Michael Klare: The Bush/Cheney energy strategy

[I am going through the material I’ve accumulated since 2000 about energy, this one is of interest to those following the history of U.S. energy policy.  Alice Friedemann, www.energyskeptic.com ]



A Paper Prepared for the Second Annual Meeting of the Association for Study of Peak Oil Paris, France, 26-27 May 2003

By Michael T. Klare Professor of Peace and World Security Studies, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA 

When first assuming office as President in early 2001, George W. Bush’s top foreign policy priority was not to prevent terrorism or to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction (or any of the other goals he has espoused since 9/11); rather, it was to increase the flow of petroleum from foreign suppliers to markets in the United States. In the year preceding his assumption of office, the United States had experienced severe oil and natural gas shortages in many parts of the country, along with periodic electric-power blackouts in California. In addition, U.S. oil imports had just risen over 50 percent of total U.S. consumption for the first time in American history, provoking great anxiety about the security of America’s long-term energy supply. For these and other reasons, Bush asserted that addressing the nation’s “energy crisis” was his most important task as President.


Addressing the energy crisis was seen by Bush and his advisers as a critical matter for several reasons.   To begin with, energy abundance is essential to the health and profitability of many of America’s leading industries, including automobiles, airlines, construction, petrochemicals, trucking, and agriculture, and so any shortages of energy can have severe and pervasive economic repercussions. Petroleum is especially critical to the U.S. economy because it is the source of two-fifths’ of America’s total energy supply – more than any other source – and because it provides most of the nation’s transportation fuel. In addition to this, petroleum is absolutely essential to U.S. national security, in that it powers the vast array of tanks, planes, helicopters, and ships that constitute the backbone of the American war machine.

Given these realities, it is hardly surprising that the incoming Bush Administration viewed the energy turmoil of 2000-2001 as a matter of great concern. “America faces a major energy supply crisis over the next two decades,” Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham told a National Energy Summit on March 19, 2001. “The failure to meet this challenge will threaten our nation’s economic prosperity, compromise our national security, and literally alter the way we lead our lives.”/1/

To address this challenge, President Bush established a National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) composed of senior government officials and charged it with the task of developing a long-range plan for the meeting the nation’s energy requirements. To head this group, picked his closest political adviser, Vice President Dick Cheney, a former executive of the Halliburton Company. Cheney, in turn, turned to top officials of U.S. energy firms, including the Enron Corporation, to provide advice and recommendations on major issues./2/

As the NEPDG began its review of U.S. energy policy, it quickly became apparent that the United States faced a critical choice between two widely diverging energy paths: it could continue down the road it had long been traveling, consuming ever-increasing amounts of petroleum and – given the irreversible decline in domestic oil production – becoming ever more dependent on imported supplies; or it could choose an alternative route, entailing vastly increased reliance on renewable sources of energy and a gradual reduction in petroleum use. Clearly, the outcome of this decision would have profound consequences for American society, the economy, and the nation’s security. A decision to continue down the existing path of rising petroleum consumption would bind the United States ever more tightly to the Persian Gulf suppliers and to other oil-producing countries, with a corresponding impact on American security policy; a decision to pursue an alternative strategy would require a huge investment in new energy-generation and transportation technologies, resulting in the rise or fall of entire industries. Either way, Americans would experience the impact of this choice in their everyday life and in the dynamics of the economy as a whole; no one, in the United States or elsewhere, would be left entirely untouched by the decision on which energy path to follow./3/

The National Energy Policy Development Group wrestled with these choices over the early months of 2001 and completed its report by early May. After careful vetting by the White House, the report was anointed as the National Energy Policy (NEP) by President Bush and released to the public on May 17, 2001./4/ At first glance, the NEP – or the “Cheney Report,” as it is widely known – appeared to reject the path of increased reliance on imported oil and to embrace the path of conservation and renewable energy. The NEP “reduces demand by promoting innovation and technology to make us the world leader in efficiency and conservation,” the President declared on May 17./5/ But despite all of the rhetoric about conservation, the NEP does not propose a reduction in America’s overall consumption of oil. Instead, it proposes to slow the growth in U.S. dependence on imported petroleum by increasing production at home through the exploitation of exploiting untapped reserves in protected wilderness areas.

As is widely known, the single most important step toward increased domestic oil production proposed by the NEP was the initiation of drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a vast, untouched wilderness area in northeastern Alaska. This proposal has generated enormous controversy in the United States because of its deleterious impact on the environment; but it has also allowed the White House to argue that the Administration is committed to a policy of energy independence. However, careful examination of the Cheney report leads to entirely different conclusion. Aside from the ANWR proposal, there is nothing in the NEP that would contribute to a significant decline in U.S. dependence on imported petroleum. In fact, the very opposite is true: the basic goal of the Cheney plan is to increase the flow of oil from foreign suppliers to the United States.

