Today, Michael Klare, expert on war and energy,
and author of the indispensable book, Blood
and Oil, gives us an unprecedented sense of what it means when the Pentagon
fills its own tank (as well as its tanks). It is, after all, the Hummer of Defense
Departments, the planet's gas-guzzler par excellence.
On the other hand, in the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration turns
out to be unable to find a local gas station still in operation. As you all
undoubtedly remember, before its invasion in March 2003, the administration
was quite convinced that Iraqi oil would quickly pay for any future occupation,
reconstruction, and though this was never said permanent American presence.
Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz classically pointed
out back in 2003 that Iraq "floats on a sea of oil" and told
a Congressional panel, "The oil revenue of [Iraq] could bring between 50 and
100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We're
dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and
Over four years later, however, Iraq, under threat of an oil
workers' strike, seems to be pumping only 1.6
million barrels of oil a day almost a million barrels below the worst
days of the sanctions-strapped regime of Saddam Hussein. In addition, an oil
law, essentially prepared
in Washington and aimed at opening Iraqi oil to multinational (read: American)
oil companies, that has been declared by Washington's Democrats and Republicans
as the crucial "benchmark" of Iraqi progress, seems dead in the water or
is it a pool of oil?
Given the "daily petroleum tab" in the Middle Eastern war zone that Klare
cites for the Pentagon, you could, in a sense, say that the Bush administration
is "running on empty" and that the Bush Doctrine, as Klare makes clear, gives
the term "oil wars" new meaning. We may, someday, be fighting our "oil wars"
just to preserve that very American right to run our war machines on petroleum
The Pentagon v. Peak Oil
How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight
By Michael T. Klare
Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average
American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis either
directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly,
by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq,
24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors
aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5
million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in
the Middle East war zone.
Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated
annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's
greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million
and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.
Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling
expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every soldier
stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in training, or otherwise
in line for eventual deployment to the war zone soldiers who also consume
enormous amounts of oil, even if less than their compatriots overseas. Moreover,
to sustain an "expeditionary" army located halfway around the world, the
Department of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food,
fuel, and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional tanker-loads
of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's war-related oil budget
jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we have no real way of knowing.
And foreign wars, sad to say, account for but a small fraction of the
Pentagon's total petroleum consumption. Possessing the world's largest fleet
of modern aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles, and support
systems virtually all powered by oil the Department of Defense (DoD)
is, in fact, the world's leading consumer of petroleum. It can be difficult
to obtain precise details on the DoD's daily oil hit, but an April 2007
by a defense contractor, LMI Government Consulting,
suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14
million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption
of Sweden or Switzerland.
Not "Guns v. Butter," but "Guns v. Oil"
For anyone who drives a motor vehicle these days, this has ominous implications.
With the price of gasoline now 75 cents to a dollar more than it was just
six months ago, it's obvious that the Pentagon is facing a potentially serious
budgetary crunch. Just like any ordinary American family, the DoD has to
make some hard choices: It can use its normal amount of petroleum and pay
more at the Pentagon's equivalent of the pump, while cutting back on other
basic expenses; or it can cut back on its gas use in order to protect favored
weapons systems under development. Of course, the DoD has a third option:
It can go before Congress and plead for yet another supplemental budget
hike, but this is sure to provoke renewed calls for a timetable for an American
troop withdrawal from Iraq, and so is an unlikely prospect at this time.
Nor is this destined to prove a temporary issue. As recently as two years
ago, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) was confidently predicting that
the price of crude oil would hover in the $30 per barrel range for another
quarter century or so, leading to gasoline prices of about $2 per gallon.
But then came Hurricane Katrina, the crisis in Iran, the insurgency in southern
Nigeria, and a host of other problems that tightened the oil market, prompting
the DoE to raise its long-range price projection into the $50 per barrel
range. This is the amount that figures in many current governmental budgetary
forecasts including, presumably, those of the Department of Defense.
