[A-List] US: militarizing energy policy

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Oct 13 04:22:17 MDT 2004

The oil that drives the US military
By Michael T Klare
Asia Times, October 9 2004

In the first US combat operation of the war in Iraq, navy commandos stormed
an offshore oil-loading platform. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf
night," an overexcited reporter for the New York Times wrote on March 22,
2003, "Navy Seals [Sea, Air and Land special forces] seized two Iraqi oil
terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly
armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's
vast oil empire."

A year and a half later, American soldiers are still struggling to maintain
control over these vital petroleum facilities - and the fighting is no
longer bloodless. On April 24, two American sailors and a coastguardsman
were killed when a boat they sought to intercept, presumably carrying
suicide bombers, exploded near the Khor al-Amaya loading platform. Other
Americans have come under fire while protecting some of the many
installations in Iraq's "oil empire".

Indeed, Iraq has developed into a two-front war: the battles for control
over Iraq's cities and the constant struggle to protect its far-flung
petroleum infrastructure against sabotage and attack. The first contest has
been widely reported in the US press; the second has received far less
attention. Yet the fate of Iraq's oil infrastructure could prove no less
significant than that of its embattled cities. A failure to prevail in this
contest would eliminate the economic basis upon which a stable Iraqi
government could someday emerge. "In the grand scheme of things," a senior
officer told the New York Times, "there may be no other place where our
armed forces are deployed that has a greater strategic importance." In
recognition of this, significant numbers of US soldiers have been assigned
to oil-security functions.

Top officials insist that these duties will eventually be taken over by
Iraqi forces, but day by day this glorious moment seems to recede ever
further into the distance. So long as US forces remain in Iraq, a
significant number of them will undoubtedly spend their time guarding highly
vulnerable pipelines, refineries, loading facilities and other petroleum
installations. With thousands of kilometers of pipeline and hundreds of
major facilities at risk, this task will prove endlessly demanding - and
unrelievedly hazardous. At the moment, the guerrillas seem capable of
striking the country's oil lines at times and places of their choosing,
their attacks often sparking massive explosions and fires.

Guarding the pipelines
It has been argued that America's oil-protection role is a peculiar feature
of the war in Iraq, where petroleum installations are strewn about and the
national economy is largely dependent on oil revenues. But Iraq is hardly
the only country where US troops are risking their lives on a daily basis to
protect the flow of petroleum. In Colombia, Saudi Arabia and the Republic of
Georgia, US 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 US military is
increasingly being converted into a global oil-protection service.

The situation in Georgia is a perfect example of this trend. Ever since the
Soviet Union broke apart in 1992, US oil companies and government officials
have sought to gain access to the huge oil and natural-gas reserves of the
Caspian Sea basin - especially in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and
Turkmenistan. Some experts believe that as many as 200 billion barrels of
untapped oil lie ready to be discovered in the Caspian area, about seven
times the amount left in the United States. But the Caspian itself is
landlocked and so the only way to transport its oil to market in the West is
by pipelines crossing the Caucasus region - the area encompassing Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Georgia and the war-torn Russian republics of Chechnya,
Dagestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia.

US firms are now building a major pipeline through this volatile area.
Stretching a perilous 1,600 kilometers from Baku in Azerbaijan through
Tbilisi in Georgia to Ceyhan in Turkey, it is eventually slated to carry a
million barrels of oil a day to the West, but will face the constant threat
of sabotage by Islamic militants and ethnic separatists along its entire
length. The United States has already assumed significant responsibility for
its protection, providing millions of dollars in arms and equipment to the
Georgian military and deploying military specialists in Tbilisi to train and
advise the Georgian troops assigned to protect this vital conduit. This US
presence is only likely to expand in 2005 or 2006 when the pipeline begins
to transport oil and fighting in the area intensifies.

