If you thought things were bad, with a barrel
of crude oil at $136
and the oil heartlands of our planet verging on chaos, don't be surprised, but
you may still have something to look forward to. Alexei Miller, chairman of
Russia's vast state-owned energy monopoly, Gazprom, just suggested
that, within 18 months, that same barrel could be selling for a nifty $250.
Put that in your tank and? well, don't drive it. It will be far too valuable.
Think of Miller's sobering prediction as, at least in part, a result of the
Bush administration's attempt to "secure" the Middle East and the oil-rich Caspian
basin by force in two failing wars (and occupations). Now, imagine for a moment,
what his price scenario might be if, as journalist Jim Lobe – never one to
leap from rumors to sensational conclusions – recently
suggested, forces in the Bush administration (and in Israel) in favor of
launching an air campaign against Iran are gaining strength. Just the suggestion
last week by Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, that an attack on
Iran is "unavoidable" if that country doesn't halt its nuclear program – "If
Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack
it. The sanctions are ineffective." – helped send the price of crude oil soaring.
Imagine what an actual air attack might do.
You know that old joke: military justice is to justice as military music is
to music; well, someday, not so far into the future, a similar, though far grimmer
joke, is likely to be made about Washington's attempts to secure the U.S. oil
supply by military means. In the meantime, Michael Klare, author most recently
Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, considers the madness
of Washington's long-term militarization of oil delivery and the devastating
oil wars that have resulted. (His previous book, Blood and Oil, by the
way, has recently been turned into a documentary film. Check it
Garrisoning the Global Gas Station
Challenging the Militarization of U.S. Energy Policy
By Michael T. Klare
American policymakers have long viewed the
protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of "national security,"
requiring the threat of – and sometimes the use of – military force. This
is now an unquestioned part of American foreign policy.
On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a war against Iraq in
1990-1991 and the second Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global
oil prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in the years ahead,
military force is sure to be seen by whatever new administration enters Washington
in January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our well-being in the oil heartlands
of the planet. But with the costs of militarized oil operations – in both
blood and dollars – rising precipitously isn't it time to challenge such
"wisdom"? Isn't it time to ask whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable
to do with American energy security, and whether a reliance on military force,
when it comes to energy policy, is practical, affordable, or justifiable?
How Energy Policy Got Militarized
The association between "energy security" (as it's now termed) and "national
security" was established long ago. President Franklin D. Roosevelt first
forged this association way back in 1945, when he pledged
to protect the Saudi Arabian royal family in return for privileged American
access to Saudi oil. The relationship was given formal expression in 1980,
when President Jimmy Carter told
Congress that maintaining the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was
a "vital interest" of the United States, and attempts by hostile nations to
cut that flow would be countered "by any means necessary, including military
To implement this "doctrine," Carter ordered the creation of a Rapid Deployment
Joint Task Force, specifically earmarked for combat operations in the Persian
Gulf area. President Ronald Reagan later turned that force into a full-scale
regional combat organization, the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM.
Every president since Reagan has added to CENTCOM's responsibilities, endowing
it with additional bases, fleets, air squadrons, and other assets. As the
country has, more recently, come to rely on oil from the Caspian Sea basin
and Africa, U.S. military capabilities are being beefed up in those areas
As a result, the U.S. military has come to serve as a global
oil protection service, guarding pipelines, refineries, and loading facilities
in the Middle East and elsewhere. According to one estimate, provided by the
conservative National Defense Council Foundation,
the "protection" of Persian Gulf oil alone costs the U.S. Treasury $138 billion
per year – up from $49 billion just before the invasion of Iraq.
Democrats and Republicans alike, spending such sums to protect foreign oil
supplies is now accepted as common wisdom, not worthy of serious discussion
or debate. A typical example of this attitude can be found in an "Independent
Task Force Report" on the "National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil
Dependency" released by the Council on Foreign
Relations (CFR) in October 2006. Chaired by former Secretary of Defense
James R. Schlesinger and former CIA Director John Deutch, the CFR report concluded
that the U.S. military must continue to serve as a global oil protection service
for the foreseeable future. "At least for the next two decades, the Persian
Gulf will be vital to U.S. interests in reliable oil supplies," it noted.
Accordingly, "the United States should expect and support a strong military
posture that permits suitably rapid deployment to the region, if necessary."
Similarly, the report adds, "U.S. naval protection of the sea-lanes that transport
oil is of paramount importance."
The Pentagon as Insecurity Inc.
These views, widely shared, then and now, by senior figures in both major
parties, dominate – or, more accurately, blanket – American strategic thinking.
And yet the actual utility of military force as a means for ensuring
energy security has yet to be demonstrated.
