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Development Policy and International Relations

States’ Options for Resources: Cooperation or Competition


The newly emerging powers of international actors, such as China, India, and Brazil, within the system of international relations have significantly made complex and hardship for core states’ allocation of scare resources as those new players also increasingly demand for their own growth. The allocation of scarce resources, such as oil and gas, to ensure the inputs that are going to sustain the outgrowth demands of states has indeed become strategic issues for growth to accumulate the wealth of nations and the monetary reserve. More essentially, the idea of “peak oil” [1] and the concern of the future affordability and availability of petroleum sufficiency have posed another global challenge for states to be well-prepared in advance. From this point of view, as the utilisation of resources need to be sustainable, the means and the opportunities to approach to those resources for respective state have therefore been tremendous important in this 21st century for national power and national security. In this sense, two possible options that demand and supply states are feasibly able to achieve are cooperation or competition among states, in other words of saying is by working together or by struggling to get it. Nevertheless, there are plenty of firm evidences to show that competition to access the scarce resources is more likely than cooperation for a number of reasons behind. To give a solemn deliberation on this argument, the paper will discuss on those two possible options which are about the problem of cooperation, both supply side and demand side, and the nature of competition among states over the natural resources for national security and prosperity. In this respect, both liberalism and realism should briefly demonstrate for further understanding on these options before explanation on the evidences.

Liberalism: In accordance with the theory of liberalism, the liberalist believes in the great positive nature of human being in which it is possible to apply at the international affairs across boundaries, and individuals can of cause share better benefits by engaging with the collaboration and the cooperation domestically and internationally. [2] In the light of this theory, the faith of international institutions and international laws will render an effective solution to tackle with international issues by a wide range of cooperation for mutual benefits.

Failures of Supply States’ Cooperation: However, the truth of cooperation itself cannot commonly achieve the collective interests for all states because they naturally and respectively want to be beneficial more than other states, specially when the cooperation is highly related to the allocation of scarce resources such as oil and gas. Both supply and demand states would simply cheat the agreements in order to maximise its own profits individually or to gain/protect for its selfish energy security and national power. Putting the lens of liberalism into practice, from supply side in order to gain greater advantages from exporting petroleum, oil supplier states have been formed themselves into an organisation in September 1960 which is known as the OPEC, [3] Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, to cooperate together within their own territories. To do so, the OPEC countries would have ability to set its own goal to stabilise the price on the global oil market by working together on the agreement. Thereby, these countries obviously have strong influence on the international stage as they are the oil-producing states who can take control over the resources. However, the problem is that when the agreement is reached and efforts have been made, every member states of this organisation has even more incentives to cheat by selling more petroleum over the limitation of this agreement on the international market for larger market shares and its national interests. The ongoing cheating would simply make huge negative impact on cooperation in which failures of agreement lay down to lost-lost situation for all. Given the fact that ‘the news is typically not what OPEC’s oil ministers have agreed upon but what they have failed to agree upon.’ [4] In this connection, the cooperation between the oil-producing states do not have strong impact anymore on the global oil market because there is no more win-win outcomes for collaboration and cooperation among the oil-exporting countries when member states have cheated and then cooperation has no longer to maintain its influence.

Failure of Demand States’ Cooperation: Furthermore, for the demand state side, there is also another similar example of states’ failure among its allies when the cooperation comes to impact on the supply chains of the energy resources and its own national interests. In fact, in the period of Cold War the Western European countries and U.S. have found NATO in April 1949, [5] North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, as a collective self-defence in a sense of serving interests for its member states as a whole from Soviet threat. ‘The key principle of the treaty-that an attack on one member would be treated as an attack on all-accorded with the principle of collective self-defence enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.’ [6] After the 9/11 attack, the collective defence cooperation has been remarkably made a tremendous change in the global anti-terrorism campaign. Great British, France, and specially Germany have seized opportunities to provide their engagement politically, economically, and militarily in the American-led coalition. [7] On the other hand, in the case of Iraq War in 2003, France and Germany had strongly opposed to the U.S. intervention militarily in Iraq. Given the fact that the France energy company had been a primary negotiator in major Iraqi oil field such as Majnoon and Bin Umar which could contain as much as 25 percent of the country’s reserves. [8] Meanwhile, the Germany has economic cooperation with Iraq in the connection with Oil for Food Programme in 1996, the volume for trade has increased, reaching 661 Million US dollar. [9] As the result, it was shown the different positions within the allies due to the intervention would of cause effect on the energy resources supply for France and Germany. In this sense, when all these core demand states strategically come into their energy security and its national interests, the spirit of the collaboration and the cooperation are broken apart as the oil-supply states do in the case of OPEC. This is another strong evidence to proof that cooperation will not work when it comes to impact on others’ energy resources management and its national interest.

