Afghan Minerals -- Cure, Curse, or Hype?

The Pentagon revealed last week that Afghanistan has as much as $1 trillion in mineral wealth, a potential game changer in the ongoing conflict there. Many news outlets have picked up this story, with some simply repeating the official talking points, while others raise serious concerns. Is this ‘discovery’ just hype, or will this truly alter the landscape of the Afghan war? Perhaps more importantly, can this mineral wealth (whether real or illusory) pave the way to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, or is it more likely to drive geopolitical feedback loops that plunge the region further into turmoil? Below the fold is a quick look at the as-of-yet unasked questions about Afghanistan’s buried treasure.

Are Afghan Minerals Economically Recoverable?

While not a new discovery (it was 2007 and 2009 USGS surveys building on exploration done as early as the 1970s), the recent tabulation of $1 trillion in mineral wealth has caught the media’s attention. Pentagon releases suggest that Afghanistan may have $400 billion in iron ore deposits, nearly $300 billion in copper, and billions more in minerals like gold, molybdenum, niobium, lithium, and assorted rare earth elements that are key components of the global economy, and especially important in the development of renewable energy generation. The unanswered (and largely unasked) question, however, is whether these resources are economically recoverable.

In its simplest form, economic recoverability simply requires that a resource can be produced and exported for less money than its sale value—sufficiently less to provide enough return on investment to investors to account for associated risks. This is rarely an easy calculation, but in Afghanistan it is especially problematic. While our financial sector is (only comparatively) adept at pricing the “risk” component (normally consisting of only regulatory, operational, and geological risk) of an investment in, say, an oil well offshore Brazil, or a gold mine in Nevada, there is very little experience or confidence in our ability to account for risk where there is an active insurgency and significant geopolitical complications. Can an investor count on the US military succeeding in securing their site and supply lines, or even that they will still be in country in ten years? Additionally, the near total absence of infrastructure in Afghanistan—from roadways and manufacturing facilities to a stable system of laws and a ready pool of trained personnel—means that the scale of investment involved is extreme. Consider the simple mechanics of export: the road network is entirely inadequate, requires defending a potentially thousand-plus mile long passage, and will need to cross one or more international borders that are anything but sure to remain friendly and open five, ten, or twenty years from now when exports begin.

It’s far too early to reach any conclusions about economic recoverability, but the huge investment requirements and highly unstable security environment means that the risk premium paid to investors (or accepted by national resource companies) will be extremely high. This suggests that the purely geologically-driven cost of recovery will have to be far below the cost of recovery elsewhere (and far below the projected market price) in order to spur actual investment and production. For that reason I am very skeptical about whether even a portion of Afghanistan’s reputed mineral wealth is economically recoverable.

Additionally, economic recoverability may be an all or nothing issue. For example, the investment required to build a stable government, fund development projects to placate the populace, build and secure transportation infrastructure, etc., may only be viable if carried by companies pursuing all of these minerals simultaneously—this means that, even if 25% of the mineral wealth discussed by the pentagon would otherwise be economically recoverable, there is a very real possibility that none of it will be recovered because the other 75% isn’t economical, and therefore won’t be contributing to the cost of these massive shared investments.

Mineral Wealth, Conflict, and Geopolitical Feedback Loops

I’ve discussed geopolitical feedback loops in resource production before as a global phenomenon. In Afghanistan, the potential vast mineral wealth (or even the illusion of such wealth) will likely have a very real impact on the conflict there. Below I’ve outlined just a few of the factors that may exacerbate or complicate the situation:

- Self-financing insurgency: while the insurgency in Afghanistan presently funds itself through opium production and charging protection rents on transport corridors, there is huge potential for increased protection rents on much more valuable mineral exports, through graft and corruption related to mineral concessions, through increased kidnappings (as in Nigeria), and through outright theft of valuable minerals. Unlike opium production that is tied to the land and subject to territorial exclusivity of certain warlords, there is the potential for much more widespread and overlapping insurgent groups and criminal enterprises feeding off the wealth of mineral exports—something that can dramatically degrade the security situation.

- Export route issues: exports from Afghanistan must transit through a neighboring country over very rough, long, and poorly policed/defended roadways. Rail is essentially non-existent. Not only are these export routes easy targets, but this process may sequentially destabilize the surrounding countries due to the incentive to continue the protection rackets, kidnappings, and thefts beyond Afghan borders.

- China/US resource mercantilism: especially with Chinese (or Russian) state-run companies more willing to tolerate the kinds of risks associated with operations in Afghanistan, and possibly also more interested in locking down long-term supplies for domestic consumption, the potential for conflict spawned by resource mercantilism between China and the US is significant. While certainly more likely to be played out by proxies, the dissimilar interests of China and the US regarding Afghan minerals may truly live up to the recent headlines of a “game changer.”

- Pakistan/ISID/Taleban issues: The existing proxy battle being fought by the Taleban through Pakistan’s intelligence services against Pakistan’s nominal ally, the United States, is incredibly nuanced. This will only become more complicated if Pakistan hosts a major ground export route (which the US must facilitate, as the other options are either blocked by poor relations with Iran or “point the wrong way” and result in resource mercantilism victories for Russia or China).

- Internal governance/graft issues: Afghanistan is arguably the world’s most corrupt government at present, and the potential dramatic increase in the scale of corruption and graft due to valuable mineral concessions and operations will only exacerbate this problem. Whatever investment would today be sufficient to stabilize the government and legal system will certainly be far too little once the incentive toward corruption and graft increases by an order of magnitude.

- Foreign exploitation (or perception thereof): Finally, there is the perception of the US/Nato as an occupying force that is exploiting Afghanistan for its own selfish aims. Whether this is truth or propaganda is largely irrelevant—the perception alone is one of the foundations of support for the Taleban and can only be (partially) countered by massive and effective spending on the development of resilient communities in Afghanistan. If the amount of value being extracted from Afghanistan in the form of mineral exports is not closely in line with the amount being paid to Afghanistan and effectively distributed to its populace through taxes or production sharing agreements, then the support to the Taleban will only swell.

Of course, these factors do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, each is a contributor to a system of positive feedback loops: higher security costs/lower production alters the global supply and demand picture, increases prices, increases the incentive to further disrupt production, etc. If copper or lithium, for example, become increasingly critical and scarce to the global economy, then the value of their export increases, which in turn drives the incentive to control, exploit, or disrupt that export. Additionally, with the addition of new proxies and increased motivation of old proxies to the conflict (China, Iran, Russia, Pakistan’s ISID, India out of concern for the Pakistan-China-Taleban connection, etc.), the situation is likely to evolve into a far more complex, widespread, and multi-modal insurgency. There is the potential that Afghanistan’s mineral wealth will produce multiple, interconnected positive feedback loops, dramatically spread and diversify the conflict, and shift it into overdrive, much as oil exports have done in Nigeria.


Afghan mineral wealth may hold great promise--that depends on the reality of economically recoverable reserves. However, the ability to deliver on this promise will depend on the development of a coherent strategy to short circuit these key geopolitical and security feedback loops before they spawn an even more intense cycle of violence and exploitation. As with the question of economically recoverable reserves, I am skeptical—there is no indication that the US is even aware of the extent of these potential complications, let alone that they have (as they already should have done) developed a plan to address it before unveiling this ‘treasure’ to the world. Even if no mines are ever opened, the lure of this wealth may exacerbate the conflict. And, in the end, the only lasting contribution of this ‘discovery’ may be that production from other potential sources of copper, lithium, and other minerals is delayed or cancelled as the potential for Afghan supplies to ‘flood the market’ makes those investments less attractive.

China paid $800 million to acquire the Aynak copper deposit 30 miles south of Kabul two years ago and has emerged as the favourite from a pool of Indian and Saudi firms to gain control of an iron ore deposit at Hajigak, 60 miles west of Kabul, when tenders are considered next year. Both deposits rank among the world's largest and entail the construction of roads, processing plants and railways in deprived areas that are currently dominated by the Taliban.

The real new is how this issue lay hidden / forgotten for nearly a decade after US first invaded Afghanistan.

Meanwhile --- Chinese interests concluded their first deals in 2009.

There seems to be an implicit argument that extracting mineral wealth from country will provide the means to create a stable government and enrich the citizens.

And then I look at the Democratic Republic of the Congo and wonder what I'm missing.

I think there's a good argument that extracting mineral wealth from a country does effectively increase the mean citizen's wealth--just not the far more important median wealth. Just annecdotal evidence, but pretty convincing: if median wealth was high to begin with, and there was a stable/relatively effective government to begin with, then mineral extraction can improve both (see, e.g., Norway, USA, UK). Where these things aren't true, then extraction of mineral wealth seems to increase the mean wealth, undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of government, and decrease the median wealth (e.g. DROC, Nigeria, Equitorial Guinea, etc.). Places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Chile, and Morocco are a bit more difficult to categorize...

