June 14, 2010

"The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself..."


Reports the NYT:

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
Wow. Great. Of course...
“The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?... No one knows how this will work.
ADDED: If Afghanistan needs a new national anthem, there's always the greatest grunge song of all time.

75 comments:

Michael Hasenstab said...

Think of the bombs all that money can buy..........

El Pollo Real said...

The Chinese will quell the Taliban now.

Watch.

El Presidente said...

Luckily this wealth will be passed on directly to the populace. Anyone who recommends a mineral trust will be immediately shot.

bagoh20 said...

This just makes Afghanistan more typical of the middle east rather the exceptional as it was. Therefore, the despotism, terrorism, and horrible human rights will remain. These problems have never been about money or resources.

Methadras said...

If this is really the staggering number it is for these types of deposits (I'll believe it when I see it), then it will most likely take a couple of decades if not more to develop and there will be huge bidding wars from our enemies to cash in on these deposits. Also, most likely the afghani people will most likely not see a dime of this mineral wealth.

Scott M said...

Potential game-changer. However, the local governments are too corrupt and we're too sick of the place to make it work. Watch for the Chinese to take advantage of this once we pull out next year.

Sigivald said...

Does "socially responsible" have any meaning at all?

Other than "a way of which the speaker approves"?

Bagoh: To a point, yes. Though mineral extraction and processing requires more workers (and many more of them can be locals!) than oil extraction, so that's hopeful on that front.

Oil extraction in the middle east is all, as I understand it, highly educated foreign specialists, so, combined with complete State control of the monopoly on the resource, there's little involvement of (and thus little benefit to) the population as a whole.

Mining and mineral processing is more open to local participation, though the same risks remain.

(And on the plus side, if the Taliban types ever completely took over, it'd fall into disrepair quickly enough - they're basically incompetent at running anything.)

Adam said...

"No war for minerals" in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...

David said...

No blood for lithium, God Damn it!

Unless it's the kind that mellows you out . . . .

Put the entire Taliban on Lithium. That's the ticket.

TRO said...

"Potential game-changer. However, the local governments are too corrupt and we're too sick of the place to make it work. Watch for the Chinese to take advantage of this once we pull out next year."

Game changer is right. If this is true, does anyone believe we will pull out at all and leave this find to the Russians or Chinese? Forget profit, it is a national security issue.

You have to wonder if the wealth found here will help turn Afghanistan from its 6th Century ways to a more modern Saudi-like society. The Taliban might like living in palaces for a change.

AllenS said...

This will have about as much of a positive result as the finding of oil under Saudia Arabia.

traditionalguy said...

Lithium battery production is where the next world resource for manufacturing riches lies. And China wants to monopolise them. This may explain why China keeps loaning us the money to fight the Taliban and make the world Safe for Chinese Electric cars run on Chinese lithium batteries made from minerals mined in the Afghan outback. Someone in the Pentagon has spilled the beans.

Big Mike said...

Look for Soviet tanks to coming rumbling back into Afghanistan over the "Friendship" bridge.

bagoh20 said...

I was being a little pessimistic.

In actuality there is great promise. The opportunity will come from people seeing a value worth protecting for themselves, worth fighting the Taliban over.

The Taliban's appeal is nearly worthless when put up against the future this can provide for the average Afghan. Afgans have the enormous advantage of already being nominally democratic (thanks to the U.S.). Without tribal chiefs or Sultans holding all the power, they can make a decent nation of it. I can't overstate how important the U.S. presence there is to their future - now more than ever.

SteveR said...

We do need lots of lithium for all the BiPolars. I don't believe its a certain repeat of Middle Eastren oil. There are differences in the production processes and culture to start with and some hope that we can learn from our mistakes.

HDHouse said...

Makes me feel good when I get to something before Ann posts it:

http://opusonemedia.blogspot.com/2010/06/lithiuma-two-edged-sword.html

Blue@9 said...

So what good is it? It would take billions of dollars to build the infrastructure to extract it, and no company is going to make that kind of investment unless they know the US is staying for the long term. Otherwise there's just too much political uncertainty.

The other big issue is the horrible logistics. No sea access, so everything must go in or out over land routes. Just take a look at the surrounding countries and you'll see just how difficult this endeavor might be.

edutcher said...

The Gray Lady already has written the piece where they rail against the 'colonial exploitation' of the Afghans by the nasty old US of A.

Sheepman said...

Now it's clear. When the CIA first learned of this they planned 9/11 as an excuse to invade Afghanistan to secure needed mineral deposits.

