New York Time's Donald McNeil Jr. discusses the implications of the discovery of potentially $1 trillion worth of minerals in Afghanistan on its susceptibility to falling under the "resource curse," based on the background and history of similar countries.
Let's suppose there is $1 trillion worth of minerals under Afghanistan, as senior American officials and a confidential Pentagon memo said last week.
Is that a good thing — for either Afghanistan or the United States?
Some experts in mining and in Third World resource politics argue that it is not.
Because it takes up to 20 years for a mine to start earning profits and Afghanistan has been a battleground for 31 years, “no mining company in its right mind would go into Afghanistan now,” said Murray W. Hitzman, a professor of economic geology at the Colorado School of Mines.
The country's underground treasure “will be good for the warlords and good for China, but not good for Afghans or the United States,” predicted Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Massachusetts and the author of “Resource Wars” and “Blood and Oil.”
History tends to second such skepticism. The great empires of the world were built thanks to gold mines, not atop them. It's the little mercantile nations with their cohesive political systems and fierce navies that have looted the big feudal ones paved with rubies.