Predatory Militarism on the Rise

IT IS 3 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT Doomsday Clock. The Bulletin

Responses to resource scarcity

Throughout history, different societies have opted for different “solutions” to energy scarcity and collapse. Some might try to adapt to this new socioeconomic reality (Cuba 1990s), others may protect the elite at the expense of the general population (North Korea 1990s), while some may turn to external aggression and predatory militarism (Japan 1918-45) (Friedrichs, 2012). Predatory militarism is, according to Friedrichs, the result of desperation and temptation to gain resources through military means. In the Japanese case, the element of desperation prevailed. In the 1930s Japan started its aggressive military campaigns against China in attempts to prevent fuel starvation and external dependence on strategic resources. However, ironically this predatory militarism instead lead Japan to become increasingly dependent on importing critical commodities (oil) from the US (about 70-80% of gasoline). So when the US put in place a trade embargo (1941) Japan started looting oil from Borneo, Sumatra and the East Indies. And we all know what happened after that. In short, Japan tried gain critical resources from other countries, prompted by the potential of fuel starvation, which lead them to scrap free trade policy and to radicalise a strategy of predatory militarism to secure access to energy.

Worrying Trends 2015

Countries prone to military solutions like the US and Russia seems to have followed a Japanese-style strategy of predatory militarism.The US (and NATO) involvement in the Middle East to secure access to oil by military force is a clear example of this. We also see a worrying trend of potential US involvement in the South China Sea, as well as China’s use of its military power to secure oil and gas in Central Asia. However, it seems unlikely that China will stray further than that in terms of military force, instead they have been making trade deals with Iran and Russia for oil. China will probably hesitate to anger the US which has a much stronger military than China, but the country may become increasingly desperate for more energy as its population continues increasing while demanding reductions to coal pollution. I am more concerned about what the US might do next. Since 2001 the US have been in constant warfare, and for no benefit of the people of those countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan) or the countries receiving all the migrants from these war torn regions. Then we have Russia's invasion of Ukraine (or support of separatist movements as some like to call it), to secure the flow of natural gas, and now its involvement in Syria. This shows signs of major geopolitical instability in the oil rich Middle East and in Europe due to global scarcity of energy, and an escalating power play between NATO and Russia over "what's left".

October – Outlook from a Swedish perspective

On the military side of so called strategic deterrence we have seen an increase in military drills in our neighbourhood. During the summer both NATO and Russia conducted naval exercises in the the Baltic Sea. Now, during the fall, drills have intensified both in Russia, Belarus, and on NATO territory. Both naval and air forces have been deployed to show “might” on both sides. However, it is on the nuclear side of the deterrence strategy where most activity have been going over the last couple of months. It is likely that Iskander with nuclear capability is located in Kaliningrad and that the US has started to upgrade their capability with the new B61 nuclear bombs for fighters at German, Italian and Turkish air bases. At least according to credible Swedish commentators. Furthermore, the UK has voiced a wish to join NATO:s exercises on nuclear escalation (i.e. in the case of transitioning from conventional weapons to high alert for nuclear weapons deployment).
File:Nuclear weapons.png
Credit: WikiCommons

The Russian intervention in Syria has increased the likelihood of confrontation. Perhaps not intentional but the risk of unintended consequences, with potentially catastrophic results, getting out of hand has risen. Russian rocket launches from the Caspian Sea was, according to most experts, a demonstration of power for mainstream media and the domestic audience back home. But because the robotics system, similar to Iskander, can launch both conventional ammunition as well as nuclear this illustrates a serious upper hand that Russia has gained in terms of tactical and potentially mid range weaponry. It is, however, yet unclear if the images shown were real or potentially tampered with. The propaganda war between Russia and the West has reached such high levels that it's becoming increasingly difficult to know what is actually going on down on the ground.

For Sweden this escalation of tension between NATO and Russia is very troublesome, especially since exercises have been occurring on and around our borders. We don’t really have any defence to speak of and so popular support for joining NATO is increasing in Sweden, a similar trend is visible in Finland. Experts over here are mostly concerned with the unpredictability of Russia, which is very good at hiding its true intentions and preparations. The larger issue, however, is the political confusion over Russian statements and lack of insight into Kremlin's actual behaviour. The West’s analysis of Russia have been wrong all along and there has been little focus on the actual geopolitical consequences on the ground. This is of course a consequence of the whole propaganda war going on and the increasing inability of the government to solve complex problems.

Furthermore, there is very low public support for NATO and military interventions in Europe, which probably annoys the hell out of US "diplomats". Few soldiers have been mustered in Europe and the few who are in service are not ready for combat. Most Europeans don't want to get involved with either Russia or the US, but if they have to chose, well, Russia supply almost all of Europe's natural gas and oil so… yeah… I think you know the answer. 

As for other European countries turning to the predatory strategy we have seen some of that in terms of the nuclear powers (France, the UK, Italy) engagement in the Middle East. It is unclear what these countries may do under pressure, any large-scale military response inside Europe seems unlikely, but then again, history has shown that any liberal democracy can turn into an authoritarian military machine when conditions turn really ugly. The current economic crisis and hardship for people in southern Europe could perhaps lead to extremists rising to power again if there is another major economic blow (which looks like it's on its way now with the global economic slowdown). Even here in Sweden I see a trend towards people voting for the Sweden Democrats (far right wing) in pure frustration over the current government's incompetence. Of course, the problem is not so much political as it is a resource problem but most people don't see the connection. And so on and on the debate goes, generating more irrational political behaviour, which in turn angers the public even more.

Despite all these worrying signs in our close proximity our dear politicians, here in Sweden, have not been able to come to any agreement about funding emergency preparedness and response. So we are basically helpless if there is a conflict in our neighbourhood and will have to rely on Finland and other countries to help us out. Or perhaps we would simply hope that there is nothing of value to Russia and NATO here, we have no oil, coal or natural gas. 


Out of the ashes into the fire


  1. You have timber. However, the Russians do as well. The areas at risk in a war would be in the south closer to Denmark

  2. Yes, we have lots of timber, good soils, freshwater and some metals which in a resource scarce world probably will be of interest to others over the long-term but I think more in terms of immigration than military conflict. If there is a conflict it is more likely to be over sources of oil and gas in the Arctic or shipping routes through the Baltic, passing the Danish strait. But that's just my guess.