In the end, therefore, President Bush did make a clear decision regarding America’s future energy behavior, but the choice he made was not that of diminished dependence on imported oil, as suggested by White House rhetoric. Knowing that nothing can reverse the long-term decline in domestic oil production, and unwilling to curb America’s ever-growing thirst for petroleum products, he decided to continue down the existing path of ever-increasing dependence on foreign oil.

The fact that the Bush energy plan envisions increased rather than diminished reliance on imported petroleum is not immediately apparent from the President’s public comments on the NEP or from the first seven chapters of the Cheney report itself. It is only in the eighth and final chapter, “Strengthening Global Alliances,” that the true intent of the Administration’s policy – increased dependence on imported oil – becomes fully apparent. Here, the tone of the report changes markedly, from a professed concern with conservation and energy efficiency to an explicit emphasis on securing more oil from foreign sources. “We can strengthen our own energy security and the shared prosperity of the global economy,” the NEP states, by working with other countries to increase the global production of energy. To this end, the President and his senior associates are enjoined by the Cheney report to “make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy.”/6/

But while acknowledging the need for increased supplies of imported petroleum, the Cheney report is very circumspect about the amount of foreign oil that will be required. The only clue provided by the report is a chart of of America’s net oil consumption and production over time. According to this image, domestic U.S. oil field production will decline from about 8.5 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2002 to 7.0 mbd in 2020 while consumption will jump from 19.5 mbd to 25.5 mbd, suggesting that imports or other sources of petroleum (such as natural gas liquids) will have to rise from 11 mbd to 18.5 mbd./7/ It is to procure this increment in imported petroleum – approximately 7.5 mbd, or the equivalent of total current oil consumption by China and India combined – that most of the recommendations in Chapter 8 of the NEP are aimed.

To facilitate American access to overseas sources of petroleum, the Cheney report provides a roster of 35 foreign policy recommendations – exactly one-third of all of the recommendations in the report. Although many of these proposals are region or country-specific, the overall emphasis is on removing obstacles – whether political, economic, legal, and logistical – to the increased procurement of foreign oil by the United States./8/

The Cheney report’s emphasis on procuring ever-increasing supplies of imported energy to satisfy America’s growing demand will have a profound impact on American foreign and military policy in the years ahead. Not only will American officials have to negotiate access to these overseas supplies and arrange for the sorts of investments that will make increased production and export possible, but they must also take steps to make certain that foreign deliveries to the United States are not impeded by war, revolution, or civil disorder. These imperatives will govern U.S. policy toward all significant energy-supplying regions, especially the Persian Gulf area, the Caspian Sea basin, Africa, and Latin America.

As will become evident from the discussion that follows, moreover, implementation of the Cheney energy plan will also have significant implications for U.S. security policy and for the actual deployment and utilization of American military forces. This is so because most of the countries that are expected to supply the United States with increased petroleum in the years ahead are riven by internal conflicts or harbor strong anti-American sentiments, or both. This means that American efforts to procure additional oil from foreign sources are almost certain to encounter violent disorder and resistance in many key producing areas. And while U.S. officials might prefer to avoid the use of force in such situations, they may conclude that the only way to ensure the continued flow of energy is to guard the oil fields and pipelines with American soldiers.


To add to Washington’s dilemma, the very fact of U.S. troop deployments in the oil-producing areas is likely to stir up resentment from inhabitants of these areas who fear the revival of colonialism or who object to particular American policies (such as, for example, U.S. support for Israel). As a result, American efforts to safeguard the flow of oil could well result in the intensification rather than the diminution of local disorder and violence – leading, in turn, to the deployment of additional American troops and a continuing spiral of confrontation and conflict./9/

To fully appreciate the manifold consequences of the Bush Administration’s energy plan for American foreign and military policy, it is useful to examine U.S. interests and behaviors in each of the regions that are seen in Washington as a major source of imported petroleum in the years ahead, notably the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea basin, the West coast of Africa, and Latin America.


Although the United States currently obtains only about 18 percent of its imported petroleum from the Persian Gulf area, Washington perceives a significant strategic interest in the stability of Gulf energy production because its major allies, including Japan and the Western European countries, rely on imports from the region, and because the Gulf’s high export volume has helped to keep world oil prices relatively low, thus benefitting the petroleum-dependent U.S. economy. With domestic production in decline, moreover, the United States will become ever more dependent on imports from the Gulf. For this reason, the NEP observes, the Persian Gulf “will remain vital to U.S. interests.”/10/

