Our Changing World

Two big news stories today.

Around $1 trillion of mineral deposits found in Afghanistan

NY Times article reports that U.S. officials believe that minerals found in Afghanistan could make it one of the leading mineral centers in the world.

The Pentagon says that it could become the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium”, but they have also found iron, copper, and niobium (a soft metal used to produce superconducting steel).

Timeline:

  • 1979: Soviet Union invades Afghanistan
  • 1980’s: Soviets collect data on Afghan mines
  • 1989: Data discarded as Soviets leave Afghanistan
  • 2004: American geologists discover old Soviet data in library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul (information was protected by Afghan geologists during Taliban rule and returned after 2001 NATO invasion)
  • 2006: United States Geological Survey conducts aerial surveys over 70% of Afghanistan
  • 2007: A more sophisticated, three-dimensional survey is conducted, the most extensive geological survey ever done in Afghanistan
  • 2009: “A Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan”.  This is the first time that economic applicability is applied to raw data.

How long until it becomes en vogue to believe this is the reason we went into Afghanistan? Or at least the reason that we’re staying?

My only prediction is that the world is too post-colonial for this to become a situation like Africa, wherein foreign companies come in, take everything and leave the locals with nothing (or less).

Check out the NY Times article for more details.

Separatist party wins in Belgium

Belgium is a divided country.  French speakers in the south, Dutch speakers in the north and an international area that leans French in Brussels.  It used to be that the French side (Wallonia) supported the Dutch side (Flanders) economically, but that is no longer the case.  The north feels like they are dragging along a corrupt and backwards south.  A bit like Italy, but without a common language to bind them.

The New Flemish Alliance is now the biggest party in Belgium. They promote using only Dutch for public/government interactions in Flanders. They also want, at the very least, federalism, if not dissolution of Belgium.  We’ll see where this goes.

All-in-all, two stories with potential for extremely broad-reaching impact.

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2 Responses to Our Changing World

  1. Jordan says:

    Afghanistan by itself could not undertake the massive capital expenditures required to mine those resources. As foreign companies have the resources and expertise, their involvement is inevitable.

    And as the Afghan government is still dysfunctional, foreign companies will have a lot of leverage in local politics which will also inevitably draw charges of neo-imperialism.

    There are plenty of issues e.g. companies cutting deals with the Taliban, increased wealth inequality, environmental externalities from mining that government is powerless to regulate etc. We can probably expect to avoid deBeers type exploitation since Afghanistan has a lot of media scrutiny though.

    The real upshot I think, is that we can hope the mining industry helps supplant opium over time and it looks like the US might have found a significant non-China source for rare-earth materials.

  2. roniweiss says:

    I agree with what I read as guarded optimism on your part.

    It won’t be perfect, but it’s better than opium and the world has a lot more safeguards in place than it did in the past.

    I see this as good news.

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