Any measure where the median differs significantly from the mean is a fat-tail phenomenon. So the countries with lots of oil sit on the fat-tail of the curve. As you say it either drives a country one way (the USA) or the other (Congo). Japan does its job without much of a resource base, far away from the fat tail.

Yeah, the "natural resource curse" has been studied by economists since at least the 1980s. Numerous possible reasons for the phenomenon have been advanced. I'm inclined to lean towards the theories about lack of diversification and consequences from that. The United States certainly has/had some of the world's great natural resources: forests, coal, steel, copper, natural gas, etc. Overall, the US has escaped the "curse"; regionally, not so much.

What is missing in a place like the Congo is a long enough period of colonial status under the Britishor similarly inclined western colonial power.

Now I will not only be the first to admit that whereever they went they more or less "raped , robbed and pillaged" for thier own benefit, and scarcely gave a hoot about the welfare of the locals, except as it related to thier own prosperity;I will be among the first to point this out.

But they also brought with them the rule of law and when they were around for a long enough period of time, they established educational systems, civil service systems, and courts after the English fashion.

India is the democratic, peaceful, prosperous nation it is today mostly for this reason.

The rule of law necessary for the successful functioning of a peaceful industrial ized society is something that cannot come into existence except under very favorable circumstances, maintained over a considerable period of time.

African tribal societies are stable, in the sense that they have existed for a long long time and show no signs of collapsing in the forseeable future.

They are quite variable (in terms of upheavals, wars, migrations,famines, etc ) but they persist;western rule of law industrialized societies are also variable and persistent.

But there is no easy and viable path for a tribal society to morph into a western democratic society;the steady states are seperated by a vast chasm that can only be bridged by a long term input of law, education, education,material prosperity,and so forth, or perhaps a very long term process of internal change.

The odds of such slow progressive changes occuring without interruption for the necessary length of time without outside intervention shortening the process seem to be very slim, as evidenced by history.

I'm not taking sides, just telling it like I see it..

"India is the democratic, peaceful, prosperous nation it is today mostly for this reason."

Not true. India is a democratic peaceful prosperous nation because of its culture. The British have just created their clones that slowly eat away at the cultural core of the country. India has always existed in balance with nature, sustainable living at its simplest and best. However industrial consumerism does not fit with sustainable living. Even Mahatma Gandhi was afraid of this consumerism and promoted simple sustainable self sufficient existence. Granted that the British did have some positive impacts on the Indian culture, however in balance I think they have done more damage than good. For years they exploited the country economically to impoverish the peasants and destroy agriculture.

It MIGHT BE that I am entirely mistaken in believing that prior to the English period India was a country characterized by a horribly unjust caste system and generally mired in a misery of illiteracy and poverty almost beyond the comprehension of a modern day westerner.

I do understand that the changes are not all positive, and that unintended consequences of many sorts have done great damage.

Well intentioned WESTERN public health experts (not known by this term in thier day) are no doubt responsible for the overpopulation of the world, as they wiped out the diseases that formerly kept populations in check, and I could come up with many more examples.

I will not argue that India might not have modernized without the English but if so the process of modernization would still a hundred years or more short of reaching its present state.

Somehow I believe the average citizen of the country who understands history is probably privately glad the English colonized his country, even if he will not publicly admit it-unless of course he is one of the sort who believes in burning his wife when HE dies, or unless his family was literate,powerful,and rich a century or two or three ago.

Of course I could be wrong.

Caste system yes, very rigid at times. All cultures have their problems. Even in the US women were treated as second rate and were not allowed a vote. US had its own version of a caste system (which is still in play in subtle ways) which ended with the civil rights movement.
India has 25 languages, many different scripts. Even English has its origins in Sanskrit the mother of some of the Indian languages. Great many texts were composed in classical Indian languages. Mahabharata and Ramayana are unparalleled. India has classical philosphy, music, dance, sculpture etc. All marks of an evolved civilization. In the field of medicine, Sushruta is known as the first surgeon.

Some of the poverty you talk about was a direct result of British and others. The British took raw cotton from India and stopped the local weavers from making fabric. The fabric in turn was imported into India from Britain. Farmers in some parts were forced to grow indigo/opium instead of food crops. Even salt was taxed.

The sati system you talk about (burning the wife after a man's death) came into being because of external invasions. Instead of becoming part of someone's harem, women found it more dignifying to burn in the funeral pyre of their husbands (killed in battle). The problem was when the practice became rigidly set in certain sections of society.

What modernization are you talking about? The incessant cosumption of non renewable resources? A mindless pursuit of material wealth? Destruction of ecosytems? Is this sustainable?

No, it isn't sustainable, but our thinking is so twisted that we believe we need stuff that we don't need, and use that need to justify the decimation of other countries.

It's sick.

The opium was grown on the plantations in India, and exported to Chinese markets forced open by British military might. Originally they were paying for Chinese tea by trading opium, but they found out how to grow tea in India. The opium trade remained hugely profitable.

The British were the drug lords of Asia. They managed to destroy Chinese society and extract huge amounts of silver trading opium.

Native, I understand that India has a distinguished past, one worthy of great respect.I am sorry , I realize that I have come across as a condescending outsider, which was unworthy of me.

The English of course did not care about the people of India,any more than they cared about those of my country during our own colonial era, and everybody understands this.

The progress that came about in countries they held as clonies was a side effect , more so than a goal, of thier policies.

But they nevertheless did build roads, telegraphs, railroads, schools, and a civil service based system of govt largely staffed by local citizens.They got schools and industries up and running for thier own benefit , it is true, but the locals benefited too.

Now so far as the excesses of modern societies are concerned,especially excessive consumption, I agree with you that this is very unfortunate-and part of the unforseen undesirable consequences I mentioned earlier.

As far as the kind of progress I had or have in mind goes, I had in mind things such as universal education, electric lights, refrigerators, telephones, water and sewer systems, the internet, modern medicine, all that sort of thing.

You are absolutely correct in pointing out the serious shortcomings of western society in general;and the British had more than thier fair share of shortcomings until very late in the historical game.

It is mostly a historical accident that the Industrial Revolution got started in England, and that they were the people most responsible for its rapid spread.

But I personally am glad it spread as far and as fast as it has;I am corresponding with you perhaps halfway around the world, instantly, at negligible expense. I just enjoyed a hot bath while expending no effort other than turning on the faucets.

I have a librasry , a car, air conditioning , and many other luxuries, even though by American standards I am almost a pauper.I am old, but I have almost all my teeth, and they don't hurt.

The thought that I might starve to death has never seriously crossed my mind, and the thought that I might die in an epidemic has not caused me to lose any sleep.

Taken as a whole, and given the choice,I am quite content to live in an industrialized western society.

Something tells me your probably feel the same way about living in a modernized and industrialized India.

Incidentally I grew up on a small farm where a very large part of the work was done in the sun with hand tools such as a hoe or a scythe,and I can remember when our first well was dug;before that my Momma carried our water in buckets from a spring a quarter mile away.

So I know a bit more about the pre industrial agrarian life style than most Americans. ;)

It MIGHT BE that I am entirely mistaken in believing that prior to the English period India was a country characterized by a horribly unjust caste system and generally mired in a misery of illiteracy and poverty almost beyond the comprehension of a modern day westerner.

Very true. You are entirely mistaken. Pre-British India was no different from Europe - it might even have been richer, just like China.

Here is an interesting thing for you to mull on. As you may know Pakistan, Bangladesh and India were all part of one country before 1947. Pakisan & Bangladesh are predominantly muslim - and thus not heavily influenced by caste. India is heavily a caste based polity. Guess which country is better off now.

The British VERY actively stressed differences within Indian society - what is called divide and rule. They pitted Muslims against Hindus. They pitted various castes against each other. Infact they were in favor of caste & religion based quotas for elected representatives. Gandhi was dead against it - he knew the dangers. The secular principles that has helped India was not a result of British rule. It is inspite of the British colonial rule.

In other words, you don't have to be brutally ruled for a century to be influenced by good ideas. See Japan.

Ev.and everybody,

I believe you need to read my comment again.

Where did I say things were great in Europe during the colonial era?

I don't want to get into a religious debate tonight, but the fact is that Muslim societies taken as a whole are among the worlds most socially and economically backward excepting where there is nationalized oil money, and show every indication of staying that way, as in forbidding women to go to school, work , vote, etc.

Perhaps the reason present day India is doing better has something to do to do with the fact that she is NOT mostly a Muslim nation, in addition to the western influence.

Now a long time ago I learned that people will interpret the evidence to suit thier own prejudices.

I am no different.