American policy with regard to the protection of Persian Gulf energy supplies is unambiguous: when a threat arises, the United States will use whatever means are necessary, including military force, to ensure the continued flow of oil. This principle was first articulated by President Jimmy Carter in January 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Shah, and has remained American policy ever since./11/   In accordance with this principle – known since 1980 as the “Carter Doctrine” – the United States has used force on several occasions: first, in 1987-88, to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers from Iranian missile and gunboat attacks, and then in 1990-91, to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. /12/

In explaining the need to use force on these occasions, U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of Persian Gulf oil to American economic stability and prosperity. “Our strategic interests in the Persian Gulf region, I think, are well known, but bear repeating,” then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 11, 1990, five weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In addition to our security ties to Saudi Arabia and other states in the area, “We obviously also have a significant interest because of the energy that is at stake in the Gulf.” Iraq already possesses 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, he explained, and, by seizing Kuwait, it acquired another 10 percent; the occupation of Kuwait also placed Iraqi forces within a few hundred miles of another 25 percent, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. “Once [Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses, he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy and on that of most of the other nations of the world as well.” It is for this reason, Cheney insisted, that the United States had no choice but to employ military force in the defense of Saudi Arabia and other friendly states in the area./13/

Once Iraqi forces were driven from Kuwait, the United States adopted a policy of “containment” of Iraq, employing severe economic sanctions and the enforcement of a “no-fly zone” over northern and Southern Iraq to weaken the Hussein regime and to prevent any new attacks on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. At the same time, Washington substantially expanded its military presence and basing structure in the Persian Gulf area in order to facilitate future U.S. military operations in the region. Most importantly, the Department of Defense “pre-positioned” vast quantities of arms and ammunition in Kuwait and Qatar so that American troops could be sent to the region and rushed into combat without having to wait weeks or months for the delivery of their heavy equipment from the United States. /14/


By the early spring of 2002, the Bush Administration had concluded that the policy of containment was not sufficient to eliminate the threat posed to American interests in the Gulf by Saddam Hussein, and that more aggressive action was required. Although Iraq’s alleged possessed of weapons of Mass destruction (WMD) was cited as the main reason for acting in this manner, it is instructive to note that Dick Cheney gave equal importance to U.S. energy security in his much-quoted speech of August 26, 2002. “Should [Hussein’s] ambitions [to acquire WMD] be realized, the implications would be enormous for the Middle East and the United States,” he told the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror and a seat at the top of ten percent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of world’s energy supplies, [and] directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region.”/15/

Of course, oil had nothing to do with Washington’s motives for America’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq – or so we were told. “The only interest the United States has in the region is furthering the cause of peace and stability, not in [Iraq’s] ability to generate oil,” said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, in late 2002./16/ But a close look at the Administration’s planning for the war reveals a very different picture. In a January briefing by an unnamed “senior Defense official” on U.S. plans for protecting Iraqi oil fields in the event of war, the Pentagon leadership revealed that General Tommy Franks and his staff “have crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect those fields as rapidly as possible in order to preserve those prior to destruction.”/17/

As indicated by the “senior official” (presumably Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz), the Bush Administration sought to capture Iraq’s oilfields intact in order to quickly resume Iraqi oil exports and thereby obtain a source of revenue for the occupation and reconstruction of the country. But this is just the beginning of America’s interests in Iraqi petroleum. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), Iraq possesses proven reserves of 112.5 billion barrels – more than any other country except Saudi Arabia – and is thought to possess another 200 billion barrels in as-yet-undeveloped fields./18/ If these assumptions prove accurate, and if the new regime in Baghdad opens its territory to exploitation by U.S. firms, Iraq could become one of America’s leading oil suppliers in the decades ahead./19/


With the successful U.S. invasion of Iraq, it now appears that the United States is in firm control of the Persian Gulf area and its critical oil supplies. But a realistic assessment of the situation in the Gulf would suggest that long-term stability cannot be assured. Looking into the future, it is evident that American policymakers face two critical challenges: first, to ensure that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers increase oil production to the extent required by growing U.S. (and international) demand; and second, to protect the Saudi regime against internal unrest and insurrection.

The need to increase Saudi production is particularly acute. Possessing one fourth of the world’s known oil reserves – an estimated 262 billion barrels – Saudi Arabia is the only country (other than Iraq) with the capacity to satisfy ever-increasing U.S. and international demand for petroleum. According to the DoE, Saudi Arabia’s net petroleum output must increase by 133 percent over the next 25 years, from 10.2 mbd in 2001 to 23.8 mbd in 2025, in order to satisfy anticipated world requirements at the end of that period./20/ But expanding Saudi capacity by 13.6 mbd – the equivalent of total current production by the United States and Mexico – will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and produce enormous technical challenges. The best way to achieve this increase, American analysts believe, is to persuade Saudi Arabia to open up its petroleum sector to substantial U.S. oil-company investment – and this is exactly what the Cheney report calls for. However, any effort by Washington to apply pressure on Riyadh to allow greater American oil investment in the kingdom is likely to meet with significant resistance from the royal family, which nationalized U.S. oil holdings in the 1970s and is fearful of being seen as overly subservient to American bidding.

