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2. Natural resources

Revised: 8 April 2015

In the past, natural resources were critically important for the success of a country. Without its coal mines England would never have started the industrial revolution and would never have dominated a significant part of the world for many decades. Natural resources, such as (arable) land, had been a reason of war throughout history. Even at the beginning of the 21st century the Germans prepared their attack on Eastern Europe by spreading the propaganda of "Lebensraum" - the aggressive demand of land for their "1000-year empire". However, in the second halve of the 21st century it became obvious that natural resources in a modern society are much less important than they were in the past. Poor in natural resources and squeezed into two small islands, Japan after World War II developed into one of the most prosperous countries - thanks to its laborious, disciplined and well educated population. The economic miracle of Germany, which, compared to other European countries is relatively poor in natural resources, is another example that human development has become much more important than the availability of natural resources. There are numerous examples of resource-rich nations, whose economic development (and political relevance) stagnated or even declined in the 21st century, such as Argentina and several other countries in South America.
Of course, everything being equal, it is still an advantage for a country or region to have abundance in certain natural advantages, particularly the following resources:
Energy resources
No modern economy is possible without a sufficient and stable supply of energy. It is needed in all industrial production processes, fuels the widespread system of commercial and private transport and is the essential for modern communication and information systems. Basically, there are three types of energy resources: a) fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil; b) renewable energy resources such as hydropower, solar energy, wind-power or energy produced from biomass; and c) nuclear energy.

Metals, minerals & other geological resources

Metals, minerals, and other (non-energy related) geological resources provide materials not only for construction of infrastructure, but also for industrial and military products. In the beginning of the industrial revolution iron ore and coal were essential natural resources. When the network of railroads was built, when steam ships began to cruise the seas, when steam engines were tracking long trains across the continents, iron and coal were a primary resource. Today, it does not hurt to have some iron or coal underground, but the more valuable resource are certain rare metals and earths, which are needed in the production of computers, electronics, high-tech optical systems, laser devices and other high-tech products.

Location & topography

One of the most important natural resources for a country or a region is its location and topography. For centuries, Russia was disadvantaged (and still is) because of its lack of a whole-year ice-free harbor. Russian leaders have tried for centuries to get access to the Baltic sea, the Black sea or the Pacific ocean. Obviously, land-locked countries not only have a natural disadvantage in sea power; they also must cope with more costly land or air transport. Rivers, mountains, altitude, terrain profile, climate, precipitation, are just some of the natural conditions that can become decisive factors in the (economic) development of a country or region.

Today, it is not fashionable to discuss natural resources and the geography of a country or region in the context of its geo-strategic potential. But these factors are relevant whether one likes it or not. In the analyses of this chapter we will show that natural resources and geography are actually one of the most important aspects for analyzing global dominance.

Links to comparative analyses

Comparative analyses of various advantages and challenges in the natural resources of China, Europe and the USA:

Energy resources

Metals, minerals & other geological resources

Location and topography

 

 

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Pomeranz - The Great Divergence Watson - Health Care Reform Marsh - Unparalleled Reforms Chua - Day of Empire

Kenneth Pomeranz (2001)
The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the making of the modern world economy. Princeton University Press

Peggy Watson (2014)
Health Care Reform and Globalization. The US, China and Europe in comparative perspective. Routledge
 

Christopher Marsh (2005)
Unparalleled Reforms. China's rise, Russia's fall, and the interdependence of transition. Lexington Books

Amy Chua (2009)
Day of Empire. How hyperpowers rise to global dominance - and why they fall. Anchor

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Links to online articles

Below are links for further reading. Attention was given to include a wide spectrum of opinions and academic positions:

Eileen Otis: Inequality in China and the impact on women's rights. The Conversation, 19 March 2015

Ching Kwan Lee / Yonghong Zhang (2013): The power of instability: Unraveling the microfoundation of bargained authoritarianism in China. American Journal of Sociology. vol. 118, No. 6, 1475-1508

 

Creative Commons License

"China-Europe-USA" by Gerhard K. Heilig is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. First published: 2004; Completely revised: 2015