Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Afghanistan and the Riches

When at first this came via Email alert to my BlackBerry I thought, "Why the big deal?" Here's what I saw around about 2030 Sunday:
WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped
mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold
and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
I stopped in my thoughts. This country, Afghanistan, was long thought to have missed out on the natural resources train. It was thought that other than being a way between larger and more blessed lands, and having some piss poor soil, only suitable for growing crops of addiction, Afghanistan had little to offer. Its main resource, people, were stuck in a repressive, eighth century land, with little in the way of infrastructure. Now, Afghanis find themselves sitting on a motherlode of materials that could make the country prosperous beyond their wildest dreams.

Natural resources have caused struggles. Not just with guns either. Oil caused several financial and corruption crises in the United States. Countries struggle with the riches of natural resources being monopolized by the few. Some just end up with a rich monarchy, like Saudi Arabia. Some end up with anarchy, like Nigeria. Probably of all countries, the U.S. has done as well as anyone to try and spread the wealth, but even here, there is inequality in how the riches are divided.

There are also, of course, implications for U.S. policy. We certainly want access to these materials for our own economy, either in their import or in the employment of our companies, people and expertise to extract them from the earth. I personally would like mining tech savvy companies with an environmental consciousness to be the ones presiding over the extraction of the material. Frankly, I don't want the "grip and rip it" Chinese mining mentality anywhere near this area. The Chinese have a dismal environmental record and a horrible labor record. They can stay home and pollute their own country and exploit their own people.

Our military is scheduled to start withdrawl in July 2011 from Afghanistan. The surge has struggled in this country. If the central government weakness and unrest continues, the kind of unrest that left the Russians findings of this material lay fallow for 30 years, it may lie fallow for 30 more. Or the cost of mining may include the cost of blood spilled, as it often does in chaotic countries with natural resources.

The ideal would be that Afghanis wake up, quit fighting us and each other, realize that a stable secular central government with representatives elected by everyone--a representative republic!--is the best hope for everyone benefiting from the blessings that God has given to the country. Such a form of governance would allow free enterprise to take the lead in mining and refining these important minerals. It won't be perfect, but this has worked better then a lot of other types of government.

Well, a person can dream....

Link to the full New York Times article here.


Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I too share the interest in this find. I think it is better to have natural resources, but I don't think that means the U.S. is advised to step out of Afghanistan in 2011.

When there is stuff to fight over, people fight. At the moment, it is opium. Now it will be opium and stuff.

Next door, Iran's east side, and Iran has a dismal economy, primarily because they cannot afford their own fuel subsidies to their people. China has had long relationships with Afghanistan. Say what you want, they are more likely to play hardball than many, but they do it off-camera. They will get many of the contracts, and they will not (if Africa is anything to go by) hire Afghanistanis to do it.

It's going to be interesting. Also perilous.

I'm so glad you featured this.
Thank you!

Ann T.

Bob G. said...

When I heard this story break, I thought WOW...!
(like the low price guy on TV)

Then, I thought...they like growing DRUGS too much already to change.

Besides, MINING is a LOT more "labor-intensive" than sitting back and watching POPPIES grow, right?

I'm just sayin'.

Good post.

the observer said...

Ann T:
I figured with your experience you'd have something to add to this post. It definitely adds a new wrinkle to policy considerations. As I was pondering them, I thought to myself, "Now why in the world would anyone want to be the POTUS?"

Thanks for checking in!

The Observer

the observer said...

Bob G:
You made me laugh with your comment! With this motherlode, I think if the people of Afghanistan don't want to do the work, there will be plenty others willing to do it.

It's an interesting addition to an already interesting situation. Thanks for commenting.

The Observer