Resources are Fuelling a New Cold War
By Erich Follath
Oil and gas
supplies are becoming scarcer and more expensive. The hunt for the world's
remaining resources is creating new alliances and the danger of fresh
conflicts. China is moving aggressively to sate its growing appetite for
energy, potentially setting up a confrontation with the United States for the
dwindling resources of the Middle East and Africa.
Obioku, a village in Nigeria, West Africa. At first glance, this is the end
of the world -- and at second glance, even more so. Muggy heat. A miserable set
of wooden shacks; ragged children; a muddy hole from which women fetch water.
The women use the few fish their husbands have caught to make a thin soup. The
biting smell of sulphur lingers in the air. It seems absurd that anyone should
fight over this piece of the earth.
But in recent
months, hundreds have been killed here in the Niger delta. Rebels fight
government troops and even demand the secession of the region from Lagos; they
present ultimatums requesting billions from Shell, the Anglo-Dutch petroleum
giant. Columns of smoke darken the sky where pipelines have been blown up. It's
all about the petroleum that lies under the ground here in vast quantities --
petroleum of an especially light, sweetish, consumer-friendly variety.
rebels claim they are concerned about the well-being of people like those in
Obioku. It's a claim that is shared by Shell and the government. Shell CEOs say
that three percent of their annual budget goes into local development funds.
For their part, Nigerian politicians shrug their shoulders and insist that they
are fighting fiercely against every kind of exploitation. Diepreye
Alamieyeseigah, the governor of the state of Bayelsa, was arrested on suspicion
of money laundering only in September. He's now on trial, and said to have
diverted hundreds of millions of dollars into his own pockets.
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as long as the oil fields burn, as long as Shell and Italian oil company Agip
employees are held hostage and as long as oil platforms are attacked with
speedboats, exporting black gold from the country in sub-Saharan Africa that
has the largest petroleum reserves will remain an uphill battle. Indeed, the
volatility of oil regions like Nigeria are one of the key reasons that oil
prices have risen so dramatically worldwide.
Caucasian highlands, 70 kilometers (44 miles) southwest of the city of
Vladikavkas in the Russian Republic of North Ossetia. Pipelines lie on the
frozen ground in strangely twisted shapes, like modelling clay handled by an
angry giant. Saboteurs destroyed the two gas pipelines that run through an
almost deserted territory and towards Georgia at the end of January. The people
in Georgia, whose energy supply is meagre anyhow, suffered the cold for more than
a week, cut off from their most important energy source. No lights were turned
on in the capital at night; desperate people burned their own furniture to stay
warm. Moscow blamed Muslim rebels for the attacks. But Georgian President
Mikhail Saakashvili complained that saboteurs controlled by the Kremlin had
planted the bombs and accused his Russian colleague of "blackmail."
Saakashvili believes Vladimir Putin wanted to teach Georgia, a country that is
oriented towards the West, a lesson by demonstrating how dependent Georgia is
on Russian energy.
So Russia is
being pilloried once again, a short time after the Kremlin forced the Ukraine
to strike a deal by turning off its gas supply. That raises questions about the
energy security of the European Union, which is dependent on Russia for natural
gas: Hungary gets 85 percent of its natural gas from Russia; Germany
gets a still substantial 40 percent. This dependency is yet another reason
why energy prices are climbing to record levels.
giant petroleum refinery two hours northwest of Baghdad by car. After almost 20 major
attacks in the past year, Iraq's largest oil production facility was closed for
the entire month of December. Then, only three days after the re-opening of the
complex in Beiji in January, insurgents attacked a convoy consisting of 60 oil
trucks and engaged security forces in a firefight that lasted hours. Meanwhile,
the number of attacks on oil installations and pipelines across the country
continues to rise.
repair the pipelines and they blow them up again, and then the game starts
over," says former Iraqi oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum. The violence
isn't just directed at objects: In January, rebels murdered Ali al-Sudani, the
Iraq Oil Ministry's general director. The two German engineers who were
kidnapped in Iraq earlier this year (and have since been released) were also
working at Baiji.