Then the CIA engineered an invasion of oil rich Iraq as a diversionary move. Critics thought the US was just doing that for the oil, but now that the US hasn't taken Iraq's oil no one will suspect that the US was really interested in Afgahni mineral depostis.

Can't wait for the Oliver Stone movie.

traditionalguy said...

Bagho 20 ...The Afghans can make a country like the country of Tibet . After the mid-terms, Obama has said that we will withdraw from Afghanistan. My,my, Sgt. Carter... the chaos and disorder there will need the Chinese Army to help out like they do in Tibet, and one step closer to the middle-east.

Cedarford said...

Bahg20 - "Afgans have the enormous advantage of already being nominally democratic (thanks to the U.S.)."

Sorry, but I have to take that as a serious statement and say - no, Afghans are just packs of tribal, Islamic barbarians that have structures of nominal democracy from tribalism. Bush was a total idiot if he thought Afghans were just like Iowans, hungering for democracy and determined to get their women equality.

Meanwhile, I heard a *smack*! and a *drip, drip, drip*!.

The *smack*! as Russians smack their foreheads for not thinking of looking to see if anything was valuable in the country while they fought barbarians - and sought to build democratic Soviet councils, push for equality of women, and squandered near a hundred billion on Afghan roads, power plants, and medical facilities and school trying to create a modern state that would be enternally grateful to and friendly with the Soviet Union.

The *drip,drip, drip*! is the sound of Chinese saliva hitting the floor as they contemplate how much new resources will be theirs once they cut deals with Islamists and the hapless Americans and the reviled puppet Government leaves.

lemondog said...

Russian and Chinese will be vying for rights but China has in excess of $1 trillion cash reserves to throw around.

China, Not U.S., Likely to Benefit from Afghanistan's Mineral Riches

Fred4Pres said...

I am no expert on Afghanistan, but I am pretty sure 99.9% of the population's first thought is not thinking of whether they can get these resources in an evironmentally sensistive manner.

Wally said...

You knew there had to be something redeeming there. Otherwise, it's a hellhole.

Hagar said...

The minerals are probably there, considering where Afghanistan is located. The biggest physical problem - like in the U.S. West - may be the lack of water.

This could get interesting - such as the U.S. providing the guns to keep the Taliban at bay while the Chinese and Indians build access roads to get at the bonanza.

TMink said...

I KNEW that this was war only about mood stabilizing elements.

I just KNEW it.

Trey

El Pollo Real said...

Who else besides me did a whole series on lithium? Toot, honk!

lemondog said...

The biggest physical problem - like in the U.S. West - may be the lack of water.

Afghanistan is totally landlocked.

Christy said...

Mining can be a very low tech endeavor; people have been doing it for millennia. Do you really think huge amounts of capital investment are necessary?

Will mineral wealth remove the drivers behind poppy production?

Could it be that all those caves in the mountains where our enemies hide are really mines?

Greg Hlatky said...

I am no expert on Afghanistan, but I am pretty sure 99.9% of the population's first thought is not thinking of whether they can get these resources in an evironmentally sensistive manner.

You can bet that if the Chinese are interested they won't be thinking at all about environmental sensitivity.

chuckR said...

C4d

re: description of Afghans as tribal barbarians.

Afghans are just like Americans, but not Iowans. More like Hatfields and McCoys in WVa and Ky a century ago, each tribe up their own holler. There may also be an analogy to Chicago, but it escapes me at the moment.

MadisonMan said...

How clean is the extraction of Lithium in Bolivia? I think that would be a good proxy for Afghanistan.

Scott M said...

Will mineral wealth remove the drivers behind poppy production?

If history is any guide, no. The miners will become a new, relatively affluent market for opium.

Unless, of course, we continue on our current milquetoast approach to foreign policy and cede all of it to the opium-intolerant Chinese.

Cedarford said...

Hagar - "This could get interesting - such as the U.S. providing the guns to keep the Taliban at bay while the Chinese and Indians build access roads to get at the bonanza."

The article did not say where the deposits are. It may well be that the best path to move them is through Iran or one or more of the post-Soviet 'Stans. India looks to be in difficulty because enemy Pakistan and the Hindu Kush itself makes bulk movement of minerals by land to India a difficult proposition.

