"When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will."Nearly every conflict in human history has been over a resource of some kind. Land, water, food, oil, mineral rights, timber, livestock, labor... something other than national pride or honor and glory is usually lurking around as subtext whenever man kills man on the field of battle. The local Unobtanium, Green Rocks, Spice of Life, Minovsky Particles, Vespene Gas or Imported Alien Phlebotinum are all naturally rare and valuable, so much that everybody wants to get their hands on it. Quite naturally, this can lead to world- or galaxy-wide wars over the damn stuff. Caught up in the middle are the usual tragic bystanders, for whom your magical miracle substances are Worthless Yellow Rocks. Things will get... interesting if the resource in question turns out to be Aesoptinium that decides it doesn't want people fighting over it and sets up a No MacGuffin, No Winner scenario. Compare and contrast Fantastic Nuke, when the phlebotinum creates a situation of Mutually Assured Destruction. To avoid Flame Bait, please do not add any real life examples.
— Frederic Bastiat
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Anime & Manga
- Transformers Energon was all about fighting over and using the titular Green Rocks.
- Transformers is usually about that in general, be it energon, Planet Keys, or Allspark fragments. Transformers Armada had Mini-Cons, which were sentient phlebotinum. Bonus points for the transformers literally having phlebotinum (the aforementioned energon) for blood. Unicron exploited this trope, creating the Mini-Cons specifically to give the Autobots and Decepticons something to fight over so he could feed on the raw hatred and aggression.
- Beast Wars had this in the first season, where the Maximals and Predacons fought over a planet rich in raw energon. Of course, by season 2 they found plenty of other things to keep fighting over.
- In Code Geass, Japan was attacked by Britannia essentially because it was sitting on the largest Sakuradite reserves on the planet.
- Or, possibly, the even more critical phlebotinum, the thought elevator.
- Darker Than Black had Heaven's War, a Mêlée à Trois in the backstory where pretty much everyone was trying to get control of Heaven's Gate in Brazil. It only ended when most of South America got wiped off the map.
- The main plot is about the government intentionally destroying the main phlebotinum with war, by creating shell corporations that hire Contractors into proxy wars with the covert goal of sending them to mutually kill each other until the stragglers can be mopped up by government cleanup crews.
- Shortly before the events of the main series, the world of Mobile Suit Gundam 00 was subject to the "solar power wars". When advanced solar technologies were discovered, oil suddenly became relatively worthlessnote , leading to a number of Middle Eastern countries continually splitting apart into new ones. To harness the technology, countries needed to build space elevators, and this lead to blocs of nations forming who jealously guarded their elevators and were constantly at the brink of war with the other blocs.
- The whole point of James Cameron's Avatar. It is even called Unobtanium.
- All Phlebotinum in District 9 has a biological component, so while everybody is stockpiling BFGs, only the slum residents can use them. And then one day a gullible inspector finds a very painful way to use it - cue transition from documentary to action flick.
- Played for Laughs in Water (1985), about a Caribbean island that strikes mineral water, causing the intervention of various outside governments trying to seize control of it. As an American executive points out: you don't have to refine water, just slap a fancy label on a bottle and you can sell it for a higher price than oil.
- The Central Theme of the Mad Max series; before the Apocalypse, wars were waged mainly for control of petroleum supplies. Afterwards, "Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice." And after the Oil wars came the Water wars, and after the water wars came the Blood (slave) wars, etc.
- George Miller was actually inspired to start the series by the 1973 oil crisis;
I remember it really stuck in my mind, in a very peaceful city like Melbourne, our southern capital, or some city, it took ten days after a severe oil shortage for the first shot to be fired. And I thought, what if it went on? That was one of the things when we did the first Mad Max.
- George Miller was actually inspired to start the series by the 1973 oil crisis;
- Dune had its Spice, a resource so vital that whoever owns Arrakis, the only planet that produces it, will have huge power over other planets. Several novels have story arcs where someone attempts (unsuccessfully) to break the Arrakis monopoly on spice by transplanting a Sand Worm to another planet, creating a spice substitute, etc.
- There is eventually a successful attempt not at breaking the monopoly, but at devaluing Spice. One of the reasons it is so important is that it is essential for FTL navigation. Eventually one faction manages to develop an alternative navigation method.
- There is also eventually artificial spice as well.
- Pynvium in Janice Hardy's The Shifter can absorb pain. Its mines are important enough to fight over, but it is when the healers run out of it that the plot kicks in.
- The war driving the plot of The Flight Engineer started when the Mollies cut off all exports of anti-hydrogennote to the Commonwealth. Their intent was to cause the Commonwealth to collapse (due to religious objections to their way of life) since the Welters can't trade between planets without A-H. The Commonwealth was forced to make war on the Mollies for their very survival.
