SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Lilian Alessa (President’s Professor, University of Idaho; Affiliate Faculty, Texas A&M University & George Mason University; Chief Scientist, Joint Special Operations University) as part of its SMA AFOE Speaker Series.
Understanding an actors’ ability to weaponize resources is reliant on a large pool of available and diverse data. Too often, research on resource vulnerability and climate change is driven by philosophy and opinions, commented Dr. Alessa. Research based on philosophy and opinions is problematic because it is usually imprecise and lacks concrete data points. Also, it is hard to forecast actors’ true resource vulnerability because the amount of available data on certain regions, resources, and actors varies. Furthermore, if decision makers have more data available, then they will be less likely to make decisions based on their biases and misconceptions.
Decisions based on misconceptions can leave an actor extremely vulnerable to adversaries’ influence or economic shocks. An example of a possible misconception is the extent to which Russia has successfully and intentionally weaponized energy resources. Russia may have been adopting an adaptive strategy relating to energy resources, suggested Dr. Alessa. Furthermore, the West’s quickly developed plan to stop using Russian fuel in response to its invasion of Ukraine shows how difficult weaponizing resources truly is. China’s use of resources as coercive tools is virtually unknown. To successfully mitigate the weaponization of resources, there needs to be more data gathered on resources and the ability of institutions, networks, and governance structures—both formal and informal—to respond in a timely manner to shocks and crisis. Dr. Alessa emphasized that collecting enough data and updating it frequently will be hard work but crucial to the future security of the United States.