The Administration faces yet another problem in Saudi Arabia: America’s long-term security relationship with the Saudi regime has become a major source of tension in that country, as growing numbers of young Saudis turn against the United States because of its close ties to Israel and what is seen as Washington’s anti-Islamic bias. It was from this anti-American milieu that Osama bin Laden recruited many of his followers in the late 1990s and obtained much of his financial support. After September 11, the Saudi government cracked down on some of these forces, but underground opposition to the regime’s military and economic cooperation with Washington persists. Finding a way to eradicate this opposition while at the same time persuading Riyadh to increase its oil deliveries to the United States will be one of the most difficult challenges facing American policymakers in the years ahead.

The United States also faces a continuing standoff with Iran. Although Iranian leaders expressed sympathy with the United States following 9/11 and provided modest assistance to U.S. forces during the campaign in Afghanistan, relations between the two countries remain strained. Iran was, of course, included among the three members of the “axis of evil” in President Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address, leading many in Tehran to fear that the American victory in Iraq will be followed by a U.S. invasion of Iran. Such fears are compounded by American charges that Iran is proceeding with the development of nuclear weapons. And while these concern may not lead to the early outbreak of war between the two countries, it is likely that tensions between Iran and the United States will remain high for the foreseeable future./21/


Although the United States will remain dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf area for a long time to come, American officials seek to minimize this dependency to the greatest degree possible by diversifying the nation’s sources of imported energy. “Diversity is important, not only for energy security but also for national security,” President Bush declared on May 17, 2001. “Over-dependence on any one source of energy, especially a foreign source, leaves us vulnerable to price shocks, supply interruptions, and in the worst case, blackmail.”/22/ To prevent this, the Administration’s energy plan calls for a substantial U.S. effort to boost production in a number of non-Gulf producing areas, including the Caspian Sea basin, the West coast of Africa, and Latin America.

Among these areas, the one that is likely to receive greatest attention from American policymakers is the Caspian Sea basin. According to the DoE, this area houses proven reserves (defined as 90 percent probable) of 17 to 33 billion barrels of oil, and possible reserves (defined as 50 percent probable) of 233 billion barrels – an amount that, if confirmed, would make it the second largest site of untapped reserves after the Persian Gulf area./23/ To ensure that much of this oil will eventually flow to consumers in the West, the U.S. government has made a strenuous effort to develop the area’s petroleum infrastructure and distribution system. (Because the Caspian Sea is land-locked, oil and natural gas from the region must travel by pipeline to other areas; any efforts to tap into the Caspian’s vast energy reserves must, therefore, entail the construction of long-distance export lines.)

The United States first sought to access to the Caspian’s vast oil supplies during the Clinton Administration. Until that time, the Caspian states (except for Iran) had been part of the Soviet Union, and so otside access to their energy reserves was tightly constricted. Once these states became independent, however, Washington waged an intensive diplomatic campaign to open their fields to Western oil-company investment and to allow the construction of new export pipelines. President Clinton himself played a key role in this effort, repeatedly telephoning leaders of the Caspian Sea countries and inviting them to the White House for periodic visits./24/   These efforts were essential, Clinton told President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan in 1997, to “diversify our energy supply and strengthen our nation’s security.”/25/

The Clinton Administration’s principal objective during this period was to secure approval for new export routes from the Caspian to markets in the West. Because the Administration was reluctant to see Caspian oil flow through Russia on its way to Western Europe (thereby giving Moscow a degree of control over Western energy supplies), and because transport through Iran was prohibited by U.S. law (because of its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction), President Clinton threw his support behind a plan to transport oil and gas from Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyhan in Turkey via Tbilisi in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Before leaving office, Clinton flew to Turkey to preside at the signing ceremony for a regional agreement permitting construction of the $3 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline./26/


While concentrating on the legal and logistical aspects of procuring Caspian energy, the Clinton Administration also sought to address the threat to future oil deliveries posed by instability and conflict in the region. Many of the states on which the United States hoped to rely for increased oil supplies or for the transport of Caspian energy were wracked by ethnic and separatist conflicts. With this in mind, the Administration initiated a number of military assistance programs aimed at strengthening the internal security capabilities of friendly states in the region. This entailed, inter alia, the provision of arms and military training to these forces, along with the conduct of joint military exercises./27/