But just how realistic is this? The price of a barrel of crude oil today
is hovering in the $66 range. Many energy analysts now say that a price
range of $70-$80 per barrel (or possibly even significantly more) is far
more likely to be our fate for the foreseeable future.
A price rise of this magnitude, when translated into the cost of gasoline,
aviation fuel, diesel fuel, home-heating oil, and petrochemicals will play
havoc with the budgets of families, farms, businesses, and local governments.
Sooner or later, it will force people to make profound changes in their
daily lives as benign as purchasing a hybrid vehicle in place of an SUV
or as painful as cutting back on home heating or health care simply to make
an unavoidable drive to work. It will have an equally severe affect on the
Pentagon budget. As the world's number one consumer of petroleum products,
the DoD will obviously be disproportionately affected by a doubling in the
price of crude oil. If it can't turn to Congress for redress, it will have
to reduce its profligate consumption of oil and/or cut back on other expenses,
including weapons purchases.
The rising price of oil is producing what Pentagon contractor LMI calls
a "fiscal disconnect" between the military's long-range objectives and the
realities of the energy marketplace. "The need to recapitalize obsolete
and damaged equipment [from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan] and to develop
high-technology systems to implement future operational concepts is growing,"
it explained in an April 2007 report.
However, an inability "to control increased energy costs from fuel and supporting
infrastructure diverts resources that would otherwise be available to procure
And this is likely to be the least of the Pentagon's worries. The Department
of Defense is, after all, the world's richest military organization, and
so can be expected to tap into hidden accounts of one sort or another in
order to pay its oil bills and finance its many pet weapons projects.
However, this assumes that sufficient petroleum will be available on world
markets to meet the Pentagon's ever-growing needs by no means a foregone
conclusion. Like every other large consumer, the DoD must now confront the
looming but hard to assess reality of "Peak
Oil"; the very real possibility that global oil production is at or
near its maximum sustainable ("peak") output and will soon commence an irreversible
That global oil output will eventually reach a peak and then decline is
no longer a matter of debate; all major energy organizations have now embraced
this view. What remains open for argument is precisely when this
moment will arrive. Some experts place it comfortably in the future meaning
two or three decades down the pike while others put it in this very decade.
If there is a consensus emerging, it is that peak-oil output will occur
somewhere around 2015. Whatever the timing of this momentous event, it is
apparent that the world faces a profound shift in the global availability
of energy, as we move from a situation of relative abundance to one of relative
scarcity. It should be noted, moreover, that this shift will apply, above
all, to the form of energy most in demand by the Pentagon: the petroleum
liquids used to power planes, ships, and armored vehicles.
The Bush Doctrine Faces Peak Oil
Peak oil is not one of the global threats the Department of Defense has
ever had to face before; and, like other U.S. government agencies, it tended
to avoid the issue, viewing it until recently as a peripheral matter. As
intimations of peak oil's imminent arrival increased, however, it has been
forced to sit up and take notice. Spurred perhaps by rising fuel prices,
or by the growing attention being devoted to "energy
security" by academic strategists, the DoD has suddenly taken an interest
in the problem. To guide its exploration of the issue, the Office
of Force Transformation within the Office of the Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy commissioned
LMI to conduct a study on the implications of future energy scarcity
for Pentagon strategic planning.
The resulting study, "Transforming
the Way the DoD Looks at Energy," was a bombshell. Determining that the
Pentagon's favored strategy of global military engagement is incompatible
with a world of declining oil output, LMI concluded that "current planning
presents a situation in which the aggregate operational capability of the
force may be unsustainable in the long term."
LMI arrived at this conclusion from a careful analysis of current U.S. military
doctrine. At the heart of the national
military strategy imposed by the Bush administration the Bush Doctrine
are two core principles: transformation, or the conversion of
America's stodgy, tank-heavy Cold War military apparatus into an agile, continent-hopping
high-tech, futuristic war machine; and preemption, or the initiation
of hostilities against "rogue states" like Iraq and Iran, thought to be pursuing
weapons of mass destruction. What both principles entail is a substantial increase
in the Pentagon's consumption of petroleum products either because such
plans rely, to an increased extent, on air and sea-power or because they imply
an accelerated tempo of military operations.