China has the money, not America, thanks to idiot US free traders and Wal Mart - to build the investment infrastructure. The future may be Chinese-owned companies giving Iran, ally Pakistan, or a 'Stan a hefty cut to move minerals to Chinese manufacturing centers via ports or rail that bypasses the worst of the Northern Hindu Kush. A port in Iran or Balauchi territory makes the most sense.
Free traders will say that the US will ultimately benefit because we will buy even more cheaper and nicer Chinese stuff- so our 500 billion investment in the "noble democracy-hungry" Afghanis and our 9,000 casualties there comes to fruition through the "democracy-hungry-Chinese".

==================

Hagar - "The biggest physical problem - like in the U.S. West - may be the lack of water."

That is never a problem. Mines are built all the time in deserts or effective deserts lacking free water for processing (Arctic tundra). All you do is move the ore in bulk for processing elsewhere (Death Valley Borax, Australian iron and uranium ore sent unprocessed to China...which snapped up the Aussie uranium with their Wal Mart bucks..)

Steven said...

This has been known for decades already; it's downright embarrassing to the new York Times that they're reporting it as news.. It's like the gold in seawater; worth a fortune if you can figure out how to economically extract it, worthless where it is with current extraction techniques.

traditionalguy said...

Steven...Yes, it has been known of before. But the mega demand for electric everything today is a created bubble that makes this lithium a prize. Why else do the stories we read we spend all the media's time telling lies about the oil runnining out and CO2 being a pollutant....both of which are KNOWN rubbish..

Robert Cook said...

"Watch for the Chinese to take advantage of this once we pull out next year."

Ha!

Do you think we'll pull out now, after having poured billions into this part of our terror war? Now's the time our war plunderers get to really profit from our nine years of mass murder! Here's some plain talk about what this really means:

http://www.chris-floyd.com/

Methadras said...

Scott M said...

Potential game-changer. However, the local governments are too corrupt and we're too sick of the place to make it work. Watch for the Chinese to take advantage of this once we pull out next year.


The Chinese have been throwing their new-found wealth around all over Africa and they are probably salivating at this bit of news. If the US was smart, they would enter into a contract agreement with the Afghans to be the sole contractors for extraction of said minerals and shut out countries like China and Russia from swooping in.

lemondog said...

Steven said...
This has been known for decades already; it's downright embarrassing to the new York Times that they're reporting it as news.. It's like the gold in seawater; worth a fortune if you can figure out how to economically extract it, worthless where it is with current extraction techniques.

CIA World Fact Book - Afghanistan

Natural resources: natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious and semiprecious stones

Sixty Grit said...

Great - more wealthy 7th century death cult members. At least they won't fritter the money away educating women.

edutcher said...

Wally said...

You knew there had to be something redeeming there. Otherwise, it's a hellhole.

Also one of those places that is necessary to get from here to anywhere else by land. Everybody from Alexander the Great on wasn't there for the bingo tournaments.

mccullough said...

But that's OK, my will is good

c3 said...

Yes, but will it be more lucrative than poppy growing?

c3 said...

Yes, but do they have Unobtainium?

Paul said...

The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?... No one knows how this will work."

Yeah, those are pretty big questions. But here's an even bigger one:

Is the government of Afghanistan, such as it is, even capable of managing this windfall in such a way that it won't overwhelm the country and make it less well off than it would otherwise have been? Even abstracting for the moment from the environmental questions, that isn't an open-and-shut case.

Do a Google search and read up on, for example, "Dutch disease" -- this isn't the one that affects elm trees. It's economics shorthand for the complex of problems that can beset a country that experiences a sudden windfall from a booming sector. (Most commonly used in discussions of oil and gas exporters, but the general principle applies to any economy experiencing a boom.)

The basic solution for avoiding the resulting problems -- which requires investing a substantial chunk of the revenues from the boom abroad, and only repatriating them slowly -- requires a government that is stable, forward-looking, and disciplined.

Does that sound like Afghanistan to you?

Cedarford said...

People asserting "it was always known" that Afghanistan had mineral wealth, miss the point.

The difference is it is no longer speculation of the "somewhere in them thar hills there might be a lot of gold"..
Now we know how much, where, and if the quantities are of commerical grade. Yes, to all three questions.

Orders just went out for the Chinese, Israeli, and Russian espionage networks to get this info from the Americans ASAP! Or just find a Kharzai family member to bribe for the data..in the Chinese way of doing business...just the 1st of many bribes to oust the Americans and get the mining rights.

Sixty Grit said...

"Does that sound like Afghanistan to you?"

Hell, that doesn't even sound like the US, now.

Moose said...

OK, I'm a bit puzzled at the reaction to this. Minerals are a worse choice than heroin?

Or can they make Afghanistan into a Costa Rican tourist economy? Don't think so.

