Saturday, January 10, 2009

Russian Conflict Highlights Our Need for Energy Independence

Written 19 August 2008

Russia’s invasion of Georgia highlights the strategic importance of energy independence. Their aggression demonstrates several areas of weakness where other forces can easily influence and affect our energy situation and national security.

First, an antagonist can directly limit or impair the supply and movement of oil in the world. In the case of Russia and Georgia, a major oil pipeline runs through Georgia. By their actions, the Russians could have taken control of that line. They still could.

Similar risks to the free movement of petroleum exist in the Straits of Hormuz where Iran threatens to disrupt the movement of oil if “provoked.” It’s a point of leverage they have, and would willingly use.

Second, when nations are beholden to others for energy needs, the suppliers hold great sway. In this case, much of Europe depends very heavily on the Russians for their petroleum energy needs.

This puts Russia in the driver’s seat for negotiations about their involvement in the conflict. Europe must tip-toe gingerly around Russia with their disapproval, and is limited in how much and what it can say because of their dependence upon Russia for fossil fuels. If angered or offended, the Russians have simply to close the spigot in order to affect a change in attitude amongst the Europeans.

We run into the same potential problems with the many nations who supply us petroleum. Although we have fairly friendly relationships with Canada and Mexico, we understand the limits of friendship with some nations who send us oil from the Middle East and South America. Billions of dollars go to Middle Eastern nations who tolerate Islamic terrorists. Hugo Chavez is constantly threatening to cut off the supply of oil to our country from Venezuela.

Third, is the direct ability to supply our own energy needs during a time of crisis. Beyond the strategic petroleum reserve (which will only last a relatively short duration in an extended conflict) our unwillingness to use domestic petroleum resources puts us in a weak strategic position because it fuels our military and runs the infrastructure that feeds our nation.

By contrast, Russia’s willingness to utilize her own energy sources has created a strong national security position.

Lastly, not as direct a threat but none the less a consideration in being dependent upon other nations for energy, is the fact that international diplomacy and influence are either enhanced or limited, depending upon a nation’s place on the spectrum of energy dependence.

Beyond affecting outcomes of direct conflict as seen with Russia and Europe, is the capacity to persuade actions elsewhere in the world.

For example, Iran is unquestionably a troublesome child on the world’s playground. We, along with Europe, depend heavily upon Russian influence to diplomatically reach solutions and win over the Iranians to a less disastrous course.

In this international diplomatic arena, Russia has most certainly gained a very powerful seat at the table. She can use her own energy sources, as shown above, to dictate to both east and west the terms of negotiations. She can allow Iran’s threats in the Straits to affect the negotiations or not, without any potential harm to herself.

Russia can simply choose to affect the situation or not, because it holds so many of the cards, based on its domestic and international energy position.

Once financially broke and searching for direction after the collapse of the U.S.S.R., Russia now enjoys a multi-faceted position of strategic power because she was willing to use all of the resources available to her.

Returning to the thuggish ways of the old socialist/communist mentality is not admirable, but we do have to acknowledge the powerful position they’ve craftily obtained.

By contrast, our unwillingness to use our own petroleum and other energy assets hurts our financial security and is a strategic vulnerability.

The situation in Russia should be a wake up call to all of our elected officials, especially those many Democrats who won’t even discuss the energy issue and are out on vacation. Necessity dictates that it be addressed sooner rather than later. Necessity also dictates we pursue all sources of energy to the maximum extent including fossil fuels everywhere and in every form available, unless and until our entire nation is realigned away from them

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