As summarized by LMI, implementation of the Bush Doctrine requires that "our
forces must expand geographically and be more mobile and expeditionary so that
they can be engaged in more theaters and prepared for expedient deployment anywhere
in the world"; at the same time, they "must transition from a reactive to a
proactive force posture to deter enemy forces from organizing for and conducting
potentially catastrophic attacks." It follows that, "to carry out these activities,
the U.S. military will have to be even more energy intense.... Considering the
trend in operational fuel consumption and future capability needs, this 'new'
force employment construct will likely demand more energy/fuel in the deployed
The resulting increase in petroleum consumption is likely to prove dramatic.
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the average American soldier consumed
only four gallons of oil per day; as a result of George W. Bush's initiatives,
a U.S. soldier in Iraq is now using four
times as much. If this rate of increase continues unabated, the next
major war could entail an expenditure of 64 gallons per soldier per day.
It was the unassailable logic of this situation that led LMI to conclude
that there is a severe "operational disconnect" between the Bush administration's
principles for future war-fighting and the global energy situation. The
administration has, the company notes, "tethered operational capability
to high-technology solutions that require continued growth in energy sources"
and done so at the worst possible moment historically. After all, the
likelihood is that the global energy supply is about to begin diminishing
rather than expanding. Clearly, writes LMI in its April 2007 report, "it
may not be possible to execute operational concepts and capabilities to
achieve our security strategy if the energy implications are not considered."
And when those energy implications are considered, the strategy appears
The Pentagon as a Global Oil-Protection Service
How will the military respond to this unexpected challenge? One approach,
favored by some within the DoD, is to go "green" that is, to emphasize
the accelerated development and acquisition of fuel-efficient weapons systems
so that the Pentagon can retain its commitment to the Bush Doctrine, but
consume less oil while doing so. This approach, if feasible, would have
the obvious attraction of allowing the Pentagon to assume an environmentally-friendly
facade while maintaining and developing its existing, interventionist force
But there is also a more sinister approach that may be far more highly
favored by senior officials: To ensure itself a "reliable" source of oil
in perpetuity, the Pentagon will increase its efforts to maintain control
over foreign sources of supply, notably oil fields and refineries in the
Persian Gulf region, especially in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and
the United Arab Emirates. This would help explain the recent talk of U.S.
plans to retain "enduring"
bases in Iraq, along with its already impressive and elaborate basing
infrastructure in these other countries.
The U.S. military first began procuring petroleum products from Persian
Gulf suppliers to sustain combat operations in the Middle East and Asia
during World War II, and has been doing so ever since. It was, in part,
to protect this vital source of petroleum for military purposes that, in
1945, President Roosevelt first proposed the deployment of an American military
presence in the Persian Gulf region. Later, the protection of Persian Gulf
oil became more important for the economic well-being of the United States,
as articulated in President Jimmy Carter's "Carter
Doctrine" speech of January 23, 1980 as well as in President George
H. W. Bush's August 1990 decision to stop Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait,
which led to the first Gulf War and, many would argue, the decision of
the younger Bush to invade Iraq over a decade later.
Along the way, the American military has been transformed into a "global
oil-protection service" for the benefit of U.S. corporations and consumers,
fighting overseas battles and establishing its bases to ensure that we get
our daily fuel fix. It would be both sad and ironic, if the military now
began fighting wars mainly so that it could be guaranteed the fuel to run
its own planes, ships, and tanks consuming hundreds of billions of dollars
a year that could instead be spent on the development of petroleum alternatives.
Michael T. Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire
College, is the author of Blood
and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported
Petroleum (Owl Books).
Copyright 2007 Michael T. Klare