Building on the efforts of President Clinton, the Bush Administration seeks to accelerate the expansion of Caspian production facilities and pipelines. “Foreign investors and technology are critical to rapid development of new commercially viable export routes,” the Cheney report affirms. “Such development will ensure that rising Caspian oil production is effectively integrated into world oil trade.” Particular emphasis is placed on completion of the BTC pipeline and on increasing the participation of U.S. companies in Caspian energy projects. Looking further ahead, the Administration also seeks to build an oil and gas pipeline from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on the east shore of the Caspian to Baku on the west shore, thus permitting energy from Central Asia to flow to the West via the BTC pipeline system./28/

Until September 11, U.S. involvement in the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia had largely been restricted to economic and diplomatic efforts, accompanied by a number of military aid agreements. To combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, however, the Department of Defense deployed tens of thousands of combat troops in the region and established military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Some of these troops have now been recalled to the United States, but it appears that the Department of Defense plans to retain its bases in Central Asia. Indeed, there is every indication that the United States plans to maintain a permanent military presence in the area and to strengthen its ties with friendly regimes in the area./29/ This presence is supposedly intended to assist in the war against terrorism, but it is clear that it is also intended to safeguard the flow of petroleum. Most noteworthy, in this regard, is the U.S. decision to deploy U.S. military instructors in Georgia in order to provide counter-insurgency training to the special units that will eventually guard the Georgian segment of the BTC pipeline./30/

Although the Bush Administration has high hopes for the development of Caspian Sea energy supplies, it is evident that many obstacles stand in the way of increased petroleum exports from this region. Some of these are logistical: until new pipelines can be built, it will be difficult to transport large quantities of Caspian oil to the West. Other obstacles are political and legal: the largely authoritarian regimes now in control of most of the former Soviet republics are riddled with corruption and reluctant to adopt the legal and tax reforms needed to attract large-scale Western investment. But when all is said and done, the major problem facing the United States in seeking to rely on the Caspian basin as an alternative to the Persian Gulf is the fact that the Caspian is no more stable than the Gulf, and so any effort to ensure the safety of energy deliveries will entail the same sort of military commitments that the United States has long made to its principal energy suppliers in the Gulf./31/


Another area that is viewed by the Bush Administration as a promising source of oil is West Africa. Although African states accounted for only about 10 percent of global oil production in 2000, the DoE predicts that their share will rise to 13 percent by 2020 – adding, in the process, another 8.3 mbd to global supplies./32/ This is welcome news in Washington. “West Africa is expected to be one of the fastest-growing sources of oil and gas for the American market,” the Cheney report observes./33/

The Administration expects to concentrate its efforts in two countries: Nigeria and Angola. Nigeria now produces about 2.2 mbd, and is expected to double its capacity by 2020 – with much of this additional oil going to the United States. But Nigeria lacks the wherewithal to finance this expansion on its own, and its existing legal system – not to mention widespread corruption and ethnic unrest – tends to discourage investment by outside firms./34/ The Cheney report thus calls upon the Secretaries of Energy, Commerce, and Energy to work with Nigerian officials “to improve the climate for U.S. oil and gas trade, investment, and operations.” A similar outlook governs the Administration’s stance toward Angola. With sufficient external investment, the Cheney report notes, Angola “is thought to have the potential to double its exports over the next ten years.”/35/ But here, too, endemic corruption and an uninviting legal climate have discouraged substantial investment by foreign firms./36/

Much as in the Caspian region, moreover, American efforts to obtain additional oil from Africa could be frustrated by political unrest and ethnic warfare. Indeed, much of Nigeria’s production was shut down during the spring of 2003 because of ethnic violence in the Delta region, the site of much of Nigeria’s onshore oil./37/ The United States is not likely to respond to these challenges by deploying American troops in the area – that undoubtedly would conjure up images of colonialism and so would provoke strong opposition at home and abroad. But Washington is willing to increase its military aid to friendly regimes in the region. Total U.S. assistance to Angola and Nigeria – the two countries of greatest interest to Washington – amounted to some $300 million in Fiscal Years 2002-2004, a significant increase over the previous three-year period./38/   And while the deployment of American troops in the region is not a likely prospect in the short term, the Department of Defense has begun to look at potential basing sites in the region – most notably in the islands of Sno Tomé e Principe – in the expectation that such a deployment may someday be deemed necessary./39/


Finally, the Cheney plan calls for a significant increase in U.S. oil imports from Latin America. The United States already obtains a large share of its imported oil from these countries – Venezuela is now the third largest supplier of oil to the United States (after Canada and Saudi Arabia), Mexico is the fourth largest, and Columbia is the seventh – and Washington hopes to rely even more heavily on this region in the future. As indicated by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, “President Bush recognizes not only the need for an increased supply of energy, but also the critical role the hemisphere will play in the Administration’s energy policy.”/40/

In presenting these aspirations to governments in the region, U.S. officials stress their desire to establish a common, cooperative framework for energy development. “We intend to stress the enormous potential of greater regional energy cooperation as we look to the future,” Abraham told the Fifth Hemispheric Energy Initiative Ministerial Conference in Mexico City on March 8, 2001. “Our goal [is] to build relationships among our neighbors that will contribute to our shared energy security….”/41/ But however sincere, these comments overlook the fundamental reality: all of this “cooperation” is essentially aimed at channeling more and more of the region’s oil supplies to the United States.

