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Oil Will Drive the U.S. to More Wars Unless America Changes

by Magnifico Mon Dec 6th, 2010 at 12:13:18 AM EST

The United States of America is the world's biggest military spender and allocates more on its war machine than any other nation in the world. The U.S. paid $661 billion to the armaments industry in 2009, a recession year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). "This represented 43 percent of the total global spend, and was $47 billion higher than the 2008 U.S. expenditure, according to SIPRI." America has increased military spending by 63 precent since 2000, according to SIPRI. This increase has partially been driven by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimate the "budgetary and economic costs" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will now be "between $4 trillion and $6 trillion". An upwards revision of 25 percent in just two years. The U.S. has already spent $1 trillion in Iraq and "spending in Iraq and Afghanistan now comes to more than $3 billion weekly, making the wars a major reason for record-level budget deficits."

The Obama administration was seeking a record $708 billion for the 2011 defense budget. Even with growing budget pressures, the Pentagon expects it budget to grow by 1 percent a year. When Americans have compelling domestic needs such as jobs, health care, education and a decaying infrastructure, why does it keep spending so much of its national wealth on its war making capacity?

More and more the answer appears to be to secure the supply of oil for American consumption. Energy is second of "two key issues", which the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review (pdf) identified in February 2010, "that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment."

(The first key issue was climate change. In irony that may be lost on some, in July 2010, Adam Liska and Richard Perrin argued that "military operations are major industrial activities that use massive amounts of fuel and materials that significantly contribute to climate change.")

"Energy security for the Department means having assured access to reliable supplies of energy and the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet operational needs," the QDR states.

"Access to energy sources has long been of vital interest to national security," wrote U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Mark Danigole in 2007 in a paper (pdf) for the Air War College.

Japanese involvement in World War II was driven by a need to secure access to oil in the South Pacific, and the 1990 United States decision to evict Iraq from Kuwait was driven by an international need to secure Western access to Middle East oil reserves. With daily consumption of 19.8 million barrels per day (BPD), the U.S. is the single largest consumer of petroleum.

Wars of the future may be fought just to run the war machinery, wrote Michael Klare in 2007. Klare observed that each U.S. soldier fighting at the time in Iraq and Afghanistan consumed 16 gallons of oil per day, "either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes." U.S. military machines were guzzling roughly 3.5 million gallons oil per day in combat operations in 2007.

"The Air Force mission is truly powered by petroleum," Danigole wrote. "In order for the Air Force to provide global power projection in the form of global strike and rapid global mobility capabilities, the Air Force relies on unrestricted access to worldwide oil supplies. In order to provide 'sovereign options' in defense of U.S. interests, the USAF must insure uninterrupted access to global petroleum reserves." The U.S. Air Force is the world's single largest consumer of oil, Liska and Perrin noted.

Speaking in October 2010, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said:

We just held a very conventional view that fuel was cheap, easy and available, without ever really connecting it to any broader geopolitical implications. Clearly, that is not the world we're living in today.

 Many of us here this morning are acutely aware of the cost and challenge in terms of both blood and treasure of providing energy to our forces in Afghanistan today. And recent headlines of NATO fuel convoys being attacked only serve to remind us of these vulnerabilities. DOD is using 300,000 barrels of oil every day. The energy use per soldier creeps up every year. And our number-one import into Afghanistan is fossil fuel.

This heavy reliance on oil is seen by American military planners as potentially impairing critically the U.S. military's fighting readiness within a few years. "By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD" (million barrels per day), stated a March 2010 report, the Joint Operating Environment 2010 (JOE 2010) (pdf), from the U.S. Joint Forces Command  released in March 2010. The report states:

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity... Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment... One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest.

A target of 1.4 MBD each year must be discovered "to generate the energy required worldwide by the 2030s", according to the JOE 2010 report. The report identifies seven "world oil chokepoints"; the largest of which is the Strait of Hormuz and six of the seven "chokepoints" are in Asia and either in or on the seas of Muslim nations. Oil producing nations' self-interest is to control production,  the report notes and suggests they may be forced by "consumer nations" to increase production. Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are singled out of particular interest.

OPEC nations will remain a focal point of great-power interest. These nations may have a vested interest in inhibiting production increases, both to conserve finite supplies and to keep prices high. Should one of the consumer nations choose to intervene forcefully, the "arc of instability" running from North Africa through to Southeast Asia easily could become an "arc of chaos," involving the military forces of several nations.

There are 12 OPEC member nations: four in Africa, six in the Middle East, and two in South America. The leftist governments of Ecuador's Rafael Correra and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez do not have the warmest of relations with the United States, the country's two closest OPEC neighbors.

