At UN Security Council debates there is much talk of peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and protection of civilians. We hear less about the economic interests of the great powers. Peacekeeping and stabilisation missions are undertaken to protect civilians, secure state institutions and support recognised governments. Contributing countries profile themselves as working towards peace and the security of civilians in the affected country.
Little is said openly about the economic interests behind foreign intervention in resource-rich poor and unstable countries. Up to now, conflict prevention is often a failure because, rather than discuss the underlying economic issues, we treat symptoms – religious and inter-ethnic conflict – as causes. We treat those symptoms with security interventions rather than ensure a fair distribution of the profits from resource extraction.
Foreign powers will continue to intervene in fragile states to secure the resources that drive their economies; the challenge is to ensure this competition occurs peacefully. When resource competition creates armed conflict in fragile states, resolution is unlikely without open discussion of who should access and profit from resources.
Public debate in countries that intervene in resource-rich fragile states should focus on the true reasons for their intervention. If we access these resources, we must not do so at the expense of human rights and the emergence of stable, representative government in those states. Only with open discussion of what is at stake in armed conflict can we ensure the human rights of the people affected. Instead of discussions of youth radicalisation and counter-terrorism that address only symptoms, we must focus on peaceful access to the resources essential for our economies.