was Washington's aim to finance the reconstruction of post-war Iraq from the
oil industry's profits. In fact, the Oil Ministry was one of the few buildings
in Baghdad US troops guarded from looters after the April 2003 invasion. And
the US has spent millions to train an "Oil Protection Force." Unfortunately,
however, Iraq's energy industry just isn't getting off the ground. And though
its oil reserves are the fourth-largest in the world (after Saudi Arabia and
Canada, and almost equal to Iran), Iraq's oil exports barely reach
three-quarters of the pre-war level. That's yet another important reason for
the nervous state of the markets.
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then there's that uncanny and unpredictable regime in Tehran: Many already
consider Iraq's powerful neighbor state the great winner in the crusade for the
"democratization of the Middle East" begun by US President George W.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Iran's radical government wields
great influence over the Shiite ruling elite in southern Iraq, many of whom
received their training in the Iranian city of Ghom. Southern Iraq is also home
to vast petroleum and natural gas fields.
Never mind the
crisis surrounding Tehran's nuclear program -- China and India are aggressively
courting Iran as a supplier of natural resources. Beijing closed a gigantic
deal worth $70 billion with the Islamic Republic in fall 2004; Delhi has
negotiators in Tehran discussing a strategic pipeline. No state on earth
besides Russia has natural gas reserves as large as those of Iran, and Tehran
is also the fourth-largest oil exporter in the world. "The West needs us
more than we need the West," says Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The man who
wants to "wipe Israel off the map" is threatening to curb Iran's
energy exports to the US and Europe. If the UN Security Council were to impose
sanctions on Iran because of the country's patent efforts to develop a nuclear
weapon, Ahamdinejad might cut off the supply altogether. What else should
someone expect from an irrational politician, whose view of the world is
obviously informed by an Islamist vision of the apocalypse.
news and bad news
natural resource that greases the wheels of the global economy is running out.
All oil-producing states are working close to capacity and slacks or stoppages
on the part of one of the major producers can't be compensated by the others.
Former White House energy advisor Matthew Simmons evokes a genuinely horrific
scenario: He calculates that the price of a petroleum barrel may rise as high
as "$200 to $250" in the coming years -- a far cry from today's $73
and July's nominal record of $78.40. Such an extreme price increase would
unhinge the entire world economy and spell ruin even for large corporations.
the world be trembling in fear? Should everyone be afraid that gas and heating
will soon no longer be affordable? Concern over such issues is certainly
spreading in Germany, a country whose energy security is good compared to many
others. Should we shiver with fear of anticipated bloodshed over resource
allocation? The superpower China is hunting these resources especially
aggressively. Should we fear the war that comes from the cold?
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good news is that it's improbable, despite all the dangers and bottlenecks,
that fossil fuels will become the much cited unaffordable "black
gold" overnight, or that they will even no longer be available in
sufficient quantities. Besides, human inventiveness has always been able to
discover or invent new energy sources.
The bad news
is that the age of cheap oil and natural gas is definitely over. At the very
latest, the next generation will be bitterly punished for our reckless
overconsumption of fossil fuels. Renewable energies and energy efficiency
together won't be enough to cover the shortfall, either. In the longterm, even
if renewable resources like solar power, wind power and biomass -- which are
urgently needed -- are added into the energy mix with oil, natural gas, coal
and nuclear energy, they will
still only be able to cover one-quarter of the energy needs of industrialized
nations. That's the best-case scenario.
trench fights over secure fuels aside, most reputable scientists agree that the historical "peak"
of oil production will be reached in five to 10 years, despite
improvements in drilling technology and the expansion of production to include
oil shales and oil sands, which are difficult to process. From that point on,
oil production will head downhill -- despite increasing worldwide demand.
population consumed 83
million barrels of oil per day last year. According to calculations by
the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Paris-based club of oil-importing
states, the number will have climbed to above 90 million by 2010, and it will
have reached about 115 million in 2030. The more fiercely fossil fuels blaze in
our ovens, burn in our engines and power our generators, the faster a country
can develop. US energy analyst Daniel Yergin has written that "petroleum
remains the motive force of industrial society."
