No Comment — June 14, 2010, 10:05 am

The Saudi Arabia of Lithium

The New York Times reports:

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, according to senior American government officials. 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. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

This story comes close on the heels of a Times report that Hamid Karzai, who has been feverishly looking for an accommodation with the Taliban and Pakistani leaders, has lost confidence in the ability of U.S. forces to achieve a tactical breakthrough in Afghanistan. It also follows what the Times editors call “a bad week” for the United States in Afghanistan. So what’s it all about? Obviously, someone in the Pentagon decided they badly needed some good news—and what could be better than the promise of mineral resources that would justify an American investment in blood and treasure? The timing alone suggests a heavy dose of skepticism is necessary. Moreover, this disclosure, played to gullible media in the United States, will almost certainly trigger hostility in Afghanistan. Taliban forces portray the Americans and their NATO allies as just the latest in a series of imperial adventurers stretching back to the time of Babur, and the idea that the Pentagon is busily collecting data about copper, gold, and lithium deposits will play right into their hands. The Americans tell us they want to bring democracy and education, they will say, but they’re really here for our copper and lithium.

As a lawyer who has spent much of his career working with natural-resource exploration and development companies in the developing world, I can add a bit. It’s easy to say on the basis of modern technologies, including the ground-penetrating scanners that the United States intelligence services have advanced, that a country has vast mineral wealth. But whether that wealth can be feasibly tapped, considering its location and the conditions that prevail there, is an entirely different question—one that can only be approached after the preparation of a “bankable feasibility study.” For the moment, I’d say the talk of a trillion in riches just under the surface in Afghanistan is about as credible as all those tales of Iraqi oil wealth that would finance the American occupation. Remember how that turned out?

Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today