I do believe I mentioned the English were in the colonial business to rape rob and pillage, rather than to uplift the lives of thier subjects. Did you miss that?

I do believe that most liberally inclined and liberally educated people are simply incapable of admitting that Dead White European Males have ever had a positive influence on the world.

Being a conservative with a brain, I have no problem whastsoever in not only admitting that they were responsible for an endless catalog of misery, war, oppression, exploitation, you name it.

I say so up front.

What part of "rape, rob, and pillage" do you not understand?

You seen to think I need instrucion in this particular matter.I don't.

The difference in the way we see things is this:

I don't have any problem acknowledging that while busy with the rrand p job they INADVERTENTLY happened to do a few things here and there that helped bring thier victims along into the modern world.

I have read quite a few history books,and I have a coherent picture of what the East is today and was a few centuries back.I have a sense of history.

The world is not a simple place, and seldom does any single influence determine a historical outcome.

If the Indian civil service was as bad as Dave describes-and I do not think he is exaggerating at all-perhaps the question which should be considered is this:

What sort of govt might India have had at the time he was there in THE ABSCENCE of that civil service?

How many decades would India need to catch up to her present state of development had she not had the the initial core infrastructure and human capital resulting from the British colonial administration?

Such things grow exponentially of course-but they must grow from a viable base of sufficient mass.

The Brits supplied the core critical mass .

Think of it as a head start as that is what it was.

Now of course it is fashionable here on TOD memoan industrial civilization but I for one am not so big a hypocrite as to pretend I don't like it, compared to the alternative.

In my own particular case I would almost certainly be dead by now if I has been born into any non industrial society, unless i was lucky enough to have been born rich;and even then the odds are pretty high I would have long since been recycled by the worms.

Hi Mac,

As you probably recall, I worked in India for awhile in the 90s. By no means does this make me an expert regarding India - only an observer. My number one observation is that India is land of contradictions and painful transition into the global community.

I worked in buildings built by the British - disrepair is the first thought that comes to mind. Like most things that the British left behind, they serve a utilitarian purpose but certainly are not treated with the reverence that the British might wish.

I experienced legal/regulatory systems that degenerated into mindless bureaucracy. I was sure the country would collapse overnight if all the rubber stamps magically disappeared.

Transportation systems were totally chaotic by western standards - but road rage was more like friendly banter. Air pollution was almost unbearable - unless you were out in the countryside where ox carts were still a favorite form of transportation.

The caste systems was officially baned but hardly eliminated. "Backward" people were treated very poorly and often cheated out of the benefits intended by the government to help them. I witnessed horrible poverty mixed with great affluence.

I saw fierce loyalty for their democratic institutions along with total dedication to ancient traditions. More affluent women enjoyed great freedom and opportunity. Poor women appeared to me to have a pretty miserable existence.

It always seemed to me that there was a fundamental conflict between traditional lifestyles that were very rich in terms of family life, community culture and then the new paradigm of western style work and consumption. I suspect that without population growth, the old rural India would have been a very pleasant place to live for most people - even with caste system and all that kind of stuff. It was not apparent to me that the big modernizing cities were a great improvement for Indian people. I visited some parts of rural India that seemed quite idyllic. I found many general characteristics of the Indian people that were very admirable (even delightful) that I doubt had anything to do with British influence.

But, as you know, I blame population growth for most of the planet's evils. I would guess that India would have faced challenges regardless of British occupancy or not. It is not clear to me that the period of British rule is the most responsible factor for India's current situation. However, kind of paradoxically, India's independence and adoption of a democratic form of governance seems to be a huge factor. Of course, we will ever know if the caste system would have gone on for centuries without the British occupation. My suspicion is that India people would have done quite well without the British.

How do my observations in India possibly relate to Afghanistan? It would seem to me that culture of of the indigenous people will be the governing factor and foreign influence will be more of a negative factor. I fear that mineral deposits will be no better than favorable conditions for growing opium. In the best possible case, foreign armies should leave sooner that later. Perhaps the United Nation's mission should be to protect the country from outside meddling.

It seems to me that things like political, legal, economic systems should be promulgated more by good example than by guns. Opening our colleges to students from these countries might be a better investment than Predator Drones.

Hi Dave.

You obviously see the incredibly complicated place that is modern day India with your eyes open and understand that given influences are just that -INFLUENCES- and no more.

Many , many influences considered in the aggregate determine outcomes in societies and cultures.

Single overarching influences,such as a colonial occuptaion,must be considered as being of great importance, but ONLY a part of the mix.

We could drink beer and discuss this subject amiably and profitably for hours and part on excellent terms.

As for everybody else; if you look up the current status of all the countries that were long held Brit colonies, or American colonies, for that matter, and compare them to otherwise roughly comparable countries that were not so held,the evidence is obviously on my side.

Of course the civilizing influence did not take root everywhere, and in other places it died later after getting off to a promising start.

Argueing about sustainability and so forth is irrevelant to this subject and a strawman technique.

I am aware of the sustainability problem that threatens us all;but no country will turn away from the benefits of industrialization, no matter the costs.

And only an exceedingly minute fraction of the people living in such countries are willing to give up the industrialized lifestyle.

Obviously I need not belabor this point in a discussion with a man who rides a bicycle in America as his primary means of personal transportation. ;)

Everybody else is a self righteous hypocrite if they are talking that talk but not walking that walk.

I know many who talk but daxxed few who walk.

Personally I walk a good bit of the walk but I still have a good sized footprint.It would be BIGGER if I had more money, even though I would spend some of it on conservation and efficiency.

As for everybody else; if you look up the current status of all the countries that were long held Brit colonies, or American colonies, for that matter, and compare them to otherwise roughly comparable countries that were not so held,the evidence is obviously on my side.

Here I would argue that we have nothing to be exceedingly proud of in the West. US economy is DESTROYED, British economy on its last breath (once N. Sea oil is finished I say they are too), Europe is not cutting a bright picture.

Now Australia was a British colony and it is holding it together economically but Aussis always gave me the feeling of being very prejudiced though I did meet some very nice people.

However this is fact

and this

Citizenship was granted to Aborigines only following a national referendum in 1967.

Now Australia was a British colony and it is holding it together economically but Aussis always gave me the feeling of being very prejudiced though I did meet some very nice people.

We are. Although mostly friendly to tourists, we are a deeply, deeply racist and sexist culture, bordering on xenophobic. We adulate sportsmen (and quickly forgive their sins - I'm looking at you, Matthew and Andrew Johns) over more scholarly pursuits. Our Alternative Prime Minister, while he may be a Rhodes Scholar, is also a boxer, who displays obvious anger management issues (he looks like he'd rather belt you than debate with you), and admits to lying and making inaccurate statements when under pressure. Our actual Prime Minister is a nerd who is "driven by anger".
We are currently having a Tax debate over wether to tax Mining companies more. After a short meeting with some Mining CEOs, the Coalition (Opposition) sided completely with the Miners, despite some of their own Coalition partners campaigning to save farm land from those very same miners. The Mining Companies, meanwhile are running advertisments on TV, radio, and newspapers claiming they got Australia through the GFC (which is a complete lie, given they sacked 15% of the workforce as prices/demand dropped).
Both sides of politics hate (or claim to hate) refugees.
Both sides of politics supported the Iraq War (as did I, with reservations, at the time).
Both sides of politics support the war in Afghanistan.
Both sides of politics hate The Greens (because they see The Greens as 'stealing' votes which are rightfully theirs).

When Cyclone Larry hit North Queensland a few years ago, I was sure that Australians wouldn't carry on like a bunch of sooks (NQ being a regular host to Cyclones). Imagine my surprise when I saw people on TV screaming that the 'gummint' had to 'do something' because the water delivery was a hour late.

We Australians are an angry, angry people. And we have developed, thanks to nearly 15 years of continous economic growth and political handouts, a serious culture where we expect everything for nothing (withness brisbane NIMBYs protesting about TOD housing being built near them).

I am aware of the sustainability problem that threatens us all;but no country will turn away from the benefits of industrialization, no matter the costs.

And only an exceedingly minute fraction of the people living in such countries are willing to give up the industrialized lifestyle.

Actually I agree with you here. But while you also work a great deal in pointing out that industralization systems were imposed on countries and to the selfish benefit of the invaders, I can't help getting an impression you are overemphasizing the benefits of industralization. Of course it's great to open the tap and get hot water, to have health care systems, to have cars, air conditioning etc. Maybe you are on the winner side of industrialization.

