Global Economic Conflict: Types & Locations

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  • 0:00 Economic Issues & Conflict
  • 0:40 Outright Piracy
  • 1:30 Hunt for Raw Materials
  • 2:30 Rare Resources
  • 3:25 Denial of Market Access
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Ever heard the phrase, 'Money makes the world go round?' Well, there's another adage, which goes something like this: 'More money, more problems.' In this lesson, we'll examine how money and economics are central to conflict around the globe.

Economic Issues Lead to Conflict

Look hard enough at any conflict and you'll almost always find economics at play, whether people are fighting over money or the resources that can be turned into money. In ancient history, rare was the conquering general who didn't immediately let his army pillage the vanquished. Surely, in our modern day and age, war has moved beyond that?

Well, if you look closely, you'll see it definitely has not. While most leaders don't outright declare money itself as the goal of conflict, and invading armies may not carry out carts of gold and silver any more, economics is still very important in determining why countries go to war.

Outright Piracy

There actually were times throughout history that access to money, most especially as gold and silver, was the primary motivation for conflict. Perhaps the most blatant example of this came in the late 1500s, when English privateers, or legalized pirates, were given permission to raid Spanish ships returning from the New World laden with gold and silver. Such raids were a central part of the war between England and Spain, which culminated with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

This was far from the first time that war had been waged solely for money. Hundreds of years earlier, the Romans invaded Britain upon hearing rumors of gold on the island. Conquering all of England and Wales, the Romans put thousands of slaves to work in Welsh gold mines, trying to extract what little bit they could of the precious metal.

Hunt for Raw Materials

In today's economy, gold and silver are certainly valuable, but they are not the only things you can pull from the Earth that have real value. Think about the value of resources, materials that can be sold for significant gain. When talking about economics and conflict, it's next to impossible to ignore the Middle East. Here, with more than 60% of the world's oil reserves, any conflict is bound to be tied to economics; specifically, to access to the resources that are there. No small part of the hostilities between Sunnis and Shias after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 was in determining who would receive what percentage of oil revenues.

But countries have gone to war over access to raw materials many times before that. One of the major reasons that the French and the Germans fought so often between 1870 and 1945 was that abundant deposits of coal and iron in the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine provided a way to build a modern economy and a modern war machine for whoever had control of them.

Rare Resources

Oil, iron, and coal are all relatively common. What about much rarer resources? We've already discussed gold and silver, but what about spices? Sure, in your kitchen cabinet, you probably have a wide array of spices, but that is a relatively recent development. Prior to 500 years ago, black pepper was worth its weight in gold. Following the turn of the 16th century, European ships flooded the Indian Ocean, where so much of the world's spices were traded, and conquered many of the major ports, thus funneling trade through colonial treasuries.

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