Purchase a clue, people...

Kirby Olson said...

Silver lining!

That went over like a lead balloon.

Thar's gold in them thar hills.

Now, Obama will change his exit strategy, and the date to forever. How mercurial.

Quayle said...

Remember, abject poverty, malnourishment, and under-education are all environmentally sound.

bagoh20 said...

"Bush was a total idiot if he thought Afghans were just like Iowans, hungering for democracy and determined to get their women equality."

You mean like Americans when huge mineral deposits were first discovered here? At the time we lived with slavery, our women could not vote and it looked pretty tribal to the world during the ensuing Indian wars.

I don't think Afghans are incapable of the same kind of progress we made. They may be delayed, but I don't believe they are defective. We'll see.

HDHouse said...

Well, a trillion dollars worth of minerals certainly fuels this question.

Afghanistan is in the midst of years of war, some by outright invasion and others by rooting out villians. It was, however, of no importance to the occupier..just a place. Now it is minerally important. Our very laptops and rechargable batteries could take off from this find as we now have other sources, Chile being first or primary. But finding this begs the question of American interests always always always being dictated to on some level by business interests.

Is a trillion dollars worth of lithium worth fighting the fight to turn it over to the Afghans or worth fighting the fight to protect the money from going to the Taliban or worth fighting the fight so we can profit from it. See what is coming?

first blogged this morning Two edged sword. and note that the Times business article has way more comments on it than most editorials.

Nora said...

The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?...

No the biggest question is how to make sure that this wealth do not fall in to heabds of another local tyrant or mad mulla, that would tighten the hold that neighborhood already has on free world because of oil.

Blue@9 said...

Mining can be a very low tech endeavor; people have been doing it for millennia. Do you really think huge amounts of capital investment are necessary?

Industrial mining? Yeah, you can't do this kind of thing with two guys with picks and shovels. Also, unless you want to pay to truck raw ore out, you're going to process it in country. So yeah, it's going to take a bunch of investment, not a small part going to major transportation infrastructure projects and security.

Mark said...

she's so cold and human
it's something humans do
she stays so golden solo
she's so number nine
she's incredible math
just incredible math

and is she really human?
she's just so something new
a waking lithium flower
just about to bloom
I smell lithium now
smelling lithium now

Mark said...

On a more serious note, the only thing worse than being dirt poor, badly educated, dependent upon a morally-repugnant and (nearly) universally-illegal cash crop, and not having a friend in the world is...

To suddenly be potentially filthy rich, badly educated, dependent upon morally-repugnant and (nearly) universally-crooked "partners" to realize the wealth, and not having a friend in the world.

Afghanistan: where God goes to have a bad hair day.

Alex said...

If you can't really get at the minerals(lack of water, no port), then it might as well not exist. Vaporware!@

lemondog said...

Doesn't appear the US will need to scramble for lithium resources.

Western Lithium USA Corporation is developing its Nevada lithium deposit to support the new generation of hybrid/electric vehicles.

Western Lithium's flagship Kings Valley property, located in the United States, has a National Instrument 43-101 scoping study and resource estimate for the initial stage of development and in total hosts a historically estimated 11 million tonnes(1) of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). The project has a well developed local infrastructure and Nevada has a long history in the U.S. metals and industrial mineral mining industry

Video

John Stodder said...

Ed Begley Jr. should administer it.

Glen said...

lemondog said...
...but China has in excess of $1 trillion cash reserves to throw around.

That will buy rail track from Khash'krahzi to Donglong and back any number of times.

Hopefully they have a better name for strip-mining than we do -- cuz you KNOW that term would start a holy war. Something like 'caress-the-earth-profitably-lotus-petal-wagon'. The 'caress' part still might be iffy.

Even more importantly, the symbol for it better not look ANYTHING like two guys fucking each other. Seriously.

_

HDHouse said...

bagoh20 said...
"You mean like Americans when huge mineral deposits were first discovered here? At the time we lived with slavery, our women could not vote and it looked pretty tribal to the world during the ensuing Indian wars."

I think your history is a tad askew...first was slavery then minerals and the indian wars were constant until we nearly wiped them out and they women got the right to vote...last in your little epic of events.

And this applies to our presence in Afghanistan how?

bagoh20 said...

"I think your history is a tad askew...first was slavery then minerals and the indian wars were constant until we nearly wiped them out and they women got the right to vote...last in your little epic of events."

Man, you are dense. You really think that was the point, some kind of sequence? And do you really think those things happened one a time like that?

