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Las Guerras Por los Recursos / Resource Wars
By Michael T. Klare Ediciones Urano
Copyright © 2003Michael T. Klare
All right reserved.
Wealth, Resources, and Power:
The Changing Parameters of Global Security
On the morning of September 15, 1997, five hundred American paratroopers from the army's 82nd Airborne Division jumped into an arid battle zone near the Tien Shan mountains in southern Kazakhstan. Their assigned mission: to link up with friendly forces from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan and engage in simulated combat against "renegade forces" opposed to a regional peace agreement. Heading the American contingentand the first to make the jumpwas General John Sheehan, a highly decorated marine officer and the commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command. The parachute drop was undertaken, Sheehan told reporters at the scene, to reassure local leaders that the United States "is ready to stand beside them and participate" if American help is needed in a future regional crisis.
General Sheehan's remarks were no doubt taken from the standard script provided to American officers for use on occasions of this sort. But nothing else about Operation CENTRAZBAT 97as this exercise was knowncan be described as ordinary. For one thing, the exercise began with the longest airborne operation inhuman history, entailing a flight of some 7,700 miles from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Shymkent in southern Kazakhstan. It also represented the first deployment of American combat troops in what had been the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union. (Kazakhstan, until 1991, had been known as the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.) Finally, it was the first instance of direct U.S. military cooperation with the newly independent states of the Caspian Sea regionstates that are ruled, for the most part, by former functionaries in the Soviet imperial apparatus.
Why choose Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan for such an ambitious undertaking? In justifying this elaborate operation, Pentagon officials maintained that their sole objective was to demonstrate American support for the continued stability of the former Soviet republics. "What we need here are independent, sovereign states that are able to defend themselves," explained Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Catherine Kelleher, the highest-ranking Pentagon official to attend the event. Most observers understood, however, that much more was at stake: with new surveys indicating the presence of vast reserves of oil and natural gas in the Caspian region, U.S. officials have resolved to ensure that much of this energy eventually flows to the West.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the Caspian Sea basin (comprising Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, along with parts of Russia and Iran) harbors as much as 270 billion barrels of oil, or about one-fifth of the world's total proven reserves of petroleum. (Only the Persian Gulf, with 675 billion barrels in proven reserves, holds a larger supply.) The Department of Energy also estimates that the Caspian region houses some 665 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, representing one-eighth of the world's gas reserves. Until 1992, these oil and gas deposits (except for those held by Iran) were the exclusive property of the Soviet state; with the breakup of the USSR, however, much of that supply came under the control of the new nations of the Caspianall of which now seek to export their energy resources to the West.
For Western oil companies, the opening of the Caspian basin to foreign investment has proved an extraordinary bonanza. Virtually all of the giant energy firms have announced plans to team up with local enterprises in exploiting the Caspian's oil and gas supplies. For this reason the American government has focused enormous attention on the region and its economic development. Eager to promote the global expansion of U.S. trade and investment, the Commerce Department and other federal agencies have aided American companies in their efforts to establish joint ventures with Central Asian energy firms and to establish the necessary infrastructure and pipelines. Beyond this, however, American officials see a strategic interest in the development of Caspian energy supplies: because of the continuing risk of conflict in the Persian Gulf area, Washington hopes to convert the Caspian basin into an alternative source of energy that can satisfy Western needs if and when oil deliveries from the Gulf are blocked or suspended.
The strategic nature of American interest in the Caspian region was first articulated by the Department of State in an April 1997 report to Congress. As a major consumer of oil, the report indicated, the United States has a direct interest in "enhancing and diversifying" world energy supplies. Such diversification is important not only in economic termsto provide an additional source of energy for American industries and transportation systemsbut also as a security measure, to build a hedge against supply disruptions elsewhere. Accordingly, it has become U.S. policy "to promote rapid development of Caspian energy resources" in order to "reinforce Western energy security."
The belief that Caspian Sea oil represents a strategic as well as an economic interest of the United States was expressed publicly for the first time by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. In a speech at Johns Hopkins University on July 21, 1997, Talbott spoke of America's growing stake in the independence and stability of the Central Asian republics. "It would matter profoundly to the United States," he declared, if U.S. oil companies were denied access to "an area that sits on as much as 200 billion barrels of oil."
Ten days later, on August 1, 1997, President Clinton elaborated on these themes during a meeting at the White House with Heydar Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan. Aliyevwho had once served as a senior KGB official and member of the Soviet Politburowas invited to Washington to discuss American involvement in the exploitation of Azerbaijan's vast energy reserves. After lengthy consideration of the practical issues involved, Clinton assured Aliyev of strong U.S. support for his plans to sell Azerbaijani oil to the West. "In a world of growing energy demand," Clinton explained, "our nation cannot afford to rely on any single region for our energy supplies." By working closely with Azerbaijan to tap the Caspian's resources, "we not only help Azerbaijan to prosper, we also help diversify our energy supply and strengthen our nation's security."