Industrialization came at a price: increased violence in our cities; high suicide rates; large parts of the population suffering from depressions, panic attacks, or obesy, cancer, and other civilization illnesses; undermining and dissolution of family structures; shanty towns; undermining of indigenous lands and rights; burn outs; drug abuse; social brittleness; isolation; homogenization of cultures and life styles; commoditisation of basic needs and overexposure to commerce; without going into detail of other issues of labour exploitation (yes, we abolished slavery, but our world can only work like this thanks to underpayed and exploited workers in China etc.), environmental destruction and pollution, global players hegemony ruling out local small businesses, etc. etc. etc. All these 'side effects' were in a greater or lesser degree not present in other cultures - which all had their own advantages and disadvantages.

What I want to say is while industrialization has its benefits, it has a lot of downsides. Some of its worse is its insatiable hunger which needs imposure upon other systems and cultures to survive. Earlier cultures might have been "backwards" or "underdeveloped", but nevertheless functioning systems, which observed soberly and as a whole were not worse or better. I am also not idealizing or romanticising ancient cultures here.

I get the feeling you propose industrialization is better than something else. It's just different. Every system will create its own limits, which it will need to outgrow eventually.

Hi Mac,

I think you have done a good job in starting a lively debate - and, I think you make a number of good points - especially about India being an "incredibly complicated place". I can only discuss my observations and a few very limited bits of speculation.

Personally I walk a good bit of the walk

Regarding walking - as part of the Festival of Lights holiday we visited Brindavan Gardens - a very famous landmark in Southern India. The driver of our car (rental cars mostly come with a driver) could not get closer than a mile or so to the gate because of the crush of humanity - so, we got out and walked. Wow - Indian people can walk! Whole extended families with grandparents to little kids walking for miles to join visit the Garden (base of a huge dam). I had grandmothers walking past me like I had a missing foot! It was quite an amazing site to see all of this activity with all the families and everyone walking - for this westerner it was a surreal experience.

Old Farmer, what would you call our system in the US called slavery. What would you call the caste system in Europe that allowed you to be a Lord or Lady if you were born to a Lord and Lady, or a King if you were born to a King and Queen but a commoner if you were born to a commoner.

Some of the average citizens in India are committing suicide by drinking pesticides since "modern" western farming has destroyed them. I bet the only Indians who are glad they were "colonized" are the current upper class and middle class an only slightly less rigid caste system.

Meanwhile the caste system persists despite the past "democratrizing" influence of the Upper Class of Britain as they installed themselves as the new top of the caste system in India. See

Like all things, but much more so the legacy of the Raj is mostly unintended and mixed. The Raj itself, was accidental and not planned. One small commercial concession leading to another, leading to a need for political and miltary protection.... And it wasn't purely based upon exploitation either. It also attracted adventurers and many sorts of idealistic do-gooders. Prior to the Raj, India was something like 50 separate kingdoms barely held together by the decaying Mogul empire -itself a foreign imposition of invading Muslims. In a very real sense, it was the centuries of british domination that forged India into three not one country (India, Pakistan, and Bangledesh). Or should I say four,and add in Sri Lanka. Most Indians find English the only common tonque that they can use to converse with their countrymen from different regions of the country. It would be a very different place without that accident of history. And the repercussions throughout Europe, the middle east and central asia were immense. The primary motivation for all the British meddling in the middle east and central asia, was not an interest in those lands themselves, but because they thought control over them was neccessary to preserve aacess to the Indian colony.

Modern India is both a light unto the world, and still in some ways a blight as well. I admire her intellectual traditions. The humanity and spirituality of her citizens is amazing. If success was purely based on brainpower, India would be the premier nation of the world. But,alas there are a lot of things holding her back as well. That is why so many of her most able people have set up shop throughout the world, rather than try to tough it out out home.

Hi enemy,

Most Indians find English the only common tongue that they can use to converse with their countrymen from different regions of the country

India (at least when I was there) had 28 states - and I believe every one of them had their own native language. I worked in Karnataka and yet a short trip to Tamil Nadu (neighbor state) produced a language barrier for my friend who grew up in Karnataka. Yes, English is the best bet for cross-state communications, but English is far from universal. Although, every college grad I spoke to had pretty good English language skills.

Wiki says that 41% of Indians speak Hindi - but this is mostly in Northern India. I found few people in the south that spoke fluent Hindi. Given this lack of a common language, the progress in India for developing a national government is even more remarkable. Can you imagine how well we would do if southern US did not speak English and most of the states there had unique languages? OK, I can just hear the jokes coming!

I would call it by its name-slavery- and also call it an everlasting blot on the honor of our country.

But I would not be so hypocritical or self righteous as to hold the ( dead) people of that era to the standards of a later time in judging them as historical figures or human beings.

I have never said that India is a great country solely because the British held her as a colony, or that she is a country without current day faults.

I simply said that she benefitted greatly from the British legacy, and that the benefit persists to this day.That the caste system PERSISTS in a new form is not the fault of the Brits;and I never said they tried to wipe it out deliberately, or that they did not exploit it for thier own ends;anybody who has read a single book about the subject knows better.

Pointing out the obvious is obviously a great way to get everybody down on you if the obvious does not jibe well with thier notions of the way things are 'spozed to be, or ought to be, but unfortunately aint.

Let's really stir this chamber pot a little to get my pov across.My old Momma always said that the more you stir sxxt, the worse it stinks

I contend that many millions of black people are obviously much better off (than they would currently be as citizens of African countries)as citizens of the United States BECAUSE thier ancestors were brought over here as slaves.

After all they would not otherwise be here for the most part;there was no potato famine,etc, to drive them out, and no encouraging word from thier kin as to how great things were for them in America; slaves did not save up money to pay the passages of thier kin across the Atlantic,as the Irish, Germans, etc, often did.

Now everybody go ahead and accuse me of supporting and justifying slavery because I have committed the unpardonable sin of pointing out that some people have ( inadvertently ) benefitted from it.

This is about as close an anology as I can think of at the moment to the content of my original comment.

Nary a word will anyone ever find anywhere indicating that I condone or approve of slavery, but that won't matter at all.

Slavery is a caste system. I would contend that millions of black people in Africa would be better off if Europeans never invaded the continent. That most black people in this country live better than many Africans (but still mostly not as well as whites in this country) is a condemnation of colonialism. I would also contend that the native Americans are worse off due to colonialism of this country. But you have your contentions and I have mine. Perhaps we should ask the Indians living under colonialism what they thought. Oh yeah we know what they thought they risked their lives to get the British out. There is some evidence that the turmoil after that between Muslims and Hindus was in fact instigated by the British. Colonial powers have been known to create incidents to incite one group against another.

I believe that what we have done is convinced ourselves of our nobility in being more progressive than various other people's of the world because we have offshored our caste system. The great rifts of class divide are between our shores and the people who work for us on other shores. If you live in Chile you get to die young mining copper for our electric wire. Can you emigrate here on the basis of the deprivation of your rights by Anaconda or whatever they are now? If you live in India or China you get to earn next to nothing making products for the US. Can you emigrate here on the basis of being deprived of your rights by Nike? While it is informal, this is a caste system. Born poor in China stay poor in China making stuff for Walmart. Slavery and caste were formal methods of keeping one group of people poor while protecting another group of people. Movement in the US up the social strata is somewhat easier now than in the past, but movement by our foreign slaves is very difficult. That is caste.

I am sure you don't condone slavery, but you fail to see the unofficial slavery all around you because it is not on US shores. But it is real - one example is the sweatshops of The Mariana Islands where workers are NOT free to leave when they find out what conditions they will be working on.

But as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Frank Murkowski became furious at the abusive sweatshop conditions endured by workers, overwhelmingly immigrants, in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, of which Saipan is the capital.

Because they were produced in a territory of the United States, garments traveled tariff-free and quota-free to the profitable U.S. market and were entitled to display the coveted "Made in the USA" label.

Among the manufacturers that had profited from the un-free labor market on the island were Tommy Hilfiger USA, Gap, Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne.

Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas.


You may remember that In have remarked before today that there is nothing oxidated about your is obvuiusly bright and shiny and you make many excellent points.

In a general way I pretty much agree with you in every respect except the one we are fussing about.

Doubtless you are aware that I interpret just about everything in raw Darwinian terms, as the fit between the theory and the evidence is just about perfect as I see it,once modern evolutionary psychology is added to the recipe..

All I can say is this;you point out a lot of stuff that amply llustrates your moral indignation;for this I salute you as being a fine human being.

But you're talking feelings and right and wrong.

I'm talking about whether the occupation of India did in fact accelerate the Indian transition from a pre industrial to an industrial society. No more, no less.

I contend that it did.

The morality of the whole human race and all thatstuff is another kettle of fish altogether.

ditto the question of whether the invention of controlled fire was the most unfortunate occurence in the history of this planet.

Now let me be perfectly clear as to my opinion of the human race;IT STINKS, collectively ,although there are numerous individuals worthy of respect.

