceful power and authority. [2] There are arguably two main types of imperialism, one the ‘old’ and the second the ‘new’ type. The ‘old’ type of imperialism can be traced back to historical periods which encouraged slavery, spread of religion (which was a form of political ideology – Catholicism or Protestantism) and language. For convenience, I will focus on the colonisation in the Americas, primarily by the Europeans during the 15th to late 17th century. The ‘new’ type of imperialism can be related to current international relations and affairs, where the bi-lateral dominance in China and America in many impoverished continents namely Africa, some parts of South America and South East Asia.

Secondly, colonialism is known as the control of a country or territory, by the use of settlers, where it is exploited economically, which normally means resources. [3] Despite the fact that there is not a proper and clear-cut appellation of the term ‘old’ colonialism and ‘new’ colonialism like imperialism does, there is neo-colonialism that can be rather fitting to show new forms of this act.

Evidently, there are many causes of wars or conflict throughout the creation of man. Personally, the main three reasons or causes for breakouts of wars are all related to resources in social, economic or political terms somehow. Apart from resources itself as a main cause of countless wars, opposing religions and ideologies, from different countries have always tried to seek prestige and to enlarge territories for their own ‘spheres of influences’, going vis-à-vis with other countries for world dominance. I have made a small list of wars or conflicts that has occurred over the years due to these three reasons in order to simplify things further.

1) Religion – Wars of Religion, the Arab-Palestinian Wars and currently Sudan (divided between Christian and Muslim).
2) Ideology – Wars of Religion (religion was a form of ideological competition) and the Cold War
3) Resources – Territorial dominance in global empire – British vs French empire

Now that we briefly covered the areas of imperialism, colonialism and reasons for wars, the main comprehension of the importance of resources can be put into prospect. I have divided this analysis in four main parts, ranging from ancient, medieval, early modern and modern eras.

1.1) Ancient: Roman invasion and conquest of Gaul (France) 

During the Iron Age from 58 BC to 52 BC, the Romans under Julius Caesar had many expansionist campaigns throughout modern day Europe, against tribes namely the Helvetti (modern day Switzerland), Belgae (modern day Belgium), Northern Gaul and Britain. [4] The Romans had frequently fought for expansion of land, trying to expand their empire to increase area for agriculture and living space. Furthermore, they had always tried to implement their ideology on the defeated tribes, making them loyal subjects to Rome. [4]

One of the most important battles that saw the Gauls in France defeated was the attempted rebellion led by Vercingetorix with his potent Arverni tribe. He had based in central Gaul against Roman rule, allying with many other Gallic tribes to become United Gauls. [4] In turn, he was elected to be King of these tribes, all fighting against the Romans ultimately for independence, where they asserting aggressive tactics, killing Roman citizens and traders anywhere they could find. [4] Despite having fortified many cities including Alesia (modern day French territory and region of Alsace) with many troops, Caesar’s men had built a wall around the city and starved the Gallic tribes, tiring their brave efforts. Unfortunately for Vercingetorix, he could not continue with his rebellious campaign, unwilling to have his city and people destroyed by the Romans. Consequently, he surrendered and joined the Roman confederation in 52 BC. [4]

2.1) Medieval: Spanish conquests in Mexico primarily by Cortés
During the early 16th century, around 1518, the Spanish were on a colonial campaign in Mexico led mainly by Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador starting ventures in the Caribbean and known to have started the Mexican conquest without Velazquez, the Spanish governor’s permission from Cuba. [5] By using many aggressive imperial and colonial policies such as slavery, purification and cultivation of the supposedly barbaric, inferior natives anywhere they went within Mexico and beyond in the Americas. This was mainly done by spreading Roman Catholicism as a form of ideology and trying to rule territories for important riches namely gold, food and statues from the Aztec tribes. In turn, the Spanish gained a lot of resources from this colonial venture and became a colonial superpower with Portugal for a long time to come. [5]

Below are excerpts on the Spanish conquest of Mexico from two books; The Americas: The History of a Hemisphere by Fernandez-Armesto and The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico by Davies:

“Columbus’ encounter with the natives in the New world – two attitudes: to those who wanted to conquer, expropriate, and exploit them, they were brutish, uncivilizable, and irredeemable. To other beholders, who wanted to evangelize them, learn from them, or enjoy the benefits of collaboration with them, American natives – or some of them, at least – evinced positive qualities. (Fernandez-Armesto: 63) [6]

This should not be mistaken as evidence that Spanish colonists were morally superior to others. In most of the regions they settled or ruled, they needed their Indians to supply labour and keep old, intensive agriculture going; they therefore strove to keep natives alive and bitterly regretted the visitations of plague that killed off their workers and tributaries. Spaniards blamed Indians for dying too easily. (Fernandez-Armesto: 67) [6]

