Resource insecurity and international institutions in the Asia-Pacific region

John Ravenhill*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    East Asian governments have long recognized that national security must incorporate a reduction of their vulnerability to the disruption of essential imports. The rapid economic growth of China and India has intensified competition for increasingly scarce resources, elevating resource security once again to the top of the international agenda. Issues that were previously regarded as 'technical' have been 'securitized' as state elites perceived possible conflicts over availability and pricing of natural resources as threats to national security.International institutions have the potential to contribute to the defusing of tensions over the supply of commodities by providing, through various means, assurances regarding the behaviour of partners. Only the global institutions concerned with commodities trade, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), have legally binding arrangements and the authority to impose sanctions on states that fail to comply with their obligations. But both have weaknesses: the IEA's membership is limited; the WTO's rules relating to raw materials trade are far from comprehensive. Most of the regional institutions in this field seldom go beyond information exchange or the setting of aspirational targets. At the bilateral level, government attempts to enhance resource security through minerals chapters in preferential trade agreements have had little success. Bilateral investment treaties are the only instances of cooperation at the sub-global level that incorporate legally-binding provisions.The cooperation on resources issues in which countries have engaged has reflected the core characteristics of Asia-Pacific bilateral and regional intergovernmental institutions. The shallowness of cooperation reflects perceptions on the part of state elites that their interests in the resources sector are best served by national rather than collective action and that current cooperative arrangements fail to provide sufficient incentives to prevent states from succumbing to opportunistic behaviour in the event of a short-term clash of interests. The potential gains to be made from a cooperative approach to resource security remain largely unrealized.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)39-64
    Number of pages26
    JournalPacific Review
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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