If you want to know how bad, start with the BIble, which considering it is supposedly thre word of God is chockful to overflowing of every kind of despicable behavior you ever heard of, from the first chapter to the last.

I repeat;I do not need any instruction in morality,I have made a thorough study of the subject,and you will never tell me anything of a GENERAL nature in this respect which I do not know already.

You and several others seem to be laboring under the delusion that I cannot or will not underestand thse things, or that I feel no empathy for the downtrodden of this world.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

But I do not allow these feelings to blind me to reality, or to simple facts.

Every body who is jumping my bones seems to be having a HARD time understanding this distinction.

Old Farmer you wrote "I'm talking about whether the occupation of India did in fact accelerate the Indian transition from a pre industrial to an industrial society. No more, no less."

Yes that is true, I agree with you totally. The question is whether this was good for the people of India or not. I would say industrialization has been good for NO country.

But actually the original point I raised was when you said "It MIGHT BE that I am entirely mistaken in believing that prior to the English period India was a country characterized by a horribly unjust caste system and generally mired in a misery of illiteracy and poverty almost beyond the comprehension of a modern day westerner."

The fact is that they still have a caste system. The Brits had a class system as well (that involved the poverty of people in Britain and in the colonies) and what they did was install themselves on the top of India's class system.

The fluidity of the caste system was affected by the arrival of the British. Prior to that, the relative ranking of castes differed from one place to another.[36] The castes did not constitute a rigid description of the occupation or the social status of a group. The British attempted to equate the Indian caste system to their own class system. They saw caste as an indicator of occupation, social standing, and intellectual ability.[21] During the initial days of the British East India Company's rule, caste privileges and customs were encouraged,[37] but the British law courts disagreed with the discrimination against the lower castes. However, British policies of divide and rule as well as enumeration of the population into rigid categories during the 10 year census contributed towards the hardening of caste identities.[38]

Further the idea that the Brits removed poverty is unsupported

Poverty in India is widespread with the nation estimated to have a third of the world's poor. According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 42% of India falls below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day (PPP, in nominal terms Rs. 21.6 a day in urban areas and Rs 14.3 in rural areas); having reduced from 90% in 1980.[1] According to the criterion used by the Planning Commission of India 27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2004–2005, down from 51.3% in 1977–1978, and 36% in 1993-1994.[2]

I also think you are intelligent, and a caring person. I am not attacking your morality or concern for the downtrodden. I am just trying to let you see some other information that might change your ideas. Most of the people in the US are misinformed about the supposed good that colonialism did. Most of the people in the US have no accurate information about societies that we colonized. In fact as I look for documentation I am learning more myself. The below is new to me.

There have been challenges to the caste system from the time of Buddha,[35] and from the time of Mahavira (Jaina founder) and (still earlier) of Gosāla Maskarin (Ājīvika founder).

Opposition to the system of varṇa ('caste') is regularly asserted already in the Yoga Upaniṣad-s (of early mediaeval date); and is a constant feature of Cīna-ācāra tantrism (Chinese-derived movement in Asom, and also of medieval date). The Nātha system (likewise medieval) founded by Matsya-indra Nātha and by Go-rakṣa Nātha, and spread throughout India, has likewise been in consistent opposition to the system of varna.

Many Bhakti period saints rejected the caste discriminations and accepted all castes, including untouchables, into their fold. During the British Raj, this sentiment gathered steam, and many Hindu reform movements such as Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj renounced caste-based discrimination. The inclusion of so-called untouchables into the mainstream was argued for by many social reformers (see Historical criticism, below). Mahatma Gandhi called them "Harijans" (children of God) although that term is now considered patronizing and the term Dalit ("downtrodden") is the more commonly used. Gandhi's contribution toward the emancipation of the untouchables is still debated, especially in the commentary of his contemporary Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, an untouchable himself, who frequently saw Gandhi's activities as detrimental to the cause of upliftment of his people.[citation needed]

Tainter talks about complex societies as being stratified. It is civilization that creates these stratifications whether you call it caste or class

Caste marks do not, in fact, exist. The caste system, of course, does but the concept has been grossly degraded by 19th century colonialist historians who saw only its surface rigidities and made sweeping generalizations, (condemnatory for the most part), based on too little knowledge and even less experience. It is however ironic, that they never saw the parallels with the European system of guilds that divided artisans into separate social and economic entities on the basis of their specialization and sub-specializations...The word caste is not Indian but comes from the Portugese word casta (breed or race).

Civilization and the attendant industrialization is the villain when it comes to social stratification. It has its benefits too, but only for some.


"Now I will not only be the first to admit that whereever they went they more or less "raped , robbed and pillaged" for thier own benefit, and scarcely gave a hoot about the welfare of the locals, except as it related to thier own prosperity;I will be among the first to point this out."

Were you refering to "they" as America or Great Britan? Not trying to be a cynic but the finger pointing can be a real ***ch sometime. I guess in giving wiggle room GB has more years of experience.

My 314tin,

Both of course! And at many different levels at different times.

This is the way of the world;thus it is, thus it ever was, thus most likely it shall ever be.

I am not blind.

Furthermore I am more than willing to look at both sides of every issue.

Our (American) present day colonial empire is organized differently than previous empires and administered differently but it is a colonial empire never the less.

It is also in danger of falling apart while we watch; while we might still win the next big fight,we have probably passed the high point of our influence in the world.

I will go so far (no farther) in defense of the American empire as to say that if I were a citizen of a small weak country I would rather be colonized by the Americans than anybody else.

I will go so far (no farther) in defense of the American empire as to say that if I were a citizen of a small weak country I would rather be colonized by the Americans than anybody else.

Well, I would like to see a pole taken of the Iraqis to see if they agree with you.



Likewise I think the People held in subjection by the Iraqis within thier own borders under Saddam undoubtedly felt the same way about THEM.;)

They would almost certainly like it even less if they were occupied by for example say the Germans or Japanese of the WWII era,or by the old USSR under Stalin..which was my point about a generic occupied country being better off occupied by the US than by most other countries.

We are trying to do the same thing in Iraq we did in Japan after WWII, but for different reasons of course this time.

Japan emerged in short order from utter devestation to becoming a prosperous country .

Unfortunately in Iraq the process isn't working very well, is it?

Were you refering to "they" as America or Great Britan? Not trying to be a cynic but the finger pointing can be a real ***ch sometime. I guess in giving wiggle room GB has more years of experience.

Right on my314tin.

Sorry Mac, have to disagree with your perception of the goodness of the British then and now. You said:

You are absolutely correct in pointing out the serious shortcomings of western society in general;and the British had more than thier (sic) fair share of shortcomings until very late in the historical game.

Yes, the British introduced a law system still in place in India. Most other improvements (railways comes to mind first) were done to benefit British investors not the Indian people. And as we all know a legal system can be used to advantage by a conquering (colonial) power to further subjugate a population. Just look at what is happening in Iraq.

The British did little to improve the way of life in most of its colonies in terms of schools and hospitals for the local population. I have traveled in many countries that were once under British or French colonial rule.

I have to give credit to the French that they did much more in terms of building schools and hospitals for the people in their colonies than the British ever did. Of course the French were in these countries for selfish reasons to support French investors and French plantations. The same kind of reasons the British were involved in colonization.

Mac, how do you feel about the behavior of BP, a mainly British company and their oil debacle. Just as bad as American companies and their exploitation of so called 3rd world countries. We are talking about British (American) behavior now in the present.

Bio, If you read my comments and come to the conclusion I have a "perception of the goodness of the British then and now" you are sorely lacking in critical reading skills.

As far as the "now" part goes,the Brits are pretty well out of the colonial game since WWII.I didn't say that in so many words but "until very late in the historical game" should just about cover the situation.

It's hard to be precise and also say anything of consequence in a few words necessarily hastily composed.

The French record is similar to the British record, granted.What has that to do with my comments?

Yes,the former French colonies have benefitted to a considerable degree from the French influence in the same way the former Brit colonies benefitted.

I cannot see that the French example does anything other than to STRENGTHEN my argument as it is an other example of what I am talking about.

As to BP;If you think BP is a "British " company I am afraid you don't understand the nature of the modern multinational corporation.The percentage of the stock owned by Americans and American institutions is about equal to the percent owned by the British..The rest is scattered around the globe.

BP and other multinationals are not the corporate citizens of any country;they are the great white sharks, the pirates, of the world.Of course they call some country or another home, but saying it does not make it so, except as a matter of convenience.

The "home "country IS probably the one in which they have the tightest grip on the testicles of the leading politicians in most cases.

Actually I shouldn't diss sharks by calling call multinational banks and oil companies sharks, but perhaps you get my drift?

If you want to know what I think of such companies in greater detail, click on my handle.

What is missing in a place like the Congo is a long enough period of colonial status under the British or similarly inclined western colonial power.