The Bush energy plan places particular emphasis on the acquisition of additional oil from Mexico and Venezuela. “Mexico is a leading and reliable source of imported oil,” the Cheney report observes. “Its large reserve base, approximately 25 percent larger than our own proven reserves, makes Mexico a likely source of increased oil production over the next decade.”/42/   Venezuela is considered vital to U.S. energy plans because it possesses large reserves of conventional oil, and because it houses vast supplies of so-called heavy oil – a sludge-like material that can be converted to conventional oil through a costly refining process. According to the NEP, “Venezuelan success in making heavy oil deposits commercially viable suggests that they will contribute substantially to the diversity of global energy supply, and to our own energy supply mix over the medium to long term.”/43/

But U.S. efforts to tap into abundant Mexican and Venezuelan energy supplies will run into a major difficulty: because of a long history of colonial and imperial predation, these two countries have placed their energy reserves under state control and have established strong legal and constitutional barriers to foreign involvement in domestic oil production. Thus, while they may seek to capitalize from the economic benefits of increased oil exports to the United States, they are likely to resist both increased U.S. participation in their energy industries and also any significant increase in oil extraction.   Such resistance will no doubt prove frustrating to American officials, who seek exactly these outcomes. The NEP thus calls on the Secretaries of Commerce, Energy, and State to lobby their Latin American counterparts to eliminate or soften barriers to increased American oil investment.

These endeavors are likely to meet particularly strong resistance in Venezuela, where oil production has long been under state control. A new Constitution adopted in 1999 bans foreign investment in the oil sector, and President Hugo Chávez has taken other steps to impede such investment. Following a prolonged general strike organized by opponents of the President in late 2002 and early 2003, Chávez effectively seized control of the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), and fired those managers considered most amenable to links with foreign firms./44/   (Although the United States is not known to have played a direct role in the strike, many of its leaders had been received warmly in Washington and given signals of the Administration’s sympathy for their cause.) So long as Chávez remains in power, then, it is likely that Washington will continue to favor his replacement with someone more sympathetic to U.S. energy priorities.

Energy considerations are also likely to figure prominently in U.S. relations with Colombia. Although known primarily for its role as a supplier of illegal drugs to the United States, Colombia is also a major oil supplier to this country./45/ Efforts to increase Colombian oil production have been hampered, however, by the frequent attacks on oil installations and pipelines mounted by anti-government guerrilla groups. Claiming that these groups also provide protection to the drug traffickers, the United States is assisting the Colombian military and police in their efforts to suppress the guerrillas. Furthermore, under a special $94 appropriation awarded by Congress in 2002, American military instructors are providing counter-insurgency training to the Colombian forces assigned to the protection of the 500-mile-long CaZo Límon pipeline, connecting oilfields in the interior to refineries and export facilities on the Caribbean coast./46/ In seeking additional supplies of energy, therefore, the United States is likely to become increasingly embroiled in the civil war in Colombia.



The implications of all of the above are unmistakable: in its pursuit of ever-growing supplies of imported petroleum, the United States is intruding ever more assertively into the internal affairs of the oil-supplying nations and, in the process, exposing itself to an ever-increasing risk of involvement in local and regional conflict situations. This reality has already influenced U.S. relations with the major oil-producing nations and is sure to have an even greater impact in the future.

At no point, however, does the NEP acknowledge this fundamental reality. Instead, the Cheney plan focuses on the economic and diplomatic dimensions of U.S. energy policy – suggesting thereby that America’s energy dilemmas can somehow be overcome in this fashion. But the architects of the Bush/Cheney policy know better: an energy plan that calls for increased reliance on the Persian Gulf countries and on other suppliers located in areas of recurring turmoil will not be able to overcome every conceivable threat to American energy interests through economic and diplomatic efforts alone. At some point, it may prove impossible to ensure access to a particular source of oil without the use of military force.

It is in this regard that one cannot help but be struck by the striking parallels between the Administration’s energy policy and its preferred military strategy. Here again, as in the case of the Administration’s energy plan, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what is truly intended. In the view of most observers, the principal thrust of the Administration’s military policy is the development of super-sophisticated weapons and the establishment of a national ballistic missile defense system. But while these are, in fact, major objectives of the Administration plan, they are not the most important objective. Rather, the Administration’s top objective is the enhancement of America’s “power projection” forces – meaning those forces that can be transported from established bases in the United States and Europe to distant combat zones, and then fight their way into the area or otherwise come to the assistance of a beleaguered ally. Typically, power projection forces are said to include both the ground and air combat units intended for penetration of enemy territory plus the ships and planes used to carry these units into the battle zone. Power projection forces also include long-range bombers and the naval platforms – aircraft carriers, surface combatants, and submarines – used to launch planes or missiles against onshore targets.

