Will the 21st century be the century of the green great game? In the early 20th century, then-First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill oversaw the conversion of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy from coal- to oil-powered ships. Oil was comparatively more energy-dense, easier to transport, and allowed ships to travel farther faster. But the transition to oil-fueled navies in the 20th century meant that, for the first time, projecting military might would require most major powers to rely on energy sources over which they were not sovereign. This put in motion a scramble by these countries to secure access to oil and later natural gas. This was the 20th century’s great game, with “the prize,” as author Daniel Yergin put it, being economic and military supremacy. This great game shaped the world wars, the interwar period, and the Cold War to a remarkable degree. It led to antidemocratic meddling in the domestic affairs of oil-rich countries and extensive deployment of U.S. military assets in oil-rich regions like the Middle East, as well as allowed the Soviet Union to maintain the arms race much longer than it would have been able to otherwise. It shaped U.S. strategic doctrine, conferred considerable international influence on the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and allowed oil-rich autocrats to stave off post-Cold War pressures to democratize. And it has created entrenched interests bent on defending the business-as-usual hydrocarbon-intensive energy systems that have slowed action on climate change. Today, hydrocarbon energy is obviously still geopolitically important, but its relevance is waning as the world’s economies begin transitioning to more sustainable energy systems in earnest. Like oil, the minerals that will power these energy transitions, as well as technological innovation, are not just important industrial inputs; they are strategic resources, necessary for building, supplying, and deploying modern militaries and powering the economies that sustain them. Oil-fueled militaries are still central to that power projection, but increasingly, national and economic security are predicated on critical mineral-intensive advanced technologies such as the computing arrays that support artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
To Avoid a U.S.-China Cold War Over Critical Minerals, Widen Supply Chains (foreignpolicy.com)