Now I know why your a lefty - it's just a symptom of your general handicap.

JAL said...

I sent the NY Times link to son-in-military-in-Iraq last night.

Here's what he sent back -- Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan by Mohammad Qayoumi.

Qayoumi is president of Californina State University, East Bay.

Take a look (there are pictures).

A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real.

My question: What happened to all the people in these pictures? They would be in their 60s and early 70s, I would think. Did they all emigrate to escape whatever happened to end their upward trajectory? Were they killed before the Soviets got embroiled?

It is sad to think that a country which was entering the 20th century got slapped back to the stone age the way it did.

I think it would be fabulous if the minerals can be developed and some kind of national trust set up for some of the profits to be distributed to the people. (Like the Alaskan oil sharing.)

Roads, schools and infrastructure would be a priority. There would be a real economy. Let people willing to invest invest. Let people willing to start businesses start businesses to support the boom.

This could be great and good.

And maybe the poppies will be decorative once again.

somefeller said...

I went to a talk a couple of months ago at Rice University by the former CIA station chief in Pakistan. He talked about this discovery (which is a couple of years old in its inception) and its possible implications for Afghanistan. The short version of what he suggested (if I remember correctly) was this - Afghanistan is going to be an ungovernable mess by Western standards for a very long time. However, you can have a semblance of order if you have a central government that works with local tribes and villages in a sort of confederation, if they have an incentive to keep away people like the Taliban. These minerals may be that incentive, and the way you handle it is (i) pacify the areas that have the mines (that's where the US military can be useful), (ii) let the locals in the area control the mines and get the financial benefits from the exploitation of the minerals (with some taxation and inevitable payoffs to the central government) and (iii) arm the locals to fight off anyone that wants to take their wealth, like the Taliban.

This of course makes a lot of assumptions about how well the central government would handle this (levels of corruption and desire for control and all) and how well pacification could work. Plus, it does sort of sound like a sort of 21st century feudalism. But it was an intriguing concept, and the only good new idea I've heard about Afghanistan in a long time.

traditionalguy said...

@ Somefeller ...No wonder Bagdad Barack currently occupying the Whita House sent a troop surge into nowhere Afghanistan. There is something there to secretly sell for cash. His whole White House maybe nothing more than a scam out of the movie The Sting.

Teki Setsu said...

“The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?"

Afghan message to the NYT: Who died and made you the environmental czar of Afghanistan? With everything the country has been through, with all the munitions littering the country, who made the NYT the decider of what's appropriate mining?

HDHouse said...

bagoh20 said...
"Man, you are dense. You really think that was the point, some kind of sequence?"

Bagoh20...rememeber the EF Hutton commercials...well you appear to be the anti-Hutton...when you talk NOBODY listens.

Mark said...

JAL, that link went to something profoundly frightening.

Methadras said...

HDHouse said...

well you appear to be the anti-Hutton...when you talk NOBODY listens.


Take your own advice, you dumb, bleating geriatric.

wv = hypergran = well, no shit, you betchya, gran-pa.

Eric said...

If having the US leave means being introduced to the tender mercies of the PLA, the Afghans will remember the American exist as a dark day.

JAL said...

Mark -- did you read the article? Or just look at the first picture?

Where Afghans are now is profouncdly frightening.

Dark Eden said...

Well we should obviously pull out of Afghanistan now. There's no way we should ever fight a war we could benefit from in some way.

lemondog said...

re: -- Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan by Mohammad Qayoumi.

Fascinating.

Wiki has a brief description of Afghanistan transition into a modern state between late 1920's to 1970's. Changing political ideology in late 1970's to socialism-Marxist and under Carter administration US move to block Soviet influence leading to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Regarding U.S. support for Islamic fundamentalism, Brzezinski said, "What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"

Unintended consequences.

Currently reading A Peace to End All Peace, 20th Anniversary Edition: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East

Good analyses of primarily European meddling. One can begin to understand ME suspicion and dislike of Western powers.

Blue@9 said...

Most countries would see such mineral wealth as a boon, a windfall, but it could be a wretched curse in a place like Afghanistan. Lack of strong governmental institutions, widespread corruption, ongoing insurgency. A sudden influx of wealth is going to make the place worse, not better. It'll look like Nigeria, but worse.

Mark said...

JAL, I skimmed the article, browsed through all the pictures. I realize that the Afghanistan it shows was just a small part of the larger culture, but then again, the Afghanis seemed to be making a good start toward modernization.

Amazing how quickly it can all go downhill, isn't it?