With so many new international crises erupting every day, it is hard
to detect any clear forward direction to American U.S. foreign policy.
At times, it appears that providing a response to the latest upheaval is
about all that Washington can accomplish. But beneath the surface of
day-to-day crisis management, one can see signs of an overarching plan
for U.S. policy: a strategy of global oil acquisition.
In recent weeks, the Bush administration has taken bold steps to
implement this strategy in several far-flung regions of the world. In
the Caspian Sea basin—said to harbor the second biggest reservoir of
untapped petroleum after the Persian Gulf—the United States is building
new military bases and providing training to local defense forces. In
Colombia, U.S.-equipped government forces will soon be guarding the
Occidental Petroleum Company’s Cano Limon oil pipeline. And in
Venezuela—America’s third largest supplier of oil—U.S. embassy personnel
reportedly met with leaders of an abortive coup against President Hugo
All of these developments are obviously tied to other foreign policy
considerations besides oil. The United States clearly seeks to promote
stability and fight terrorism in these and other areas of the world. But
it is also true that the areas that are garnering the greatest degree of
attention from Washington—the Middle East, the Caspian Sea basin, and
the Andean region—are also areas that figure prominently in the
administration’s long-term energy strategy.
The aim of this strategy is simple: to procure as much of the world’s
oil for ravenous U.S. markets as possible. With domestic U.S. production
facing progressive decline and national consumption rising with every
passing day, the United States must obtain more and more of its oil from
abroad. Exploitation of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), if
allowed by Congress, could reduce U.S. oil imports by a tiny amount, but
would not make any significant difference in the larger energy equation.
The only way to significantly reduce imports is to increase the fuel
efficiency of U.S. motor vehicles—but because President Bush is
reluctant to require this, the administration has instead launched a
global effort to expand U.S. access to foreign sources of petroleum.
This campaign was first laid out in the national energy plan drawn up
by Vice President Dick Cheney in early 2001 and released by the White
House last May. Because the plan calls for drilling on ANWR and was
prepared with assistance from representatives of the scandal-ridden
Enron Corp., Congress and media have ignored its foreign policy
implications. But however significant the domestic debate over Enron and
ANWR, it is its international repercussions that are most likely to
affect America’s long-term future.
In essence, the Cheney report makes three key points:
• The United States must satisfy an ever-increasing share of its oil
demand with imported supplies. (At present, the United States imports
about 10 million barrels of oil per day, representing 53 percent of its
total consumption; by 2020, daily U.S. imports will total nearly 17
million barrels, or 65 percent of consumption.)
• The United States cannot depend exclusively on traditional sources
of supply like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Canada to provide this
additional oil. It will also have to obtain substantial supplies from
new sources, such as the Caspian states, Russia, and Africa.
• The United States cannot rely on market forces alone to gain access
to these added supplies, but will also require a significant effort on
the part of government officials to overcome foreign resistance to the
outward reach of American energy companies.
In line with these three principles, the Cheney plan calls on the
Bush administration to undertake a wide range of initiatives aimed at
increasing oil imports from overseas sources of supply. In particular,
it calls on the president and secretaries of state, energy and commerce
to work with leaders of the Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan to
boost production in the Caspian region and to build new pipelines to the
West. It also calls on U.S. officials to persuade their counterparts in
Africa, the Persian Gulf and Latin America to open up their oil
industries to greater U.S. oil company involvement and to send more of
their petroleum to the United States.
In advocating these measures, the Cheney team is well aware that U.S.
efforts to gain access to increasing amounts of foreign petroleum could
provoke resistance in some oil-producing regions. By 2020, the report
notes, America "will import nearly two of every three barrels of oil (it
consumes)—a condition of increased dependency on foreign powers that do
not always have America’s interests at heart."
This means, of course, that American efforts to obtain increased
supplies of foreign oil will require more than trade deals and
diplomacy; it will also require the threat of or the use of force to
dissuade hostile forces from attempting to obstruct the flow of
petroleum to the United States. This, in turn, will require an enhanced
U.S. capacity to operate militarily in areas of likely fighting over
oil. It is for this reason that Washington is expanding the American
military presence in the Persian Gulf area and beginning to establish
such a presence in the Caspian basin (notably in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and
Uzbekistan). And while these efforts have been accelerated since Sept.
11, it is important to note that they began well before that date.
American efforts to protect the flow of oil is evident in other
measures undertaken by the Bush administration. These include a $100
million grant to the Colombian army for the establishment of a special
brigade whose main function will be to guard the Cano Limon pipeline
against guerrilla attack. The administration is also boosting U.S.
military aid to Nigeria, the leading African supplier of oil to the
United States. And while there is no evidence of a direct U.S. link to
the recent coup attempt in Venezuela, White House officials have
repeatedly criticized President Hugo Chavez—an ultra-nationalist who has
resisted increased American involvement in Venezuela’s oil industry—and
opened the U.S. embassy to visits by leaders of the anti-Chavez
opposition. Washington did not condemn the short-lived coup.
(Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies
at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of "Resource
Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict." He can be reached at [email protected]"
This column was distributed via Pacific News Service.)