It is precisely these sorts of forces that have been accorded top priority in the military plans of the Bush Administration. In his first major speech on U.S. military policy, while still a candidate, Bush declared, “Our forces in the next century must be agile, lethal, readily deployable, and require a minimum of logistical support.” In particular, our land forces “must be lighter [and] more lethal”; our naval forces must be able “to destroy targets from great distances”; and our air forces “must be able to strike from across the world with pinpoint accuracy.”/47/ These are exactly the sort of weapons that the Bush Administration has sought since assuming office in February 2001, and, as we have seen, these are precisely the sort of weapons that the Department of Defense relied upon when conducting the March/April 2003 invasion of Iraq.

By the beginning of 2003, the White House had succeeded in incorporating many of its basic strategic objectives into formal military doctrine. These objectives stress the steady enhancement of America’s capacity to project military power into areas of turmoil – that is, to strengthen precisely those capabilities that would be used to protect or gain access to overseas sources of petroleum. Whether this was the product of a conscious linkage between energy and security policy is not something that can be ascertained at this time; what is undeniable is that President Bush has given top priority to the enhancement of America’s power projection capabilities while at the same time endorsing an energy strategy that entails increased U.S. dependence on oil derived from areas of recurring crisis and conflict.


What we have, therefore, is a two-pronged strategy that effectively governs U.S. policy toward much of the world. One arm of this strategy is aimed at securing more oil from the rest of the world; the other is aimed at enhancing America’s capacity to intervene in exactly such locales. And while these two objectives have arisen from different sets of concerns, one energy-driven and the other security-driven, they have merged into a single, integrated design for American world dominance in the 21st Century. And it is this combination of strategies, more than anything else, that will govern America’s international behavior in the decades ahead./48/