Keep in mind that, despite the deployment of up to 160,000 U.S. troops in
Iraq and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, Iraq is a country
in chaos and the Department of Defense (DoD) has been notoriously unable to
prevent the recurring sabotage of oil pipelines and refineries by various
insurgent groups and militias, not to mention the systematic looting
of government supplies by senior oil officials supposedly loyal to the U.S.-backed
central government and often guarded (at great personal risk) by American
soldiers. Five years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is only producing about
2.5 million barrels of oil per day – about the same amount as in the worst
days of Saddam Hussein back in 2001. Moreover, the
New York Times reports, "at least one-third, and possibly much more, of
the fuel from Iraq's largest refinery? is [being] diverted to the black market,
according to American military officials." Is this really conducive to American
The same disappointing results have been noted in other countries where
U.S.-backed militaries have attempted to protect vulnerable oil facilities.
for example, increased efforts by American-equipped government forces to crush
rebels in the oil-rich Niger Delta region have merely inflamed the insurgency,
while actually lowering national oil output. Meanwhile, the Nigerian
military, like the Iraqi government (and assorted militias), has been accused
of pilfering billions of dollars' worth of crude oil and selling it on the
In reality, the use of military force to protect foreign oil supplies is
likely to create anything but "security." It can, in fact, trigger violent
"blowback" against the United States. For example, the decision by the senior
President Bush to maintain an enormous, permanent U.S. military presence in
Saudi Arabia following Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait is now widely viewed
as a major source of virulent anti-Americanism in the Kingdom, and became
a prime recruiting tool for Osama bin Laden in the months leading up to the
9/11 terror attacks. "For over seven years," bin Laden proclaimed
in 1998, "the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest
of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its
rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its
bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight neighboring
Muslim peoples." To repel this assault on the Muslin world, he thundered,
it was "an individual duty for every Muslim" to "kill the Americans" and drive
their armies "out of all the lands of Islam."
As if to confirm the veracity of bin Laden's analysis of U.S. intentions,
then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flew to Saudi Arabia on April 30,
2003 to announce that the American bases there would no longer be needed due
to the successful invasion of Iraq, then barely one month old. "It is now
a safer region because of the change of regime in Iraq," Rumsfeld declared.
''The aircraft and those involved will now be able to leave.''
Even as he was speaking in Riyadh, however, a dangerous new case of blowback
had erupted in Iraq: Upon their entry into Baghdad, U.S. forces seized and
guarded the Oil Ministry headquarters while allowing schools, hospitals, and
to be looted with impunity. Most Iraqis have since come to regard this decision,
which insured that the rest of the city would be looted, as the ultimate expression
of the Bush administration's main motive for invading their country. They
have viewed repeated White House claims of a commitment to human rights and
democracy there as mere fig leaves that barely covered the urge to plunder
Iraq's oil. Nothing American officials have done since has succeeded in erasing
this powerful impression, which continues to drive calls for an American withdrawal.
And these are but a few examples of the losses to American national
security produced by a thoroughly militarized approach to energy security.
Yet the premises of such a global policy continue to go unquestioned, even
as American policymakers persist in relying on military force as their ultimate
response to threats to the safe production and transportation of oil. In a
kind of energy "Catch-22," the continual militarizing of energy policy only
multiplies the threats that call such militarization into being.
If anything, this spiral of militarized insecurity is worsening. Take the
expanded U.S. military presence in Africa – one of the few areas in the world
expected to experience an increase in oil output in the years ahead.
This year, the Pentagon will activate the U.S. Africa
Command (AFRICOM), its first new overseas combat command since Reagan
created CENTCOM a quarter century ago. Although Department of Defense officials
are loathe to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship between AFRICOM's
formation and a growing U.S. reliance on that continent's oil, they are less
inhibited in private briefings. At a February 19th meeting at the National
Defense University, for example, AFRICOM Deputy Commander Vice-Admiral Robert
Moeller indicated that "oil disruption" in Nigeria and West Africa would constitute
one of the primary challenges facing the new organization.
AFRICOM and similar extensions of the Carter Doctrine into new oil-producing
regions are only likely to provoke fresh outbreaks of blowback, while bundling
tens of billions of extra dollars every year into an already bloated
Pentagon budget. Sooner or later, if U.S. policy doesn't change, this price
will be certain to include as well the loss of American lives, as more and
more soldiers are exposed to hostile fire or explosives while protecting vulnerable
oil installations in areas torn by ethnic, religious, and sectarian strife.