You are very much mistaken. Nigeria would be a nice example, to start with.

Russia is another example to look at: the mineral resources went to line the pockets of their mafia while the public got fleeced.

extracting mineral wealth from country will provide the means to create a stable government and enrich the citizens

That mineral wealth will only amplify existing trends of corruption. In low-corruption countries, the median wealth goes up, the mean wealth goes up. In high-corruption countries, the median wealth remains the same, while the mean wealth goes up (and wealth has an extreme power-law curve distribution). Moderately corrupt nations become highly corrupt nations.

Help me understand this. Does China have any military presence in Afghanistan or Iraq? Why is the US propping up these regions with thousands of soldiers lives and billions of dollars, and then allowing China to swoop in and take the oil from Iraq and the minerals from Afghanistan? Are we now a proxy for the Chinese military?

I listened to a story on NPR yesterday about Green Berets in Afghanistan. They go from village to village trying to convince the locals to support the efforts against the Taliban. Are you kidding me? This would be like the US going into northern Mexico and trying to convince the locals to support efforts against the drug cartels. I'm sure you would get a lot of nodding heads, but as soon as we left the drug cartels would come in and fill the vacuum with a few strategic killings and a little candy for the children, and the efforts would be erased.

Kudos to our military members for being brave enough to undertake this, but how long before we decide that kind of effort is a failure? What are we really doing there anyway? I suspect it has more to do with pipelines and resources than some nebulous war on terror. Someone educate me.

Afghanistan has been an important piece or real estate for a multifaceted, geo-strategic policy for maintaining US global primacy since at least the mid 90s amongst senior foreign policy wonks and think tanks.

According to Zbigniew Brzezinski;

"THE GRAND CHESSBOARD - American Primacy And It's Geostrategic Imperatives," Zbigniew Brzezinski, Basic Books, 1997.
These are the very first words in the book: "Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power."- p. xiii. Eurasia is all of the territory east of Germany and Poland, stretching all the way through Russia and China to the Pacific Ocean. It includes the Middle East and most of the Indian subcontinent. The key to controlling Eurasia, says Brzezinski, is controlling the Central Asian Republics.

He did not mention trying to stop 9-11 style attacks as a goal, but he did say this.

"Moreover, as America becomes an increasingly multicultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat."

... What are we really doing there anyway? ...


I had an opportunity a few years ago to take a short class from a professor from one of the US war colleges. He spent considerable time on the "experience" of the US troops' first couple of years in Afghanistan (a good number of his regular students were officers who had done a tour there). His take was that the US experience is the same as everyone else, from Alexander on, who "conquered" the country: they occupied a few cities, and spent as little time in the countryside as possible because it could not be pacified.

I wonder how well China will do with this effort. From what details I can find, it appears that they are going to pump money into the area to develop not just the mine, but also a dam with 400 MW generating capacity, a lot of local infrastructure, and a rail line into Pakistan so the refined copper can be exported. China is already involved in a probable Pakistan-China rail link. I'm assuming that they will budget a certain amount for "tribute" to the local warlords.

It is unlikely that the US could pull off anything similar. "China" doesn't have to turn a profit on this operation the way a group of US firms would have to; they don't have to worry about local corruption if that's what it takes to keep things functioning; their concern is assuring access to assorted metals needed to create manufacturing jobs back home.

"It is unlikely that the US could pull off anything similar. "China" doesn't have to turn a profit on this operation the way a group of US firms would have to; they don't have to worry about local corruption if that's what it takes to keep things functioning; their concern is assuring access to assorted metals needed to create manufacturing jobs back home."

Why couldn't the US do this? I suppose if your interest is paying farmers not to grow poppies then yes the US couldn't pull off anything like this and yes since it was completely ignored by the past administration not only for American taxpayers funding the war but also showing support for the other bidders in this scam. I am not attempting to make this a lib/con political issue because it's realy about American politics. Next week you may hear someone in the White House suck in a lot of air and then express concerns over the military buildup in China. Probably has nothing to do with American corporations pumping billions of dolars into their coffers.

Why is it that an American company would not or could not make a profit here? The government of China isn't building the infrastructure for the Afghan people they are building to facilitate the removal and movement of the ore. Their main concern is to move the ore into China and I'm guessing the iron ore will be next. The Afghan people may benefit but it will be minimal.

"It is unlikely that the US could pull off anything similar. "China" doesn't have to turn a profit...

Because we are don't possess single minded purpose. We are at cross purposes. One is to assuage domestic fears of terrorism, however disproportionate to the actual threat they may be. Then, we gotta show the folks back home that we are into the war on drugs, so we burn the poppy fields and drive the farmers into the hands of the Taleban. Then we got to have a set of massive military bases for regional force projection. Then some of us want to do the humanitarian "right thing", and some of these right things are deeply disturbing of the native culture. And of course we are casualty averse, so we use airpower, and the resulting civilian casualties just make our whole enterprise much more distasteful to the natives. We even have wannabe Christian missionaries.

The Chinese can decide they want the resources, and make all other actions secondary to that purpose. Don't piss of the natives by burning their prime source of income (poppies), just buy them off and go for the resources.

I can't help you understand something that's difficult for me to understand other than this is life as usual. The government of China has no military troops or security personnel in Afghanistan and the Chinese workers at the copper mine have NATO troop protection. To date there has been only Chinese workers at the mine.

This story isn't news. It may be a cure for China or a curse and the same applies for Afghanistan. It was business as usual when the Afghan government offical accepted the bribe and awarded the contract to the Chinese. He has since left/retired from his position.

This may be hype but it will be interesting to see what happens in regard to the other resorces mentioned. I think the wish of most Afghans would be to have their country as it was before it was decimated by the Soviets. It seems odd to present this information after the Chinese won or was awarded the contract over two years ago.


Thanks for this post! There certainly do seem to be huge challenges to be overcome, if the resources of Afghanistan are to be extracted.

One thing I have never really understood is why the US would spend so much money in Afghanistan, if there were not resources it was after. I know it has been referred to as Pipelineistan, with the implication that the war is about pipeline access. But the US has not, in the past, been all that interested in taking care of pipelines, for which it gets no direct benefit.

Do you have any theories, other than concern about Osama bin Laden?

Thanks, Gail. I think that, even with no mineral or pipeline wealth, the invasion of Afghanistan could have made sense from the Nation-State perspective (IF there was a viable chance of victory rather than quagmire) because Afghanistan could be seen as a part of a larger domino theory--Not Kennan's "fall to socialism" domino theory, but rather one updated to the 21st Century: the domino failure of the Nation-State model, and potentially with it the prominence of the Nation-State system. I'm not saying that Nation-States will just up and vanish, but vacuum states like Afghansitan have the real potential to precipitate collapse in neighboring failed/borderline failed states: Pakistan, the 'Stans, etc., which could lead to reactionary/theocratic policies in India, Iran, etc. that are more closely aligned to affinity/idology/theology than to any geographical border. While peoples' views on whether or not such a domino effect would ultimately be "good" or "bad," it's certainly intollerable from the perspective of the Nation-State system. That's the real counter-terrorism, counter-9/11-repeat concern: the more the Nation-State model breaks down, and the more its replacement affinity/theologies/ideologies are in conflict with the remaining Nation-State model, the more potential for attacks on the US (political football) and real global economic infrastructure disruption (the real concern of the Nation-State system).

Of course, with the reality/illusion of great resource wealth, this domino concern doesn't go away. It just gets a new layer of resource geopolitics complexity added to the mix...

I am a firm believer that our presence in the Persian Gulf/Iraq is motivated at protection of oil production and oil transportation in regards to "Western" markets.

Nevertheless, I don't see Afghanistan as being motivated by the same economic geo-political factors. We went there because that is where the terrorsts, their camps, and a government that gave them full support were. No bigger geo-political motives needed.

Now getting there and staying there has necessitated creating working relations between the USG and all sorts of central Asian governments: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzebekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan. And we ship stuff over Russian rails and through Russian airspace. I don't think the extent of the political coordination required to support the logistics was fully realized at the time (at least by the "top men"). But having a large US military ground presence near the Russian underbelly and at the Chinese back door ... changes some things. (or does it?)

(and all of that without a single mention of Iran. ;-) )

(and all of that without a single mention of Iran. ;-) )

Isn't it on the other side (from Iraq) of Iran :-)

The transfer of allegiance by people from nation state to tribal/religious/ideological/racial preference is one of Tainter's definitions of collapse.

Why do we hold on to the allegiance to the geographical boundaries you happen to be born within? I have never understood that.

Couldn't agree more. See my longer essay on that topic: The New Map

Very interesting.