"All Latin America needs to sit down with the U.S. and say very clearly: Stop interfering with our sovereignty and betraying the trust of countries that are considered friends," Correa said this month, reacting to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.

China has been increasingly expanding its military ties with Venezuela and other Latin American nations in the past decade. China and Ecuador signed an economic cooperation agreement last month, for example, and China is providing "major financing and engineering" support in Ecuador's gold mining project that is "seen as a crucial step toward the country's economic development."

China began suppling military training jets to Venezuela in exchange for oil in 2009, for example. The Chinese jets are replacing Venezuela's aging fleet of U.S. military aircraft. Just last month, General Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, made a three-day goodwill visit to Venezuela.

Furthermore despite austerity noises in Washington that may slow the increase in the Pentagon's budget, the JOE 2010 report warns against "deep cuts in defense spending" because of a "prolonged U.S. recession", because "joint Force commanders could then find their capabilities diminished at the moment they may have to undertake increasingly dangerous missions." One suggested implication would be that the U.S., as a consumer nation, would not be able to match China in a potential oil war because of "limitations of America's military forces."

While China is one suggested antagonist, the JOE 2010 report does not acknowledge the United States has already fought two oil wars of its own within the past two decades.

The first military action the U.S. took in the second Iraq war was to seize two Iraqi offshore oil terminals. Navy Seals "faced no resistance" from "lightly armed Iraqi guards claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire," the New York Times reported in 2003.

The terminals, southwest from the mouth of the Shatt al Arab, are the end points of Iraq's sole pipeline into the Persian Gulf. Essentially mile-long gas stations built on stilts, the terminals at their peak served four supertankers at a time, pumping more than two million barrels a day...

The oil terminals clearly held nearly as much public relations value as military significance for the Bush administration, which is trying to convince the Islamic world and skeptical Europeans that the United States intends to safeguard Iraq's oil wealth for the good of the Iraqi people.

Indeed, "Iraq is hardly the only country where American troops are risking their lives on a daily basis to protect the flow of petroleum," Klare observered in 2004.

In Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and the Republic of Georgia, U.S. personnel are also spending their days and nights protecting pipelines and refineries, or supervising the local forces assigned to this mission. American sailors are now on oil-protection patrol in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, and along other sea routes that deliver oil to the United States and its allies. In fact, the American military is increasingly being converted into a global oil-protection service...

The use of American military personnel to help protect vulnerable oil installations in conflict-prone, chronically unstable countries is certain to expand given three critical factors: America's ever-increasing dependence on imported petroleum, a global shift in oil production from the developed to the developing world, and the growing militarization of our foreign energy policy.

Klare stated that American energy policy has been increasingly militarized since the end of the Second World War. Since then, the U.S. has used its military to "guarantee the unhindered flow of petroleum. This approach was first adopted by the Truman and Eisenhower administrations" and its "formal expression" was made in what is now known as the Carter Doctrine.

"Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force," President Jimmy Carter said in the 1980 State of the Union address. Klare wrote:

Carter's principle of using force to protect the flow of oil was later cited by President Bush the elder to justify American intervention in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, and it provided the underlying strategic rationale for our recent invasion of Iraq.

Originally, this policy was largely confined to the world's most important oil-producing region, the Persian Gulf. But given America's ever-growing requirement for imported petroleum, U.S. officials have begun to extend it to other major producing zones, including the Caspian Sea basin, Africa, and Latin America.

So where does this oil dependency and oil-driven military/foreign policy put the United States?

Jörg Friedrichs looked at how different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario (pdf) in February 2010. He looked at how Japan, after World War I, fell into a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of securing natural resources it would need through military empire. Friedrichs hypothesized, "the greater a country's military potential and the stronger the perception that force will be more effective than the free market to protect access to vital resources, the more likely there will be a strategy of predatory militarism."

"Countries prone to military solutions may follow a Japanese-style strategy of predatory militarism," he wrote. From the oil deals of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations with producer nations in the Middle East to the pronouncement of the Carter Doctrine to the two Iraq oil wars, the degree to which the U.S. has been a predatory policy is debatable. What is not, however, I think is that the United States has engaged in a strategy of militarism to secure a steady flow of oil. Friedrichs believes this militaristic approach to securing oil by the U.S. may continue as world oil supplies dwindle.

Given their military capabilities, the United States and China would be the most obvious candidates for a "Japanese" strategy of predatory militarism. The US may be tempted to use its unrivalled power projection capacity to secure privileged access to oil. It has happened sometimes in the past, and may happen more often in the future, that US decision makers find military coercion more effective than trade.

