Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Root Causes of Conflict and the Role of Natural Resources

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
October 16, 2018



Thank you, Mr. President, for calling this meeting on today’s important topic today. We’d also like to thank the Secretary-General for his briefing and participation in today’s meeting.

The link between natural resources and conflict is complex, and the United States shares the concern that in many instances, as noted by the Secretary-General, poor management of natural resources by governments can contribute to corruption, conflict, and violence. It’s unfortunate that today’s Council briefing has been deliberately framed to ignore internal state mismanagement of natural resources. Despite the potential for natural resource endowments to bring prosperity and social development when properly managed, we unfortunately see far too many examples of countries where natural resource wealth does not translate into improved livelihoods for citizens.

Mr. President, nowhere are the dangers – indeed, threats to peace and security – posed by the mismanagement of natural resources more apparent than in Venezuela, where millions of citizens of this once-wealthy country have been driven into poverty by the rapacious corruption of a kleptocratic regime. Instead of serving as a source of wealth to improve the livelihoods of Venezuela’s citizens, the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela exists today primarily as a vehicle for embezzlement and looting for Maduro and his inner circle.

This has created a situation of scarcity and economic instability that generated massive refugee migration flows. With its oil sector in decline, Maduro’s regime has turned to another valuable resource to plunder, Venezuela’s gold deposits. In Venezuela’s mining regions, illegal and unregulated mining is now resulting in rapid deforestation and pollution without regard for the environment or the indigenous populations. We have no doubt that the proceeds from this illicit mining are lining the pockets primarily of Maduro and those closest to him. The effects of the crisis in Venezuela extend far beyond its national borders, and the resulting humanitarian crisis has placed a burden on the entire region.

In Iran, we similarly see the country’s rich endowment of natural resources siphoned away from activities that could benefit the Iranian people and used both to enrich Iran’s elite and to fund Iran’s destabilizing activities abroad. Iran has used the proceeds of its oil and gas trade to build missiles capable of delivering WMD, increase internal repression, finance terrorism, and fund destabilizing activities in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen, and in Iraq. For these reasons, we are working with countries that import Iranian crude oil to cut their purchases substantially, and we are pleased that so many countries and companies are moving to stop such imports.

In South Sudan, the government has been collateralizing future oil sales to secure foreign loans, in violation of the peace agreement signed in 2015 and the revitalized peace agreement signed last month. The money has not been used to feed the people, but rather, again, to enrich elites and extend the conflict, including attacks on innocent civilians.

Mr. President, in the cases of Venezuela, Iran, and South Sudan, the destabilizing effects of natural resources are not the result of the activity of external armed groups, multinational companies, or foreign interests. Rather, they are the direct result of decisions by the leaders of those countries to engage in corruption and use the proceeds from their natural resource wealth to fund destabilizing activities that threaten international peace and security.

There are steps we can take as a Council can take to improve the chances to ensure that natural resource wealth translates into greater prosperity. For example, the United States supports the Kimberley Process as a constructive international initiative that fosters transparency in the diamond trade and has contributed to a marked reduction – in fact, almost the complete elimination in the trade of conflict diamonds since its establishment. We support meaningful reform of the Kimberley Process to ensure its long-term health and relevance. Specifically, at this year’s plenary session, we will seek an expanded definition of a conflict diamond to include diamonds linked to conflict or violence regardless of the perpetrator.

Finally, Mr. President, UN sanctions regimes remain a critical tool for addressing the destabilizing impact of trade in illicit resources. As members of the international community, states must do more to strengthen implementation of UN sanctions regimes that seek to eliminate trade in natural resources that contribute to conflict. If we work together to cut off these flows, and support cooperative efforts to improve oversight of natural resources, together we can help prevent natural resource related issues from contributing to conflict.

Thank you.