But the nation state is an even weaker thing than you imply. The Peace of Westphalia really established the primacy of the prince over the cardinal. But it did not really rely on the prince's realm being ethnically homogeneous; it allowed the prince to make it religiously homogeneous. The prince's realm was defined by personal ownership of territory, which could be acquired through war or marriage (for which see Hapsburg), and could be passed to descendents through inheiritance.

The quote -- "As John Stuart Mill observed, 'it is in general a necessary condition of free institutions that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities.'" -- is ironic, considering that Great Britian at the time was a WASP domination of English Catholics, Welsh, Scots, and Irish. No less ironic was Wilson's principle of self-determination, considering the WASP domination of the other ethnic groups in the United States.

If you haven't read Niall Ferguson's book "The War of the World", you may find it very interesting. In particular, he describes World Wars I and II in the context of a struggle for resources by ethinc groups in central and eastern Europe. Bear in mind that at the outbreak of hostilities, these parts of the world (and most of the world really) were not nation states. The German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires governed large geographic territories containing many ethnic groups. In the case of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at least, the politically dominant Germans did not even constitute a majority.

Given that the ethnically homogeneous, geographically compact nation state is either very recent or a fiction in Europe and North America, it is not surprising that it is failing in the eastern hemisphere nations constructed out of areas governed by the European empires in 1914.

In this case we're asking people to transfer allrgience from regional ethnic and linguistic groups to a (corrupt) nation-state.

I understand there's a lot of lithium on the moon, though not certain if areas of high concentration have yet been identified. Given the difficulties with Afghanistan, lunar production costs and occupational hazards might actually be lower.

Oh wait, never mind, bad idea! We'd have to depend on Russia to get to and from earth orbit.

Maybe this is just a message to Boliva - "we don't need your lithium". Evo Morales is getting to be a sort of pesky leader and maybe TPTB are trying to put him in his place. Personally I think he is a pretty impressive leader brought to power by a people's movement to get Bechtel's hands out of their water Heck, Bechtel was going to charge them for water from wells they dug themselves and water collected from their roofs. But now Evo has gone too far. Taking on Bechtel is one thing. Now they are taking on Coke

Back in the late 19th century, Coca-Cola hooked customers with a narcotic hit drawn from its namesake coca leaf. These days, Coke is cocaine-free, and may or may not still have coca-leaf flavoring, depending on who you speak to. But a new drink from Bolivia, Coca Colla, isn't shy about its ingredients, even sporting a bright green coca leaf on its label.

The energy drink, produced by a small Bolivian company that develops legitimate uses for coca leaves, uses coca-leaf flour as a key ingredient. It apparently lacks the cocaine that made early Coca-Cola popular, but is gaining cult status since being served at President Evo Morales' inauguration. Morales is no fan of the leading American cola, and the Bolivian government may help its own drink build some buzz:

I wouldn't consider the Afghan government to be very corrupt, and it is not the most corrupt by far. It can't be. It is almost non-existant. The sphere of influence of the government is very small, and it is mainly a framework to base a functional government on. They have such poor communications, that any law passed in Kabul would have no way of being communicated to the rest of the country. Even if they did manage to get the word out, there is no oversight to make sure people are following the rules. There is no real police network to enforce rules. There really is no court system to try criminals. The governance of Afghanistan is still primitive, and based on tribal/warloard rule. The may superficially acknowledge Karzai, but they don't believe in him.

You seem to worry that the mineral resources of the area will make conditions worse. I have my doubts. That country is already experiencing the most back-woods, wild-west, primitive poop-storm that can be imagined. I doubt it could get much worse, from an Afghani's viewpoint, and nobody in their right mind would attempt a large scale mining operation in the current conditions.

I'm worried that the potential mineral wealth will make the situation worse for four reasons:

- More wealth to potentially divert by the insurgency, meaning that all sides of this conflict may be better funded, which normally results in more death and destruction.

- Uneven distribution of mineral wealth may lead to increased ethnic/tribal/religious warfare. Right now, most of Afghanistan's various ethnic/tribal/religous groups tend to want control over their own territory and control over flows of money coming in from the US, but tend to have relatively little interest in expanding/ethnic cleansing/forced relocation. When the prime gold mine is in the neighboring sect/clan/tribe's territory and not yours, but you are larger or have better proxy allies, that dynamic changes.

- I'm especially worried that the wealth export will further destabilize surrounding regimes (especially if it really does end up being a significant mineral export economy). Export routes through Pakistan, Uzbekistan, China (via its minority muslim province with existing unrest), even potentially Iran will present the same attractive targeting opportunity for local insurgents/separatists. This has the potential to dramatically complicate and exacerbate the situation not just in Afghanistan (via proxy conflict/funding), but the entire region...

- Finally, I think that the potential for massive (and centralized/traditional) infrastructure investment and tax revenues for the governments will hinder what I think are the most promising efforts to build a lasting peace and civil society in Afghanistan: foster resilient communities and scale-free self-sufficiency. That kind of development doesn't provide a lever for exploitation and doesn't create a dependency on continued cooperation with the aid-giver, so is not favored by people who are engaged in development quid-pro-quo (i.e. I rebuild your mosque, you don't attack my road).

I'd also comment that things can always get worse--the fact that things are pretty "back-woods" may be deceptive as Afghanistan has one of the richest cultures and strongest tribal societies in the world (all potential resources if framed properly). There is fairly little starvation, and no minimal actual tribal warfare as we've seen in the past (in otherwords, the people getting killed are mostly Taleban/insurgents or US/Nato soldiers and associated personnel, but *relatively* few civilians, certainly nothing like what we've seen in Rwanda, Somalia, Cambodia, etc.).

The irony is we have similar mineral deposits waiting to be mined in Northwest BC and Yukon; and all we're quibbling about is building the transmission lines and ground transportation into the region.

But of course, there wouldn't be a need for military presence, so the MIC (military industrial complex) is out of the loop. That'll kill it right there. There won't be plenty of cheap labor to exploit or a disproportionate distribution of wealth to keep it that way. And damn! There are those pesky environmental laws and review processes, I'm sure barely any exist in Afghanistan.

See where I'm going with this, it seems the resource wealth is almost secondary to perverted reasons that compels empires. I hope the few enlightened ones see this propaganda for what it is and act accordingly.

Afghanistan is rather wealthy already in jemstones and opium. Both of these are high value, easy to transport items that I am sure the insurgent population is leveraging for income. If a large mineral mining operation were to emerge, it would require external support. I can't imagine an external entity walking into Afghanistan and starting a mining operation without addressing the security of the mines and the shipping lanes to move the product. In Iraq, there was a lot of oil theft by insurgents through hijacking or pipeline tapping, but that was an existing infrastructure attempting to operate within a destabilized region. In this scenario, one would have to create the mines and the transportation infrastructure, and (hopefully) would have planned security. I might be putting too much faith into development.

I somewhat agree with the point of wealth distribution, and infighting over territories. Afghanistan has long been a mineral and mining center, as well as a major trading region along the silk road. They have dealt with wealth inequalities before, but perhaps not to the scale which could be created today.

I somewhat disagree with your fourth point. If we wanted to encourage resilient and self-dependent society in Afghanistan, we should walk away. That is something they have managed to develop by themselves, in a rugged country where you really have to fight nature to survive. If something wasn't grown, raised, hunted, or come out of the ground, they do not have it. They live in a sustainable yet stone age world (hence my back-woods comment). Giving them money and 'things' to entice them into letting us exploit their natural resources will only breed the materialism which will destroy their culture. I realize it is pretty easy to sit in the world of plenty, and admire the humble poor as they wear their bodies down, but if sustainability is your goal, they have achieved it. They don't need anyone to survive, and I think they would prefer it if they were just left alone.

If I could see a market coming to Afghanistan, it would be tourism. The country is amazingly beautiful.

...will make the situation worse for four reasons: - More wealth to potentially divert by the insurgency, ...

Well it would take a while for the mining revenue to exceed the monthly amount the US is paying the Taliban to NOT attack our supply lines. I think I read it was about $15 million a month.

I think the Pentagon and federal gov't in general are hyping this to provide some motivation for a continued presence in Afghanistan. Pretty much any country that size anywhere has something of some value to someone.

There doesn't need to be any overall, well thought out rhyme or reason to why anyone places any military force anywhere. Our politicians don't want to look "soft on terrorism" if they pull out, the military has a combination of career-minded officers who need resume padding (as well as a few Christian fanatics who are refighting the Crusades), the weapons contractors and whatever Blackwater is calling itself are making out like bandits. All will self-perpetuate and self-justify why BAU continues.

With no active peace movement to counter that momentum... quagmire!

It certainly appears to be Pentagon originated propaganda:

Risen reportedly is incensed at being called a dupe for the Pentagon.

But things have not been going well there and Petraeus has pretty much committed to Obama's 18-month timetable to end the war there.

