Greenland, Minerals and War

World Capitalism, War and Conflict

World capitalism is divided into competing nation states. Not only are these nations competing to sell commodities but they also need access to minerals via trade routes or mining rights.

Capitalism though is not just a set of traders and capitalists selling commodities for a profit. It is first and foremost a collection of 195 independent sovereign states each with its armed forces to protect the privilege class against its own working class and against other states.

Not all conflicts end in war. Sometimes a stronger country can exert pressure and leverage against a weaker country, like the US and Iran, without having to go to war, merely by the use of economic sanctions and the threat of war.

Access to oil and the protection of oil routes still drives war in the 21st century - such as the wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Increasingly wars are being fought over access and control of earth minerals necessary to build computers, missiles, wind-turbines, light-weight aircraft and cars. Wars reflect the determination of governments to defend or to control valuable possessions by armed force when other means have failed.

There are some minerals which are referred to as "conflict resources" which are extracted in regions where some of the profits are used to continue the fighting in order to maintain control. One region where such fighting takes place is in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The four most commonly mined "conflict materials" in the region are cassiterite (used for tin), wolframite (used for tungsten), coltan (for tantalum) and gold ore. These materials are used in the production of mobile phones, laptops and computers.

The Civil War in the DRC killed five million people between 1997 and 2003. More recently the security situation across the country has deteriorated markedly as government authority has collapsed, emboldening rival militia groups who control large areas of territory, often competing for the DRC’s rich mineral resources like so-called "blood-diamonds" (GUARDIAN April 3rd 2018).

Capitalism Causes War and Conflict

When socialists say that capitalism causes modern war, it is the capitalist system of the private ownership of the means of production that we have in mind. Governments turn to war when other means fail.

When socialists talk of capitalism we mean a class divided world-wide system of exploitation in which a privileged minority class do not have to work. On the other hand there is a propertyless majority class, the workers, who have to sell their mental and physical energies, their "labour-power" to the capitalist class. Workers form the majority in society. Workers also have to do the killing and dying in capitalism's wars.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain put it in the pamphlet THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR:

"In the last resort the capitalist trade struggle leads to wars, the object of which is to acquire or to defend market and territories rich in mineral and other resources and in exploitable populations" (June 1950 p.31)

And, increasingly, it is the need to have access to minerals that is causing conflict in the world, particularly between the United States and China. Most of the minerals sought by China and the US have military use in components used for warfare. The seventeen rare earth minerals are: Scandium, Yttrium, Lanthanum, Terbium, Praseodymium, Europium, Gadolinium, Neodymium, Lutetium, Cerium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, ytterbium, Samarium and promethium.

The 17 rare earth elements, possessing unique magnetic and lighting properties, are central to the production of civilian and military technology such as chargeable batteries, smart phones, missile guidance systems, electric cards and so on. Although called "rare", they are actually found relatively abundantly in the Earth's crust, according to the US Geological Survey. (BBC NEWS May 29 2019). However, there are relatively few places in the world that mine or produce them.

Trump and Greenland

When Trump recently offered to buy Greenland, it was not to build hotels or a golf course but because the country is rich in scandium, yttrium and neodymium which are used for solid oxide fuel cells, drone, cars, tuneable lasers, memory devices, missile guidance systems, cameras, CD/DVD and iPods, computers, electric motors and generators. The US needs these minerals while China enjoys almost a total global monopoly, some 90 per cent of the world's current supply of the critical 17 earth elements are within their control.

Greenland's reserves are estimated at nearly 40 million tonnes, a quarter of the world's 2160 million tonnes, but for decades were inaccessible beneath its thick ice sheets, however, global warming is melting the ice this making mining viable (TIMES August 26 2019). During the Cold War the US offered to buy Greenland because of its strategic importance. Now it is the earth minerals being exposed to potential mining.

Unlike the US, China recognised the importance of these 17 minerals about thirty years ago. China controls much of the mining industry, particularly in Africa, while building almost the entire world's rare earth processing plants where other nations send their rare earth ore to be purified.

Chinese Capitalism and Africa

Africa plays a critical role in the provision of key minerals for the Chinese economy. In the case of minerals, China is almost exclusively reliant on Sub-Saharan Africa for its cobalt imports, and significantly reliant for manganese (the latter primarily from Gabon, South Africa and Ghana).

Sub-Saharan Africa is also an important supplier of timber (mainly from Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Cameroon) and chromium (mainly from South Africa, Madagascar, and Sudan), accounting for around one-seventh of China's global imports each. However, with respect to China's imports of iron ore and copper, Sub-Saharan Africa is still a relatively small, but growing contributor.

China has shown a growing interest in the mining belt of central southern Africa, comprising Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. This area has large quantities of copper, iron, gold, manganese, and other base metals.

In its trade war with the US, China said that it would restrict or place an embargo on the export of rare earth elements to the US if relations worsened. This posed a potential threat to the US economy, its defence, technology and infrastructure.

According to the TIMES:

Australia, another source of the elements, also sends its ore to China. China digs up 70 per cent of the world's rare earth ore within its own borders but its plants produce more than 90 per cent of the global output of the processed elements.

The only significant processing plant outside China is Malaysia, but its future is imperilled by environmental concerns stemming from a public health disaster in the 1980s at an earlier rare earth facility
(August 26 2019)

Apparently the Pentagon is extremely worried. So, will the dispute over access to rare earth minerals between China and the US lead to a future war? It might, but there again it might not. Outright war need not necessarily take place though. There are usually divided interests within the capitalist class in each country. There are those who get their profits from importing commodities and those from exporting them. They have different interests and are constantly trying to influence governments to take their side.

One "solution" would be for the US to politically destabilise the African countries where the minerals the US wants are located. This can be done by inserting a favourable government, encouraging a proxy country to wage war, by military coups, encouraging civil war, or some other dark political art practiced by the CIA to prise the country away from China.

However the scramble by China and the US for minerals is one of many tensions and conflicts between nation states. If war is to be avoided then the capitalist cause of war must be addressed first. And that is replacing capitalism with socialism; the profit system with the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. It means the end of nation states, the buying and selling of commodities, markets and classes. Minerals would then be used in production to produce useful things directly to meet human need. They would not be used to produce destructive missile systems. Socialism, though, requires the conscious and political action of a socialist majority. As the SPGB pamphlet concluded:

"With the establishment of socialism war will disappear and humanity will have taken the first step out of the jungle".

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.