Historians of the new commerce opened up by the Spanish empire have traditionally concentrated on the world-changing transoceanic trades: the carrera de Indias, which linked Spain to America and injectd Europe’s specie-starved economies with veins of bullion’ the slaves suppliers’ asientos, which let other European mercahnts into the Spanish main and linked the Americas to Africa… (Fernandez-Armesto: 75, 76) [6]”

“For several months after his first landing, Cortés dallied on the coast. During this time a bizarre exchange of messages and gifts ensued between himself and Moctezuma, whose intelligence service offered copious reports, complete with illustrations, on the strange intruders; from these Moctezuma learned to his amazement of the Spaniards’ hairy white faces, the black skins of their Negroes, the ferocity of their dogs, and the swiftness of their horses; horse and rider were taken to be a single Centaur-like being. Moctezuma also sent envoys who were first struck dumb by demonstration of cannon fire and then made drunk on Spanish wine. (Davies: 189) [7]

The climax of the invasion followed, when Cortés and Moctezuma met face to face. The chronicler, Bernal Díaz, gives an eye-witness description:
When we came close to Mexico, at a place where there were other, smaller towers, Moctezuma descended from his litter while these great chiefs supported him with their arms beneath a marvellously rich canopy of green feathers, worked with gold and silver, pearls and green stones, which hung from a kind of border that was wonderful to see. He was richly dressed and wore shoes like sandals, with soles of gold covered with precious stones. The four chiefs who supported him were also richly dressed…(Davies: 189) [7]

Moctzeuma, addressing Cortés as the rightful successor of all the former tlatoanis, surrendered to him their throne and made him guardian of their people. The Spaniards then entered the capital, where they lodged in the palace of the former ruler, Axayacatl. (Davies: 190) [7]”

2.2) Medieval: French Wars of Religion 
Throughout the years 1562-1598, France was under many conflicts and wars (seven wars and the Saint Bartholomew’s Massacre) religiously, which can also constitute as a type of ideology at that time. There were two main umbrellas of religions, one was Catholicism (mainly helping the King himself with divine providence and the Church) and the other was Protestantism. [8] The common idea was “une foi, un loi, un roi”, meaning one faith, law and king. Unfortunately for Francis I, the heir to Henry II, there were a lot of religious and social upheaval in France and beyond Europe, churning in a complicated conflict of different royals spanning from France (there were House of the Bourbons who were Protestants, and the House of Guise, Montmorency and Navarre who were Catholic), to Spain, the Habsburgs in Austria-Hungary, the Netherlands, England and Italy. Despite initial attempts of religious toleration by Francis, his rule was becoming more and more of an absolutist monarchy, spreading authority and control over key merchants and nobles. As a result, the nobles turned to Protestantism and being the group known as the Huguenots. [8]

3.1) Early Modern: The causes of the American Revolutionary War
The British despite being very successful in their colonial campaigns particularly off with a decisive defeat of the French at the Plains of Abraham in the Seven Years’ War in 1763, the French administration wanted to avenge for their losses in Nouvelle France, their territories covering modern day Quebec, the Maritimes and Ontario. However, the British tightened their rule in the 13 colonies of America, giving many restrictions and acts (namely the Tea Act, the Boston Massacre, the Port Act, the Navigation Act and the Stamp Act) that distressed the civilians in Boston, Philadelphia and Massachusetts who now had a lack of rights as colonial subjects. [10] These were all acts for resources, in both imperialist and colonial terms. One of the most important events was the Boston Tea Party, where there were many political protests about the heavy taxes and increased payment imposed on the imported tea by the British and their East India Company, upon docking on the eastern ports of America. Below are many important excerpts by respected American historian Jack Rakove on the matter. [9]

“But once the ‘Mohawks’, numbering fifteen or twenty a vessel, boarded the ships, the crowd watched silently as 340 massive chests of the East India Company were hauled on deck and whacked open with axes; then the contents were dumped overboard. By 9 P.M. a cargo valued at a hefty nine thousand pounds sterling was weakly brewing in the low-tide waters. (Rakove: 30) [10]

Acts of government against basic rights and interests of the American people
Had the value of the tea not been so dear, the Boston Tea Party might be remembered, if at all, as a minor piece of political theater with critics hailing the players’ costumes as its most noteworthy feature. Americans were heirs to a rich tradition of extralegal political protest – effigy burnings and the like – which communities mounted when acts of government threatened their basic rights and interests. Some of these popular actions combined symbolic protest with dollops of violence, like the rare tarring and feathering, which left victims painfully burnt. With its gross assault on private property, however the Tea Party crossed the line between extralegal and illegal, defying the authority of the British government in ways that smearing “Hillsborough paint” on merchants’ houses and shops did not. (Rakove: 30) [10]