American officials do not use such language idly. When a president suggests that the nation's security is at stake in a particular region or issue, it usually means that Washington is prepared to use military force to protect that interest. President Jimmy Carter made this explicit with respect to Persian Gulf oil in 1980, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. "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," he told a joint session of Congress, "[and] will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." (This was the original formulation of the "Carter Doctrine," later used to justify U.S. intervention in Kuwait.) Although President Clinton did not go this far in his 1997 remarks to Aliyev, he clearly laid the foundation for such a posture by associating the Caspian's energy potential with American national security.
Coming only six weeks after Aliyev's visit to Washington, Operation CENTRAZBAT 97 must be viewed against this backdrop. Having identified the Caspian's energy supplies as a security interest of the United States, the White House was now demonstratingin the most conspicuous manner possiblethat the United States possessed both the will and the capacity to defend that interest with military force if necessary. The fact that General Sheehan and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelleher accompanied U.S. troops to Kazakhstan merely underscores the importance attached to this operation by senior government officials.
Since then, the Department of Defense has provided further indications of America's growing strategic interest in the Caspian Sea region. A second CENTRAZBAT exercise, held in September 1998, brought several hundred U.S. soldiers from Fort Drum, New York, to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and then to a military training area in northern Kyrgyzstan. In 1999, moreover, the Army Training and Doctrine Command devised an elaborate computer model of the Caspian basin for use in testing possible scenarios for U.S. intervention in the area. American and Azerbaijani officials have also discussed establishing a permanent U.S. military base in Azerbaijan.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF
AMERICAN SECURITY POLICY
The extension of American military power into the Caspian Sea region is, by itself, a momentous geopolitical development. As shown by the CENTRAZBAT exercises, it will require Washington to build and sustain military relationships with the Central Asian republics, as well as to construct a globe-spanning logistical capability. In time, it could also involve the establishment of American military bases in an area that was once part of the Soviet Union. But these initiatives are significant not only in regard to U.S. involvement in Central Asia: they also signal a dramatic shift in the basic orientation of American military policy.
For over forty years, from the late 1940s until 1990, the overarching, goal of U.S. strategy was to create and maintain a global system of alliances capable of containing and, if necessary, defeating the Soviet Union. All other considerations, including the pursuit of America's own national interests, were subordinated to the all-encompassing mission of "containment." Since the end of the Cold War, however, the requirement for far-flung alliances has appeared less urgent, while the need to promote America's own security interests has seemed more pressing. The maintenance of NATO and other alliance systems remains an important priority, but other objectivesof a more self-interested, tangible characterhave come to dominate the American strategic agenda.
Among these objectives, none has so profoundly influenced American military policy as the determination to ensure U.S. access to overseas supplies of vital resources. As the American economy grows and U.S. industries come to rely more on imported supplies of critical materials, the protection of global resource flows is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of American security policy. This is evident not only in the geographic dimensions of strategythe growing emphasis on military operations in the Persian Gulf, the Caspian, and other energy-producing areasbut also in its operational aspects. Whereas weapons technology and alliance politics once dominated the discourse on military affairs, American strategy now focuses on oil-field protection, the defense of maritime trade routes, and other aspects of resource security.
This new focus can be seen, for instance, in the attention being paid to energy concerns by the U.S. intelligence community. "We have to recognize that our nation will not be secure if global energy, supplies are not secure," John C. Gannon, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, observed in 1996. This is so, he indicated, because "we need a substantial quantity of imported oil to sustain our economy." Because much of this oil comes from the Persian Gulf countries, "the U.S. will need to keep close watch on events and remain engaged in the Persian Gulf to safeguard the flow of vital oil supplies."
The protection of critical raw materials and transit routes has, of course, been a major theme in American security policy for a very long time. In the late 1800s, for example, the nation's leading naval strategist, Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, won widespread support for his argument that growing U.S. participation in international trade required the establishment of a large and powerful navy. Similar views were advanced by President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s, and later by key figures in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Concern over the safety of resource supplies also influenced American strategy during World War II and the immediate postwar period. Only with the outbreak of the Cold War did U.S. strategists diminish their emphasis on resource issues, turning their attention instead to political and military developments in Europe and Asia.
With the end of the Cold War, resource issues reassumed their central role in U.S. military planning. One could argue, then, that the current stress on resource security represents little more than a return to the status quo antethat is, to the strategic environment that prevailed during the first half of the twentieth century. To a certain extent, this appears to be true. For example, the navy's emphasis on the safety of America's "sea lines of communication"the maritime trade routes that connect one part of the world to anotherrests on arguments originally laid out by Captain Mahan in the late nineteenth century. But the current focus on resource concerns represents more than just a return to the past; above all, it reflects the growing importance of industrial might and the economic dimensions of security.
