The Roles of Natural Resources, Land & the Environment in Modern Conflicts

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over the numerous factors that may have influenced conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries. This includes fights for natural resources, land, and those arising from environmental issues.

Why War?

Throughout human history, wars have been for one of several primary reasons. These reasons include land (territory in general) and resources. But there are plenty of other contributing factors to war, including environmental issues.

In this lesson, we go over how land, resources, and the environment are intertwined with some of the wars and other types of conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fighting for Natural Resources

Natural resources are organisms (plants and animals) or derivations thereof (like oil) that are used by people for a purpose.

Examples of natural resources include trees, natural gas, gold, fish, and so on.

As you probably know, natural resources are also a big source of income for countries around the world. Income that is used to finance everything from social projects, like infrastructure, to antisocial ones, like war.

Let's go over a few examples of when hunger for natural resources led to, or expanded war.

Hitler vs. Stalin

Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, gave the order to invade the Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, during World War II.

Hitler, despite his evil nature, was no fool. He knew full-well that in order to continue expanding his imperial ambitions, he needed lots of natural resources.

That's because, by the time of the war, Europe (including Germany) had nearly depleted many of its own natural resources. But the Soviet Union was awash in everything from timber to oil.

Hitler gave the command to invade and, as part of that, take over the Soviet Union's oil fields as fast as possible. Luckily for the entire world, the Soviets managed to stop him or else Hitler would've had all the more resources to continue his horrid campaign in Europe.

Blood Diamonds

The quests for natural resources don't just spark global wars; they spark local ones too. In Africa, numerous warlords have launched battles and wars to take control of the diamond trade in the 20th and 21st centuries.

A trade that was used to finance the purchase of weapons, among other things.

This was especially the case during the civil wars of Angola and Sierra Leone. These conflicts even sparked a famous movie called Blood Diamond.

Saddam Hussein

In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded a neighboring country called Kuwait. The reason was quite obvious. Hussein wanted to take control of the country's large oil reserves in order to repay the debts Iraq had accrued while fighting Iran prior to that.

Thankfully, the Americans led a coalition that pushed Hussein back into Iraq.

Land & Conflicts

The hunt for natural resources is, ultimately, heavily intertwined with land and land use, the use of land for various purposes like trade and agriculture.

Israel & Palestine

Sometimes, however, the fight for land is heavily ideological in nature.

Think about the numerous conflicts between Israel and Palestine over the past several decades. These two nations and peoples have fought tooth and nail for small pieces of land and even rights to cities, like Jerusalem.

Both accuse each other of territorial occupation and terrorism and that the entire area belongs to them and only them.


In the late 20th century, Colombia was embroiled in a war with FARC, a guerrilla group that claimed it wanted to take over the country.

While FARC publicly claimed many reasons for its land grabs, one of the hidden ones was the use of land for the production and distribution of illegal drugs, which were then used to finance its war with the Colombian government.

Not Just Land, Sea as Well

Moreover, not all territorial conflicts involve just land. Many spill over into the sea.

In recent years, China has started to lay serious claim to the South China Sea and many of its islands, based on nothing more than antiquated maps that have little meaning in modern time.

But to China, this territorial area should be part of its domain, irrespective of the rights of other countries and international law.

This has sparked political, even physical conflicts, between its neighbors and world powers, like the United States.

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