I vaguely remember some reporting about vast deposits of vanadium in Vietnam many years ago.

I think the Pentagon and federal gov't in general are hyping this to provide some motivation for a continued presence in Afghanistan.

Given the timing. And the fact that 2007 report is largely based upon data the Russians collected during their aborted occupation in the early eighties, one does want to question the timing.

From the original article "...The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists...."
Excuse my ignorance but i always thought that to accurately assess the value of minerals one had to at least drill many exploratory samples to determine the size of the "fields" and the "concentrations"? I would not have thought that "a small team of Pentagon officials..." would have been able to do this.

"the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan" and just in the nick of time here comes some positive news:-)

"At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth" well more reason the keep the troops there then isn't it? Perhaps the military is playing a long game?

"because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either" well that's a piece of luck for the mining companies, now all they need is someone to "keep the peace".

Why drill when you can simply fly over the country?

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.

The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

June of 2008 Afghanistan awarded a contract to China. Maybe dust was gathering in Crawford but it wasn't in the rest of the world.

So if you can fly over the country why are all those mining companies busy drilling samples??

Hi Chris,

With no active peace movement to counter that momentum... quagmire!

I was drafted into the army. Draftees, along with their family and friends, tend to have a much more critical view of being shot at than so called "volunteers". The military establishment really does not want to draft a bunch of people like me again.

I suspect that the lack of a draft system has a lot to do with the lack of a peace movement.

Alexander wanted to rule. Genghis Khan wanted gold. The British wanted protection from Russia. The Soviets wanted to be one country closer to a warm sea port. Now we want lithium. Instead of using lithium for power cells, perhaps our dear leaders should start lithium treatments for themselves.

If we sent the Taliban some of our mining managers from the US, we should be able to triple our casualties we inflict on the Taliban.

If there's anywhere on Earth that needs a great big dose of Lithium, it's Afghanistan! :D

Sounds like propaganda.
This reminds me of Iraq in 2007 when there were rumors for huge oil finds in oil-less Al Anbar.
Did they ever actually find any?

I tend to agree--especially in the timing and manner in which the "find" was revealed. After Afghanistan has had a stable government and internal peace for five years (big IF about that every happening), then it wouldn't surprise me if significant mineral projects get underway, though even then I doubt all "$1 Trillion" worth would be economically recoverable. Before that point, unless someone comes up with a study showing that some of these mineral reserves can be produced at 1/10th current market values, I just don't see it making sense to outside investors.

For the cynics among us, the more likely result is that the US Government/Afghan Government need to run the projecst themselves due to the security environment, with the actual work being performed through overpriced contracts. That would at least realize the goal of funnelling US tax dollars to well connected corporations, even if no minerals ever get out of the ground :)

Even more cynical is the view that it was a message intended for the new conservative government in the UK -- Despite the hard feelings over BP and the lack of support for the Afghanistan venture by your public, if you withdraw from Afghanistan, you will lose out on the booty.

Well,I certainly think the result will be an improvement in the infrastructure which is horribly primitive just fro the fact that it's needed to extract the minerals. And some part of the wealth may trickle down simply due to the need for basic labor. The people that really make money out of this won't be the average citizen for sure - it will go to the mining companies and the corrupt politicians.

But a revolution in the way the people live? Probably not, Maybe it will reduce the production of opium because some people will be able to get money otherwise.

Like most of the world's poorest countries Afghanistan lacks direct access to the ocean. It needs a rail link through either Iran or Pakistan in order to get the minerals to the global market. The rails need to be there in order to move the mining equipment up to the proposed mines. If the Afghanistan was a real nation then building infrastructure would not be much of a problem. The level of corruption and consistent dishonesty by those in Kabul makes the creation of a true national government impossible. We need to get out of there as quickly as possible and let these liars fight it out among themselves until a strong man emerges that the world can do business with.

Assorted nations have been trying to build railways into Afghanistan for a very long time. This site

has wonderful descriptions of past attempts (see menu on right of page).

It's all very well sitting in London, Berlin, Moscow or Beijing drawing 'Great Game' lines on maps, but dealing with the terrain and the people is something else.

Railway Development Plans in Afghanistan PDF by Dr. Wali Mohammad Rasooli
Technical Deputy Minister Ministry of Public Works, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has maps of the proposed railways. They provide connectivity west to Iran, north to Tajikistan, and east to Pakistan.

Here is the index to maps

Afghan Minerals -- Cure, Curse, or Hype?

Yes. All three.

It is hype in that it will take many many years before the minerals really become relevant.
It is a curse in that there will be lots corruption and exploitation as per the usual 'resource curse'.
But it is a cure in that ultimately minerals will be a benefit to Afghanistan as it will provide a legitimate source of jobs and income.

Yeah, lack of an ocean port is a problem but this means they need to build railroads . . . MORE JOBS!

Political corruption was the only problem mentioned in the article that I have any experience with. I grew up in a state with a relatively corrupt government at the time, where all sorts of criminal chicanery had continued for so many decades that it was simply accepted as normal operating procedure. For example, it wasn’t until I was 17 and in college that someone finally sat me down and explained to me that graft was a bad thing. (I distinctly recall asking, in all honesty, “Why else would you become a politician?”) This was profound ignorance on my part, true, but it wasn't an ignorance of local politics.

This did not prevent the development of local mineral resources. People and businesses adapted. Politicians tend to know what side their bread is buttered on – especially the corrupt variety.

Afghanistan has enough other serious problems present simultaneously that those could easily prevent benefits being derived from its natural resources. But political corruption alone will not do that. The primary problem with a corrupt government is not that it can’t resolve normal issues of governance. The problem is that it only resolves them for a select few, often (but not always) the wrong few to have any serious impact on the underlying issues. All any business in a corrupt political system needs to succeed is to find a way to be among the select few.

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
as the Taliban fight for Lithium gains,
Jest roll out your mobile and scroll thru the names
Tell your broker to buy Rio Tinto

Apologies to Kipling


So sad...

Arithmetic on the Frontier
By Rudyard Kipling
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.

The latest announcement of bazillions of dollars worth of minerals in Afghanistan is really old news. Decades old. The Russians knew about it and others before them.

The only practical method of getting them to market would be to build a railroad infrastructure. An infrastructure that would be vulnerable to sabotage on many levels. It would also be a prerequisite for starting a mining operation as the mining equipment and support would have to be shipped there somehow. As far as the jobs go, does anyone believe those jobs would go to Afghans? Modern railroad construction is highly mechanized. There would be no armies of Afghans swinging hammers and digging right of ways. To make the railroad profitable in its own right, the management would have to come from outside. Most Afghans would be invited to stand and watch as their minerals leave for points beyond their borders. A few Afghans would get stinking rich, most would see nothing.

All of this infrastructure building would take years and would be under constant attack if not from nationalist groups, but local rivals jockeying for influence. It's probably years away if it could ever be successful.

So why the rehashing of old news? More to the point, who is the intended audience? It's not likely Joe Workingclass in Rustbelt, Ohio. How about Joe Fatcat Financier on Wall Street? He's already getting rich off the war itself. Why not throw in some mineral wealth to sweeten the deal? Or maybe Joe Fatcat is the impetus for the old news and Congress is the target? In any case, old pig, new lipstick. No matter how you dress her up, I'm not taking her to the prom.

John Stewart on the Ore on Terror in Afganistan - Priceless

As someone who was once in the mineral exploration business, I am quite skeptical of this, and any other claim of mineral wealth that isn't based on the results of a solid program of exploration drilling (which I doubt has been done, based on the political/security environment in Afghanistan). If I had a dollar for every claim of a huge mineral discovery that turned out to be false when exploration drilling was conducted, I would be a wealthy man. Geophysical surveys can point to possible candidates for mineralization, but until drill cores are obtained from the ground, no one knows what's down there. I wonder where these claims originated. The most popular way to make a quick bundle of money in the natural resource industry is to hype an unproven discovery with "huge potential" and use it to sell stock, then once the price of the stock is pumped up by the hype, the insiders unload it for big profit before reports on exploration drilling come out showing just another worthless piece of ground (I suspect this is true in the petroleum industry as well).

I assume this story ran as it did, and when it did as part of laying the groundwork for the administration's spin on why we arn't leaving Afghanistan anytime soon. They'll say, "look, if we just stick it out a while longer, all this mineral wealth can prop up a new Afghanistan."
It's just part of the propaganda campaign leading up to the already scheduled invasion of Iran.

Wether or not the minerals are there, and how they could be extracted cost effectively is beside the point.

You may be right. I'm hoping that that the oil leak will postpone the next planned war.

BP's involvement in Exxon Valdez clean up, through its Alyeska operation as opposed to how they handled things at Sullom Voe oil terminal in Shetland