Realism: Another reason is that the nature of state itself has strong faith on the competition to survive on the anarchy world. For competition option to access resources, realism theory is the lens to examine states’ behaviours and influence toward the resource management and interests. The theory argues the negative perspective on human nature, but highly values on the national security as a whole citizens’s interests. While at the same time, states have rights to manage and defend for the national interest in the hierarchy world politics in which conflicts are ultimately resolved by war. [10] From this point of view, state of cause maintains its national interests and security by increasing the military capabilities to manage over the market for itself gains. As the consequence, it will lead to zero sum game which one party wins and another one is lost the game. Since the oil and gas become a global scarcity resource issues for boosting national power, lens of realism can examine the states’ behaviour and aggressiveness toward the energy resources security which are the needs for maintaining its national interests and seeking for more advantages.

Nature of States’ Competition: The competitive behaviours of states rather than cooperation have already demonstrated in the real world and it has never changed so far. Given the fact that there are increasing competition among powerful states in the Central Asia and Middle East where it is a home of major oil-supplier states. The Central Asian oil and natural-gas have become the strategic object for the political and economic competitions between China, Russia, India, and the United States who are striving to gain influence and market shares of Central Asian Energy for their national interest. [11] There is a clear process of competition among those states as it has started from 9/11 attack, U.S. has waged war in Afghanistan in 2001 and remains its troops there recently. From the realist’s perspective, other neighbour states would tend to prepare itself in terms of military capabilities for any unforeseen against them and also to protect their interests, specially oil and gas reserves in the region. Therefore, they would take all the necessary means to build up its allies in the region. In this respect, there is a rivalry here between US and Russia due to these countries under the Russian’s sphere of influence. Taking opportunities of America’s global anti-terrorist campaign, among the several strategic Central Asian countries such Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, the Russians have deployed a strong military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan under the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) as a quick reaction force to combat regional terrorist outbreaks. [12] Meanwhile, U.S. forces additionally took Baghdad in May 2003. [13] Although there were a lot of controversies over the intervention regarding to the purpose of US toward the region, yet there is a firm indication showing correlation with oil and gas reserves in Iraq. Given the fact that the looting broke out all over the city, but oil ministry was protected; while at the same time, the writing of constitution was done in such a way as to privilege the Iraqi allies of the U.S. to give them more of the oil. [14]

To sum up, the cooperation between states can only be achieved when shared goal of its respective national interest is addressed. However, when individuals’ national interests and security are intersected with one another, there is no common ground to build up collaboration and cooperation no matter supply or demand sides because states would work respectively to gain its opportunities and maintain its supremacy in the global order to maximise its advantages. Another major weak point of cooperation is that it depends on the international agreement, treaties, laws, norms, and customs which can be set aside by other states to break the rules. Although there is a kind of international court or the UNSC to guarantee the implementation of international laws, but it would reach once again to the political motivation and national interests of P5. In this sense, among the two possible options that states can approach to the energy resources, there is only competition that is more likely the feasible option to achieve by accumulating their national power and guaranteeing the opportunities to access the sources of supply for tremendous demand for growth.

Seoul, 22 June 2014

by Khov Ea Hai

Instructed by Prof. Jeffrey Robertson



[1] Michael T. Klare, “Petroleum anxiety and the militarisation of energy security,” in Daniel Moran and Jame A. Russsell, Energy Security and Global Politics, Routledge, Oxford, 2009, page 40

[2] Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen, “Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,” Third Edition, Oxford, 2007, page 98

[3] & [4] Fadhil J. Chalabi, ‘OPEC: An obituary’, Foreign Policy, No. 109 (Winter, 1997-1998), pp.126-140

[5] ‘Organisation,’ What is NATO?, Key Event, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, accessed on 18 June 2014, available at (http://www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html)

[6] John Baylis and Steve Smith, ‘The Globalisation of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations,’ third edition, Oxford, 2005, page 99

[7] Charles W. Kegley Jr. and Eugene R. Wittkopf, ‘World Politics: Trend and Transformation,’ Ninth Edition, Library of Congress, 2004, page 489

[8] & [9] Jae-Seung Lee, ‘Explaining the “Axis of Opposition”: Franco-German Coalition during the Iraq War,’ Korea University, page 11

[10]  Robert Jackson and Georg Sorensen, “Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches,” Third Edition, Oxford, 2007, page 60

[11] & [12] Thomas H. Johnson, ‘Central Asia: Energy Resources, Politics and Security,’ in Daniel Moran and James A. Russell, Energy Security and Global Politics: The Militarisation of Resource Management, Routedge, Oxford, 2009, page 135

[13] ‘Publication,’ Interactive, Timeline: The Iraq War, Council on Foreign Relations, accessed on 18 June 2014, available at (http://www.cfr.org/iraq/timeline-iraq-war/p18876)

[14] John Tirman, ‘100 ways America is Screwing up the World,’ HaperCollins, New York, 2006, page23-24


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