Why pay such a price? Given the all-but-unavoidable evidence of just how
ineffective military force has been when it comes to protecting oil supplies,
isn't it time to rethink Washington's reigning assumptions regarding the relationship
between energy security and national security? After all, other than George
W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who would claim that, more than five years after
the invasion of Iraq, either the United States or its supply of oil is actually
Creating Real Energy Security
The reality of America's increasing reliance on foreign oil only strengthens
the conviction in Washington that military force and energy security are inseparable
twins. With nearly two-thirds
of the country's daily oil intake imported – and that percentage still going
up – it's hard not to notice that significant amounts of our oil now come
from conflict-prone areas of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. So
long as this is the case, U.S. policymakers will instinctively look to the
military to ensure the safe delivery of crude oil. It evidently matters little
that the use of military force, especially in the Middle East, has surely
made the energy situation less stable and less dependable, while fueling anti-Americanism.
This is, of course, not the definition of "energy security," but its opposite.
A viable long-term approach to actual energy security would not favor one
particular source of energy – in this case, oil – above all others, or regularly
expose American soldiers to a heightened risk of harm and American taxpayers
to a heightened risk of bankruptcy. Rather, an American energy policy that
made sense would embrace a holistic approach to energy procurement, weighing
the relative merits of all potential sources of energy.
It would naturally favor the development of domestic, renewable sources
of energy that do not degrade the environment or imperil other national interests.
At the same time, it would favor a thoroughgoing program of energy conservation
of a sort notably absent these last two decades – one that would help cut
reliance on foreign energy sources in the near future and slow the atmospheric
buildup of climate-altering greenhouse gases.
Petroleum would continue to play a significant role in any such approach.
Oil retains considerable appeal as a source of transportation energy (especially
for aircraft) and as a feedstock for many chemical products. But given the
right investment and research policies – and the will to apply something
other than force to energy supply issues – oil's historic role as the world's
paramount fuel could relatively quickly draw to a close. It would be especially
important that American policymakers not prolong this role artificially by,
as has been the case for decades, subsidizing major U.S. oil firms or, more
recently, spending $138 billion a year on the protection of foreign oil deliveries.
These funds would instead be redirected to the promotion of energy efficiency
and especially the development of domestic sources of energy.
Some policymakers who agree on the
need to develop alternatives to imported energy insist that such an approach
should begin with oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
and other protected wilderness areas. Even while acknowledging that such drilling
would not substantially reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, they nevertheless
insist that it's essential to make every conceivable effort to substitute
domestic oil supplies for imports in the nation's total energy supply. But
this argument ignores the fact that oil's day is drawing
to a close, and that any effort to prolong its duration only complicates the
inevitable transition to a post-petroleum economy.
A far more fruitful approach, better designed to promote American self-sufficiency
and technological vigor in the intensely competitive world of the mid-21st
century, would emphasize the use of domestic ingenuity and entrepreneurial
skills to maximize the potential of renewable energy sources, including solar,
wind, geothermal, and wave power. The same skills should also be applied to
developing methods for producing ethanol from non-food plant matter ("cellulosic
ethanol"), for using coal without releasing carbon into the atmosphere (via
"carbon capture and storage," or CCS), for miniaturizing hydrogen fuel cells,
and for massively increasing the energy efficiency of vehicles, buildings,
and industrial processes.
All of these energy systems show great promise, and so should be accorded
the increased support and investment they will need to move from the marginal
role they now play to a dominant role in American energy generation. At this
point, it is not possible to determine precisely which of them (or which combination
among them) will be best positioned to transition from small to large-scale
commercial development. As a result, all of them should be initially given
enough support to test their capacity to make this move.
In applying this general rule, however, priority clearly should be given
to new forms of transportation fuel. It is here that oil has long been king,
and here that oil's decline will be most harshly felt. It is thanks to this
that calls for military intervention to secure additional supplies of crude
are only likely to grow. So emphasis should be given to the rapid development
of biofuels, coal-to-liquid fuels (with the carbon extracted via CCS), hydrogen,
or battery power, and other innovative means of fueling vehicles. At the same
time, it's obvious that putting some of our military budget into funding a
massive increase in public transit would be the height of national sanity.
An approach of this sort would enhance American national security on multiple
levels. It would increase the reliable supply of fuels, promote economic growth
at home (rather than sending a veritable flood of dollars into the coffers
of unreliable petro-regimes abroad), and diminish the risk of recurring U.S.
involvement in foreign oil wars. No other approach – certainly not the present
traditional, unquestioned, unchallenged reliance on military force – can
make this claim. It's well past time to stop garrisoning the global gas station.
Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at
Hampshire College and the author of several books on energy politics, including
Resource Wars (2001), Blood and Oil (2004), and, most recently,
Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. A brief video of Klare
discussing key subjects in his new book can be viewed by clicking
here. A movie version of his book Blood and Oil is now
available on DVD.
Copyright 2008 Michael T. Klare