However, China is pushing to become the world's first green superpower, The Guardian reported in June 2009. "The consequences will be staggering. If the bigger figure proves correct, China will be spending the equivalent of its 2009 military budget on 'new energy' for each of the next ten years." Meanwhile the U.S. has fought at least two oil wars in the past twenty years and is still bogged down with oil wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Imagine what an American predatory military strategy would look like if the country grew increasingly frustrated and desperate in securing a supply of oil in a world of shrinking supply and increasing demand. A nuclear-armed super power may decide to throw its weight around if it could not secure access to oil through free trade. Imagine if Japan of 1941 had atomic weapons available to its war planners.

Checking American nuclear blackmail could be one of the reasons oil-rich nations such as Iran are pursuing their own nuclear programs and countries such as Brazil, which has newly discovered rich offshore oil reserves, has politicians supporting the development of their own nuclear weapons. Brazilian Vice President José Alencar said in 2009 that he saw nuclear weapons as an important means of "deterrence". Brazil and other South American nations have expressed their concerns about the reactivation of the U.S. Navy's 4th Fleet to patrol the Western Hemisphere. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva suggested in 2008 that the U.S. fleet may signal America's desire for Brazil's oil.

In the mean time, Friedrichs wrote he expected the U.S. to acquire oil mostly through the means of free markets. However, the use of military persuasion to secure oil will become an increasingly tempting way to negotiate. Friedrichs wrote:

In North America, the United States combines extreme dependency on foreign oil deliveries with an unrivalled capability to project military power. This is not to deny that America's free-trade ideology militates against the open recourse to military coercion. In fact, the US will support the free market for oil as long as it is convenient. When the oil market comes under pressure because of tightening supply, the US will continue to defend it for a while. But when soaring prices start crippling the national economy, US leaders may find that coercive diplomacy is more effective than free-trade rhetoric. The US is then likely to put the blame on foreigners and pursue a geopolitical strategy of "energy security" to protect the American way of life... Why keep negotiating with recalcitrant leaders such as Chavez if there is a military option?

In fairness, this is not solely a problem of the American military's creation. As Adm. Mullen noted, the view was "fuel was cheap" and that fostered "a 'burn it if you've got it' mentality." Today the U.S. military is actively pursuing alternative energy to power its fleet of aircraft and vehicles. The Pentagon is going green, because it has to, was the headline PhysOrg ran on the story about Mullen's October energy speech.

The real danger is not from the military, but the civilians in the Pentagon and Congress who refuse to see energy security and its dance partner, climate change, as a vital threat to its national security. If American citizens and their leaders refuse to address climate change and direct its national efforts away from securing future oil supplies to finding viable alternative energy sources to power our nation, then how long will it take for American leaders to use the world's largest military as a predatory force to secure more oil to preserve the 'American way of life'? If Americans do not take seriously finding alternative energy sources, will the next U.S. oil war be nuclear?

Cross-posted from Daily Kos.

Does the US military really believe that it must fight wars to "secure" oil for its own use? Your use of antediluvian units obscures things a little, but actually the figures you quote for the fuel consumption of US combat operations is only 0.4% of total US oil consumption or maybe about 1% of the gasoline consumption of US cars. Attacking other countries for this 0.4% used by the military is a very flimsy fig leaf.

I also don't understand the need to go to war to preserve the US "way of life", also known as "obscene energy waste". As long as you don't have a world war or a foreign power strong enough to mount a naval blockade against you, you can just buy the oil on the world market. Finland doesn't seem to feel the urge to go to war to ensure its oil supply. The Iraq war did not supply oil to US consumers while excluding the rest of the world, nor did it reduce prices in the US relative to other places. Again, a fig leaf.

The only people who benefit from the US going to war to "secure" oil while at the same time blocking any attempt to reduce consumption at home are of course the oil companies. They seem to have much more political power in the US than everybody else combined, including Pentagon. The wars are run exclusively for them.

Real capricorns don't believe in astrology.

by tomhuld (thomas punkt huld at jrc punkt it) on Mon Dec 6th, 2010 at 04:48:06 PM EST
Does the US military really believe that it must fight wars to "secure" oil for its own use?


This is basic to any understanding of US strategy over the last half century.  

If you can buy it (cheaply!) that is fine, else seize it by government coup, and if that fails, seize it by main force.  

Most US actions in the world follow directly out of this principle.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Dec 7th, 2010 at 06:22:52 PM EST
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