- The Tomorrow War trilogy by Alexander Zorich, after a few preludes and interludes, is centered on the war between United Nations (Earth and affiliated planets) and Concordia (ones returned to Zoroastrianism and churning out clones for colonization and military purpose) fought mostly over a planet owned by the latter power, which is rich with naturally occurring jump fuel mined much more cheaply than synthesis of the same.
- The conflict and political situation in the Star Wars Legends novel The Bacta War revolves around the eponymous miracle medicine, which is produced only by the planet Thyferra, recently seized by the Big Bad. Worse, the villain previously arranged to unleash a plague on the City Planet Coruscant, which can only be cured by bacta — which she is all too happy to sell them, at prices that threaten to bankrupt the fledgling New Republic. Her plan is to either drain the Republic's coffers, or force them to cut back bacta distribution, driving a wedge between humans (who are immune to the disease) and aliens (who are vulnerable). She counts on them not responding militarily because she's not a dictator for them to overthrow but the elected leader of Thyferra; conquering a (nominally) democratic world would run the risk of other planets breaking away from the New Republic. It doesn't work, chiefly because Wedge and the Rogues are able to undertake a massively successful guerrilla campaign against her, bankrolled largely by stolen bacta. (For added irony, the start-up funds for their campaign came from bank accounts the villain set up in one of the heroes' names in a failed effort to frame him as a traitor.)
- The Way of Kings, first book in The Stormlight Archive, has traces of this. For the past six years, the war between the human kingdom of Alethkar and the Humanoid Aliens known as Parshendi has been a stalemate, for after the Parshendi assassinated King Gavilar of Alethkar—on the very night they signed a treaty of alliance with him—they fled to the Shattered Plains. While the human armies would be at too great a disadvantage if they attempted to attack the Parshendi redoubt at the center of the Plains, both the Parshendi and the humans need the gemhearts grown within the chasmfiends that live at the Plains' outer edges to fuel the Magitek that feeds their armies. Thus, the humans have been fighting the Parshendi in a war of attrition over the gemhearts for the past six years, and are steadily winning.
- Lampshaded in Perfect State, where Kai realizes that a valley which contains valuable Unobtanium exists for no other purpose than to be something for him and two other Liveborn to fight over.
- A number of plots in The Four Horsemen Universe deal with battles over mines for rare resources, from uranium and other radioactives, to red diamonds (used to back the value of the Union's currency), to fluorine-11 (an unobtainium used in fusion reactors).
Live Action TV
- Star Trek:
- The Klingons and Federation sometimes fight over sources of dilithium crystals (e.g. the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Elaan of Troyius"). In Star Trek IV, Scotty and Spock invent a way to "recycle" it with particles stolen from "nuclear wessels", thus making it less rare by the Next Generation era.
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- In one episode, a planet is raided for deuterium. The writers didn't do their research... although given the existence of things like the Oklo natural nuclear reactors in Gabon, who's to say that there isn't some way the planet could produce and/or receive abnormally large amounts of heavy hydrogen? Though the technology to convert protium (the most common hydrogen isotope and thus the most common substance in the universe) into deuterium is well-established in the Star Trek verse, so the ship running critically low on deuterium in the first place would require epic-level incompetence. Perhaps the writers meant dilithium (the Applied Phebotinum that makes warp drive possible) and just used the wrong word.
- Somewhat bizarrely, the Kazon, an oxygen-breathing species traveling in hydrogen-powered ships, will kill, steal, or trade hostages for water. When he first arrives on the ship, Neelix seems similarly surprised by Alpha quadrant water technology.
- That's mainly because the Kazon are Too Dumb to Live. The Borg refuse to assimilate them because of that. They're the only known species that the Borg have deemed to have absolutely nothing worthwhile to add to the collective. All of their ships are stolen from another species who had once enslaved them, and centuries later the Kazon have made absolutely no improvements in their technology.
- In the first Star Trek Shatnerverse novel, Chekov and Uhura are engaged in an undercover operation and pretend to deal with a shady Klingon. He offers dilithium as payment. Chekov brushes him off, saying it is nearly worthless now, ever since the whole "nuclear wessels" discovery (i.e. ships can run forever on a single set of dilithium crystals without needing to replace them).
- A classic Doctor Who had one of these, in the episode "The Caves of Androzani". It was over spectrox, "the most valuable substance in the universe."
- Mentioned in the partially war-themed Pink Floyd song "Us & Them":
With, WithoutAnd who'll deny it's what the fighting's all about
- The central conflict in The Original Caste's "One Tin Soldier." There's rumored to be some valuable treasure on the mountain; the people who live in the valley want it. The mountain dwellers' offer to share the treasure is only met with anger and violence. After what's implied to be a Curb-Stomp Battle, the invading army enters the hold where the treasure is said to be... only to find a rock engraved with the words "PEACE ON EARTH." Did we mention this was a Protest Song written in the golden age of anti-war Protest Songs?