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  1. 1. Spencer Abraham, “A National Report on America’s Energy Crisis,” remarks before the National Energy Summit, March 19, 2001, electronic document accessed at www.energy.gov on April 24, 2001.
  2. 2. See Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “White House Acknowledges More Contacts with Enron,” The New York Times, May 23, 2003.
  3. 3. For background and discussion of these choices, see Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century, Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations, Edward L. Morse, Chair, April 2001, electronic document accessed at www.bakerinstitute.org.
  4. 4. National Energy Policy Development Group, National Energy Policy (Washington, D.C.: The White House, May 2001). (Hereinafter cited as NEPDG, NEP 2001.)
  5. 5. From the transcript of Bush’s speech at River Centre Convention Center, St. Paul, Minn., May 17, 2001, as published in The New York Times, May 18, 2001.
  6. 6. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, pp. 1, 3-4.
  7. 7. Ibid., Figure 2, p. x.
  8. 8. To give just one example, the NEP calls on the Secretaries of Energy, Commerce, and State “to deepen their commercial dialogue with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and other Caspian states to provide a strong, transparent, and stable business climate for energy and related infrastructure projects.” Ibid., chap. 8, p. 13.
  9. For elaboration of this point, see Klare, “The Deadly Nexus: Oil, Terrorism, and America’s National Security,” Current History, December 2002, pp. 414-20.
  10. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, p. 4.
  11. For background, see Michael A. Palmer, Guardians of the Gulf (New York: The Free Press, 1992). See also Michael Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001), pp. 51-80.
  12. See Palmer, Guardians of the Gulf, pp. 102-242.
  13. 13. U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, Crisis in the Persian Gulf Region: U.S. Policy Options and Implications, Hearings, 101st Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990), pp. 10-13.
  14. For details, see Klare, Resource Wars, pp. 62-68.
  15. From the transcript of Cheney’s speech in The New York Times, August 27, 2002.
  16. As quoted in Serge Schmemann, “Controlling Iraq’s Oil Wouldn’t Be Simple,” The New York Times, November 3, 2002.
  17. From the transcript of a Department of Defense news briefing, The Pentagon, January 24, 2003, electronic document accessed at www.defenselink.mil on January 27, 2003.
  18. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Iraq,” Country Analysis Brief, electronic document accessed at www.eia.doe/gov/cabs/iraq.html on October 23, 2002.
  19. For discussion of Iraq’s long-term energy potential and the potential involvement of international firms, see International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2001 (Paris: IEA, 2001), pp. 104-7. See also “Don’t Mention the O-Word,” The Economist, September 14, 2002, pp. 25-27; Neela Banerjee, “Iraq Is a Strategic Issue for Oil Giants, Too, The New York Times, February 22, 2003.
  20. DoE/EIA, IEO 2003, Table D1, p. 235.
  21. For background and discussion, see Kenneth Katzman, Iran: Current Developments and U.S. Policy, Issue Brief for Congress (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, March 13, 2003). See also David S. Cloud, “U.S., Iran, Stall on Road to Rapprochement,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2003.
  22. From the transcript of Bush’ speech of May 17, 2001, as published in The New York Times, May 18, 2001.
  23. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Caspian Sea Region,” Country Analysis Brief, February 2002, electronic document accessed at http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/caspian.html on February 22, 2002.
  24. For background, see Klare, Resource Wars, pp. 84-92.
  25. “Visit of President Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan,” statement by the Press Secretary, the White House, August 1, 1997, electronic document accessed at www.library.whitehouse.gov on March 2, 1998. [add: background on US oil company /admin interest in Caspian]
  26. For background and discussion, see Klare, Resource Wars, pp. 88-92, 100-4.
  27. Ibid., pp. 95-97.
  28. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, pp. 12-13.
  29. See “The Yankees Are Coming,” The Economist, January 19, 2002, p. 37; Jean-Christophe Peuch, “Central Asia: U.S. Military Buildup Shifts Spheres of Influence,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague, January 11, 2002.
  30. See Chip Cummins, “U.S. Plans to Send Military Advisers to Georgia Republic,” Wall Street Journal, February 27, 2002; Oil and Gas Journal Online, “Azerbaijan, Georgia Address Security Threats to BTC Pipeline,” January 23, 2003, electronic document accessed at www.ogj.pennnet.com on January 24, 2003.
  31. For discussion, see Jim Nichol, Central Asia’s New States: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, Issue Brief for Congress (Washinton, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, April 1, 2003). See also Martha Brill Olcott, “The Caspian’s False Promise,” Foreign Policy, Summer 1998, pp. 95-113.
  32. DoE/EIA, IEO 2002, Table D1, p. 239.
  33. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, p. 11. See also “Black Gold,” The Economist, October 26, 2002, pp. 59-60; James Dao, “In Quietly Courting Africa, White House Likes Dowry,” The New York Times, September 19, 2002.
  34. See U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Nigeria,” Country Analysis Brief, January 2002, electronic document accessed at www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/nigeria.html on October 21, 2002.
  35. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, p. 11.
  36. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Angola,” Country Analysis Brief, November 2002, electronic document accessed at www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/angola.html on December 2, 2002.
  37. See “Nigerian Troops Move Into Delta to Put Down Ethnic Riots,” The New York Times, March 20, 2003; Sarah Moore, “Nigeria’s New Challenge for Big Oil,” Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2002; Somini Sengupta, “Nigerian Strife, Little Noted, Is Latest Threat to Flow of Oil,” The New York Times, March 22, 2003.
  38. U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification: Foreign Operations, Fiscal Year 2004, February 2003, electronic document accessed at www.fas.org on February 27, 2003.
  39. See Antony Goldman and James Lamont, “Nigeria and Angola to Discuss U.S. Plan for Regional Military Base,” Financial Times, October 4, 2001; “U.S. Naval Base to Protect Sao Tome Oil,” BBC News World Edition, August 22, 2002, electronic document accessed at news.bbc/co.uk on March 6, 2003.
  40. Spencer Abraham, Remarks before the Fifth Hemispheric Energy Initiative Ministerial Conference, Mexico City, March 8, 2001, electronic document accessed at www.energy.gov/HQ/Docs/speeches/2001/marss/mexico_v.html on April 24, 20041. Ibid.
  41. NEPDG, NEP 2001, chap. 8, p. 9.
  42. Ibid., Chap. 8, p. 10.
  43. See “Venezuela Oil Woes Are Long Term,” Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2003; Juan Forero, “Venezuelan Oilman: Rebel with a New Cause,” The New York Times, Febriary 9, 2003. For background on the Venezuelan oil industry, see U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Venezuela,” Country Analysis Brief, December 2002, electronic document accessed at www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/venez.html on December 20, 2002.
  44. For background on the Colombian oil industry, see U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “Colombia,” Country Analysis Brief, May 2002, electronic document accessed at www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/colombia.html on May 29, 2002.
  45. See Juan Forero, “New Role for U.S. in Colombia: Protecting a Vital Oil Pipeline,” The New York Times, October 4, 2002.
  46. Speech by Governor George W. Bush at The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina, September 23, 1999, electronic document accessed at www.georgewbush.com on December 2, 1999.
  47. The author first laid out this argument in Klare, “Les vrais desseins de M. George Bush,” le Monde Diplomatique, November 2002, pp. 1, 16.
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