At the heart of this shift in policy is a belief that the defining parameters of power and influence have changed since the Cold War's demise. Whereas, in the past, national power was thought to reside in the possession of a mighty arsenal and the maintenance of extended alliance systems, it is now associated with economic dynamism and the cultivation of technological innovation. To exercise leadership in the current epoch, states are expected to possess a vigorous domestic economy and to outperform other states in the development and export of high-tech goods. While a potent military establishment is still considered essential to national security, it must be balanced by a strong and vibrant economy. "National security depends on successful engagement in the global economy," the Institute for National Security Studies observed in a recent Pentagon study. (Emphasis in the original.)
This perspective was first articulated in a systematic fashion by then governor Bill Clinton, during the 1992 presidential campaign. "Our economic strength must become a central defining element of our national security policy," he told students at Georgetown University in December 1991. "We must organize to compete and win in the global economy." In another campaign speech, Clinton promised to "elevate economics in foreign policy"a process, he declared, that would require reconstructing the Department of State "so that economics is no longer a poor cousin to old-school diplomacy."
This "econocentric" approach to national security became official American policy when the Clinton administration took office in early 1993. In his first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Warren Christopher declared that he and his associates would "not be bashful about linking our high diplomacy with our economic goals." Noting that the world had entered a period in which "economic competition is eclipsing ideological rivalry," he promised that the administration would "advance America's economic security with the same energy and resourcefulness we devoted to waging the Cold War" (emphasis added).
Clinton made the expansion of international trade and investment the top foreign policy goal of his administration. To accomplish this, he negotiated new trading arrangements with Latin America and Asia, opened additional markets to the sale of U.S. goods, and loosened restraints on American exports of satellites, computers, and other high-tech products. He also promoted the overseas operations of U.S. companies and sought to stabilize international financial institutions. In defending these policies, Clinton never tired of expressing his belief that "our economic and security interests are inextricably linked."
An outlook that views economic and security interests as "inextricably linked" will naturally tend to place high priority on the protection of vital resource supplies. Without a steady and reliable flow of essential materials, the American economy cannot expand and generate the products needed to ensure continued U.S. competitiveness in global markets. The uninterrupted flow of energy supplies is especially critical: as the world's leading consumer of oil and gas, the United States must retain access to overseas supplies or its entire economy will face collapse. As suggested by Clinton in 1999, "Prosperity at home depends on stability in key regions with which we trade or from which we import critical commodities, such as oil and natural gas."
The perceived relationship between energy sufficiency and U.S. security also emerged as a significant issue during the 2000 presidential campaign. When oil products became scarce during the early fall, pushing up prices and generating talk of an economic recession, Vice President Albert Gore called for the release of millions of gallons from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)a large cache of oil established in the 1970s to provide a hedge against future energy crises. (Citing a potential shortage of heating oil at the onset of winter, President Clinton did decide at that time to release thirty million gallons from the reserve.) Gore's opponent, Governor George W. Bush of Texas, opposed any removal from the SPR, claiming that such action would endanger national security by diminishing America's ability to withstand a greater crisis in the future. The two candidates later sparred over strategies for reducing U.S. reliance on imported petroleumGore favoring the development of alternative technologies, Bush the exploitation of oil reserves in wilderness areas of Alaskabut both agreed that protecting the nation's energy supply was a prime concern of national security.
For the American military establishment, this concern has particular resonance: while the military can do little to promote trade or enhance financial stability, it can play a key role in protecting resource supplies. Resources are tangible assets that can be exposed to risk by political turmoil and conflict abroadand so, it is argued, they require physical protection. While diplomacy and economic sanctions can be effective in promoting other economic goals, only military power can ensure the continued flow of oil and other critical materials from (or through) distant areas in times of war and crisis. As their unique contribution to the nation's economic security, therefore, the armed forces have systematically bolstered their capacity to protect the international flow of essential materials.
The need to use the military to protect vital resource supplies is readily grasped by the American publica not insignificant consideration at a time when traditional security justifications for military spending have lost much of their appeal. A revealing exchange in 1998 between Representative Tom Allen (D.-Maine) of the House National Security Committee and several senior officers illustrates the importance of public opinion. After listing all of the places where U.S. forces had recently servedBosnia, Macedonia, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, and so onAllen expressed doubt about his ability "to explain [all of this] to people back home." Just how, he asked, do these operations "reflect our national interest and our national security?" In response, several officers spoke in abstract terms of America's global responsibilities. But the most vigorous response was provided by General Anthony Zinni, then the commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf: "My region, the Middle East, is obviously valuable to us as a source of oil and natural gas," he said. Because instability in this region could jeopardize access to these resources, he continued, "the need to keep things stable in there ... is critical to our own economy."
To implement this new policy, the Department of Defense is deploying additional forces in the Persian Gulf and preparing for expanded operations in other resource-rich areas, including the Caspian region. The U.S. Navy is also expanding its presence in waters used for the transshipment of energy supplies. Resource concerns have decisively moved to center stage in international security affairs. As we proceed further into the twenty-first century, these issues are destined to play an increasingly significant role in the shaping of American military policy.
Excerpted from Las Guerras Por los Recursos / Resource Wars by Michael T. Klare Copyright © 2003 by Michael T. Klare. Excerpted by permission.
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