- The flammable substance promethium is critical to the war machines of at least three factions in Warhammer 40,000: the Orks, the Imperium, and Chaos. Expect frequent conflicts over promethium mines and refineries, since the Imperium is the only group that bothers to build them instead of just stealing the stuff from everyone else. One such conflict can be found in the novel Caves of Ice, which has the 597th Valhallan deployed to fend off an Ork attack.
- Space 1889 liftwood is by far the most important resource on Mars, giving air supremacy to the party that can deny it to his opponent. It is by far the most important reason humans are on Mars and also a driving force behind the intra-Martian conflicts. This is somewhat subverted in that no state can really directly control this resource since it grows on high mountains controlled by the bestial High Martians. The main book also states that the Bhutan spice is controlled by Boreo-Syrtian league that trades exclusively with the British. Maintaining this monopoly is an important aim for the British, apparently even making the normally very anti-slavery British of late 19th century overlook the fact that it is exclusively grown by slaves.
- The whole BIONICLE story has its roots in the Core War, a massive world war over Energized Protodermis that emerged from the core of the planet, the unstable nature of which ended up splitting Spherus Magna into three. Which it is quite likely that the Energized Protodermis Entity planned all along.
- The Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series revolves around an alien crystal that's extremely rich in resources, leading to several Tiberium Wars fueled by or fought over the stuff. Of course, it is the fight against tiberium that's the real danger...
- Humans fought a really big war over Imulsion in the Back Story to Gears of War, before the scary underground alien invasion.
- "Ragnite" was one of the reasons behind the war in Valkyria Chronicles, with the player's small neutral country caught right in the middle due to its large natural deposits of it.
- Tarydium in the Unreal series.
- "Nectar" in Haze. Not in any way a stand-in for a certain other resource found in South America.
- Practically inevitable in the later installments of Civilization if you want your faction to prosper, unless you get really lucky with city placement or allies. If you do not have era-appropriate strategic resources, expect to be invaded by other civilizations who do and consider you easy pickings. If you have era-appropriate strategic resources, expect to be invaded by other civilizations who do not have it and desperately want it. Either way, wars are almost certainly going to be fought over it.
- Final Fantasy VII features the miracle substance Mako. Generated from the essences of creatures long-since dead and pumped from the ground, it has allowed the company controlling it to control world politics, and its overuse creates serious consequences for the planet... similar to a certain black substance that the people of Earth have been using for several decades with similar results. This certain black substance is later treated as a viable alternative to mako in Advent Children.
- There's a bit in Shinra's headquarters where they have a set of advertisements for the line of cars that they make (represented during the opening FMV). The video clearly shows the engines of said cars using Mako in a way that is analogous to the use of the... distillates of the aforementioned black substance. (And "The Aforementioned Black Substance" would make a great band name.)
- The Fallout series' backstory mentions conflicts over the world's dwindling oil reserves between the 2050's and 70's. The European Coalition invaded the Middle East once oil prices rose too high, though these Resource Wars ended suddenly once the last of the petroleum in the region was tapped out. With Alaska containing the last oil on the whole planet, China invaded America in a conflict that led to a global nuclear war, hence the game's post-apocalyptic setting.
- The main conflict in Fallout: New Vegas is over Hoover Dam, a significant source of electric power in the region. In addition, Father Elijah is willing to spend any amount of blood (except his own) to get his hands on the phlebotinum found in Dead Money. He likewise sacrificed nearly all of his Brotherhood soldiers trying to hold Helios One (a solar power plant) against the NCR until the remainder decided the current plan was suicide and retreated against his orders.
- E2 energy from Another Century's Episode and A.C.E 2
- Singularity had the E99 found in Katorga-12. Since it was in the USSR's back yard, they learned to harvest its potential and promptly take over the world.
- Battle Zone 1998 has the Cold War secretly go hot between the USA and USSR over the alien biometal, which was first discovered in a series of meteorite impacts over the Bering Strait, and was quickly used to create highly advanced hovering tanks and mobile factories in the space of seconds. The two armies jump from planet to planet in the Solar System in order to find more of the stuff and analyze the Cthonian ruins dotting the other planets.
- The intro movie for Warzone 2100 mentions "wars over cans of dog food" in the years following the nuclear apocalypse.
- Many of the conflicts in the Far Cry series are fueled by valuable black market products: mutants, blood diamonds, slaves, and LOTS of drugs.
- Invoked in the AlternateHistory.com thread, Zhirinovsky's Russian Empire. The Union of Independent States purposely rattles the energy market with fear and panic- all to jack up the price of oil, its only valuable commodity. They even help fund a takeover and shutdown of a Dubai desalination plant, and in the process bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the brink of war. Though gradually the international community grows desensitized to Russian saber-rattling, and energy prices begin to fall in the early 2000s.
- Satirized in Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. The supply of Illudium Phosdex (the shaving cream atom) have become dangerously low. Rather than developing renewable sources of depilatories, our Idiot Hero and his Eager Young Space Cadet are sent to claim the Planet X (the only known natural source) only to end up destroying the entire planet in a pointless conflict with Marvin the Martian (also there for the same purpose).