Or take embattled Colombia, where US forces are increasingly assuming
responsibility for the protection of that country's vulnerable oil
pipelines. These vital conduits carry crude petroleum from fields in the
interior, where a guerrilla war boils, to ports on the Caribbean coast from
which it can be shipped to buyers in the United States and elsewhere. For
years, left-wing guerrillas have sabotaged the pipelines - portraying them
as concrete expressions of foreign exploitation and elitist rule in Bogota,
the capital - to deprive the Colombian government of desperately needed
income. Seeking to prop up the government and enhance its capacity to fight
the guerrillas, Washington is already spending hundreds of millions of
dollars to enhance oil-infrastructure security, beginning with the
Cano-Limon pipeline, the sole conduit connecting Occidental Petroleum's
prolific fields in Arauca province with the Caribbean coast. As part of this
effort, US Army Special Forces personnel from Fort Bragg, North Carolina,
are now helping to train, equip, and guide a new contingent of Colombian
forces whose sole mission will be to guard the pipeline and fight the
guerrillas along its 770km route.

Oil and instability
The use of US 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 US foreign energy

America's dependence on imported petroleum has been growing steadily since
1972, when domestic output reached its maximum (or "peak") output of 11.6
million barrels per day (mb/d). Domestic production is now running at about
9mb/d and is expected to continue to decline as older fields are depleted.
(Even if some oil is eventually extracted from the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge in Alaska, as the administration of President George W Bush desires,
this downward trend will not be reversed.) Yet America's total oil
consumption remains on an upward course; now approximating 20mb/d, it's
projected to reach 29mb/d by 2025. This means ever more of the nation's
total petroleum supply will have to be imported - 11mb/d today (about 55% of
total US consumption) but 20mb/d in 2025 (69% of consumption).

More significant than this growing reliance on foreign oil, an increasing
share of that oil will come from hostile, war-torn countries in the
developing world, not from friendly, stable countries such as Canada or
Norway. This is the case because the older industrialized countries have
already consumed a large share of their oil inheritance, while many
producers in the developing world still possess vast reserves of untapped
petroleum. As a result, we are seeing a historic shift in the center of
gravity for world oil production - from the industrialized countries of the
global North to the developing nations of the global South, which are often
politically unstable, torn by ethnic and religious conflicts, home to
extremist organizations, or some combination of all three.

Whatever deeply rooted historical antagonisms exist in these countries, oil
production itself usually acts as a further destabilizing influence. Sudden
infusions of petroleum wealth in otherwise poor and underdeveloped countries
tend to deepen divides between rich and poor that often fall along ethnic or
religious lines, leading to persistent conflict over the distribution of
petroleum revenues. To prevent such turbulence, ruling elites such as the
royal family in Saudi Arabia or the new oil potentates of Azerbaijan and
Kazakhstan restrict or prohibit public expressions of dissent and rely on
the repressive machinery of state security forces to crush opposition
movements. With legal, peaceful expressions of dissent foreclosed in this
manner, opposition forces soon see no options but to engage in armed
rebellion or terrorism.

There is another aspect of this situation that bears examination. Many of
the emerging oil producers in the developing world were once colonies of and
harbor deep hostility toward the former imperial powers of Europe. The
United States is seen by many in these countries as the modern inheritor of
this imperial tradition. Growing resentment over social and economic traumas
induced by globalization is aimed at the United States. Because oil is
viewed as the primary motive for US involvement in these areas, and because
the giant US oil corporations are seen as the very embodiment of US power,
anything to do with oil - pipelines, wells, refineries, loading platforms -
is seen by insurgents as a legitimate and attractive target for attack;
hence the raids on pipelines in Iraq, on oil-company offices in Saudi
Arabia, and on oil tankers in Yemen.