Just as we speculate whether the guns of August 1914 might never had fired had Archduke Franz Ferndinand’s driver not made the wrong turn in Sarajevo on June 28, the Boston Tea Party is one of those events that leaves us to wonder whether history – even History – might easily have turned out differently. (Rakove: 30) [10]

In the sixteen months between the Rotch and Revere missions, two developments had altered the underlying structure of American politics, laying a foundation for revolution upheaval. First, the British program to punish Boston had produced exactly the opposite of its intended result. Instead of making Massachusetts an object lesson in the costs of defying imperial policy, the British response unified colonial opinion in support of that defiance. Just as important, that unity was no longer a matter of mere opinion or sentiment. On their own, Americans had created a new central political authority in the Continental Congress, which first met at Philadelphia in September 1774 and was set to reconvene in May 1775. (Rakove: 31) [10]”

4.1) Modern: Cold War 
During the Cold War years or post-WWII years, the importance of resources came through ideology and territorial dominance. There has been countless wars between the Americans and Russians throughout the world, bringing many continents under battle for dominance between the ‘blue sea’ called Capitalism, and the ‘red sea’ called Communism. One always played aggressor, and the other was in store for an act of ‘containment’. It was a simple act of the post-revisionist views, where there was ‘action’ and ‘reaction’ or simply put, a ‘cat and mouse’ scenario. Throughout the world, whether it was Asia, Europe, South America or Africa, there was always a feeling for dominance and spread of the ‘sphere of ideology’ between these two superpowers. For a nice summary, have a look at number 11 in the references.

4.2) Modern: Sino-American domination in Africa
Ever since the ‘Scramble for Africa’ occurred in the 19th to the mid-20th centuries, the Europeans and Western countries were always in control of their respective lands and territories in the continent. However, recently, the Chinese have stamped their authority, with apparent missions of ‘equality and mutual benefit’ with their African counterparts. They have been given use of the African resources, rich in crude oil, minerals and steel. [12] In return, the Chinese have provided the Africans with technologies, advanced products and infrastructure to boost their economy and social aspects, such as schools, hospitals and clinics to cure HIV and AID patients, in a $15 billion deal. [12]

If you ever visit Google and type ‘Africa’ in the image search engine, there would always be a picture of this continent being divided into two clear sections; one being covered in the Chinese flag, whilst the second one in the American one. Recently, in a bid to strengthen Afro-American ties to counter-act or contain the ever-growing economic influences of the Chinese in Africa, the Americans have turned on the defensive mode, establishing the Institute of African Consensus, a non-governmental organisation which controls African governments economically from Washington. [13] As if the Cold War ever really ended in 1991 when the USSR was dissolved by Gorbachev’s revolutionary reforms!

In June 2011, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton travelled to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. Clinton had warned the world of threats in “new colonialism’, indirectly pointing at China for huge investments in Africa, where there are many African workers and resources being taken advantage of. Consequently, many US diplomats have been sent to observe and analyse these projects in detail. Furthermore, Clinton has assured that America was to cooperate with these countries in a fair partnership, and not to impose any patriarchal stance or authority on the country and its people. Instead, it is to offer many jobs and opportunities, ultimately to create much sought-after economic stability within the region. [14]

Effectively, the importance of resources is very much linked to the three principal reasons for war: religion, ideology and resources. The six examples given in the analysis; the Roman invasion and conquest of Gaul (France), the Spanish conquests in Mexico primarily by Cortés, the French Wars of Religion, the causes of the American Revolutionary War, the Cold War and the Sino-American dominance in Africa are all examples that highlight the main idea of how countries fight for resources. These specific examples, together with the two definitions of imperialism and colonialism, are also fundamental, as they are reasons why and how countries assert their power on their territories throughout the period of time, whether it is in the ancient through to the modern, with empires, religion or ideology imposed on territories or people. Despite being complicated at times, I hope you understand better the importance of resources itself throughout the world up to the present era.

Stay tuned, I really hope you liked this article and I will try my best to write one, maybe two articles in the near future. This is mainly because as I am soon to return to university, and need to pack and get ready! Peace 🙂

[6] Fernandez-Armesto, F., The Americas: The History of a Hemisphere, Phoenix Books, London
[7] Davies, N., 1982, The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, Penguin Books, New York
[10] Rakove, J., 2010, Revolutionaries: Inventing an American Nation, Vintage Books, London


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