Monday, June 28, 2004

The Coming Storm: Oil Wars

In a previous post, "new era sneaks up on public" the oldman discussed that the real oil crisis was not a distant future inevitability, but something that was beginning now.

Now the WaPo has a new op-ed, "The Undeclared Oil War" by Paul Roberts that discusses the current geopolitical wrangling that will make the Middle-east the center of a vortex of violence and war increasingly over the next two decades.

The petro-rivalry has become so intense that Japan has offered to finance the $5 billion pipeline, invest $7 billion in development of Siberian oil fields and throw in an additional $2 billion for Russian "social projects" -- this despite the certainty that if Japan does win Russia's oil, relations between Tokyo and Beijing may sink to their lowest, potentially most dangerous, levels since World War II.

Asia's undeclared oil war is but the latest reminder that in a global economy dependent largely on a single fuel -- oil -- "energy security" means far more than hardening refineries and pipelines against terrorist attack. At its most basic level, energy security is the ability to keep the global machine humming -- that is, to produce enough fuels and electricity at affordable prices that every nation can keep its economy running, its people fed and its borders defended. A failure of energy security means that the momentum of industrialization and modernity grinds to a halt. And by that measure, we are failing.

In the United States and Europe, new demand for electricity is outpacing the new supply of power and natural gas and raising the specter of more rolling blackouts. In the "emerging" economies, such as Brazil, India and especially China, energy demand is rising so fast it may double by 2020. And this only hints at the energy crisis facing the developing world, where nearly 2 billion people -- a third of the world's population -- have almost no access to electricity or liquid fuels and are thus condemned to a medieval existence that breeds despair, resentment and, ultimately, conflict.

In other words, we are on the cusp of a new kind of war -- between those who have enough energy and those who do not but are increasingly willing to go out and get it. While nations have always competed for oil, it seems more and more likely that the race for a piece of the last big reserves of oil and natural gas will be the dominant geopolitical theme of the 21st century.

If this is the real geopolitical struggle we are in, then whoever wins the Presidency of the United States we will see a draft and an increase in the troop commitment to Iraq. The United States cannot afford to give up a beachhead and low-sulfur oil property in the Middle-east like Iraq. American boys and girls will be dying for oil not just through 2005 but for however long it takes to secure that energy resource.


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