Militarizing energy policy
US leaders have responded to this systemic challenge to stability in
oil-producing areas in a consistent fashion: by employing military means to
guarantee the unhindered flow of petroleum. This approach was first adopted
by the administrations of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower after World War
II, when Soviet adventurism in Iran and pan-Arab upheavals in the Middle
East seemed to threaten the safety of Persian Gulf oil deliveries. It was
given formal expression by president Jimmy Carter in January 1980 when, in
response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution
in Iran, he announced that the secure flow of Persian Gulf oil was in "the
vital interests of the United States of America", and that in protecting
this interest the United States would use "any means necessary, including
military force". Carter's principle of using force to protect the flow of
oil was later cited by president George H W Bush to justify US intervention
in the Gulf War of 1990-91, and it provided the underlying strategic
rationale for America's 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, US officials have begun to extend it to
other major producing zones, including the Caspian Sea basin, Africa and
Latin America. The initial step in this direction was taken by president
Bill Clinton, who sought to exploit the energy potential of the Caspian
basin and, worrying about instability in the area, established military ties
with future suppliers, including Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, and with the
pivotal transit state of Georgia. It was Clinton who first championed the
construction of a pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan and who initially took steps
to protect that conduit by boosting the military capabilities of the
countries involved. President George W Bush has built on this effort,
increasing military aid to these states and deploying US combat advisers in
Georgia; Bush is also considering the establishment of permanent US military
bases in the Caspian region.

Typically, such moves are justified as being crucial to the "war on terror".
A close reading of Pentagon and State Department documents shows, however,
that anti-terrorism and the protection of oil supplies are closely related
in administration thinking. When requesting funds in 2004 to establish a
"rapid-reaction brigade" in Kazakhstan, for example, the State Department
told Congress that such a force is needed to "enhance Kazakhstan's
capability to respond to major terrorist threats to oil platforms" in the
Caspian Sea.

As noted, a very similar trajectory is now under way in Colombia. The US
military presence in oil-producing areas of Africa, though less conspicuous,
is growing rapidly. The Department of Defense has stepped up its arms
deliveries to military forces in Angola and Nigeria, and is helping to train
their officers and enlisted personnel; meanwhile, Pentagon officials have
begun to look for permanent US bases in the area, focusing on Senegal,
Ghana, Mali, Uganda and Kenya. Although these officials tend to talk only
about terrorism when explaining the need for such facilities, one officer
told Greg Jaffe of the Wall Street Journal in June 2003 that "a key mission
for US forces [in Africa] would be to ensure that Nigeria's oilfields, which
in the future could account for as much as 25% of all US oil imports, are

An increasing share of US naval forces is also being committed to the
protection of foreign oil shipments. The navy's 5th Fleet, based at the
island state of Bahrain, now spends much of its time patrolling the vital
tanker lanes of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz - the narrow
waterway connecting the Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the larger oceans
beyond. The navy has also beefed up its ability to protect vital sea lanes
in the South China Sea - the site of promising oilfields claimed by China,
Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia - and in the Strait of Malacca, the
critical sea-link between the Persian Gulf and America's allies in East
Asia. Even Africa has come in for increased attention from the navy. To
increase the US naval presence in waters adjoining Nigeria and other key
producers, carrier battle groups assigned to the European Command (which
controls the South Atlantic) will shorten their future visits to the
Mediterranean "and spend half the time going down the west coast of Africa",
the command's top officer, General James Jones, announced in May 2003.

This, then, is the future of US military involvement abroad. While
anti-terrorism and traditional national-security rhetoric will be employed
to explain risky deployments abroad, a growing number of American soldiers
and sailors will be committed to the protection of overseas oilfields,
pipelines, refineries and tanker routes. And because these facilities are
likely to come under increasing attack from guerrillas and terrorists, the
risk to American lives will grow accordingly. Inevitably, Americans will pay
a higher price in blood for every additional liter of oil they obtain from

Michael T Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at
Hampshire College. This article is based on his new book, Blood and Oil: The
Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency
(Metropolitan/Henry Holt). This article appeared on Tomdispatch and is used
here by permission.

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