Now, at a time
when the oil age is irrevocably racing towards its conclusion, more and more
people are trying to become a part of it. They are led by emerging nations like
China and India -- two countries that know their growth engine will inevitably
start to stutter without a constant supply of resources. Petroleum is their
elixir for survival.
But there are
great unknown variables in every calculation about the future. One of the great
fears that troubles CIA experts is the potential for future terrorist attacks
in Saudia Arabia, the most vulnerable place in the international energy trade.
Even without such a horror scenario, US energy expert Michael T. Klare expects
a "new landscape of global conflict" to emerge, a map shaped by the
shortage of resources.
back painful memories of 1973, when the Arab states, aided by the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), curbed energy shipments and caused the
price of oil to rise fivefold in a brief period of time. At the time, the
reason was Washington's unconditional support of Israel's policy of occupation.
Costs skyrocketed for political reasons a second time during Ayatollah
Khomeini's Iranian revolution in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war. Even then, Helmut
Schmidt, the German chancellor of the time, feared that wars over resources
would one day be possible.
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states have now realized that petroleum and natural gas are of existential
strategic significance. They are the driving force behind the coming conflicts.
That's why the world's powerful stake the claims wherever vital reserves of
resources can be found -- by force of arms or through aggressive diplomacy.
politicians, who normally like to present themselves as the defenders of human
rights and pioneers of democratic liberties, aren't too fussy about who they do
business with. Petroleum and natural gas discoveries draw attention to new
international hot spots such as West Africa, Sudan, Venezuela or the region
surrounding the Caspian Sea. They also bring unusual, previously unknown
political stars onto the stage of world politics -- not all of them angelic, to
put it mildly.
Azerbaijan's corrupt 44-year-old ruler Ilam Aliyev, for example. Under his
rule, demonstrations are brutally put down. But there's not much that can be
done without the strong man from Baku. The country he rules is the one where
most expensive oil and natural gas pipeline -- the construction costs were
$3.6 billion dollars -- starts. The pipeline leads from Azerbaijan through
Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. It was inaugurated with plenty of pomp
and circumstance and in the presence of the US energy secretary in May 2005.
For political reasons, the great pipeline is one of Washington's pet projects
-- it knocks the much-hated Iran and Russia out of the game.
the autocrat Aliyev, the
bizarre 65- year- old dictator Saparmurad Niyazov -- who
rules Turkmenistan, another country rich in resources -- is wooed by Americans,
Europeans, Chinese and Russians. The man, who calls himself
"Turkmenbashi" ("Father of all Turkmen"), is cultivating a
bizarre cult of personality -- one that could even make North Korea's
notoriously self-obsessed Kim Jong Il envious. He's ordered the erection of
golden monuments bearing his likeness all over the country. His writings are
taught in school and his people are even quizzed on those writing when they take
a driving test.
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the summer of 2005, the tyrant, who has opposition members tortured, organized
a stately reception for John Abizaid, a delegate of the US government.
Corporations didn't want to be outdone and created a favorable mood by
presenting gifts. For example, Daimler Chrysler presented Niyazov with an
expensively printed German translation of his political bible
"Rushnama" ("Book of the Soul"). Turkmenbashi, who
administers 90 percent of the revenue from natural gas exports in a fund that
only he can access, gave thanks by handing out lucrative contracts.
mercenaries are getting in on the international oil business. In March 2004, a
strange set of troops set out to stage a putsch in the West African mini state
of Equatorial Guinea -- a state rich in natural resources. The troop had been
recruited from former South African elite soldiers from the days of apartheid,
Armenian warriors and a few Britons. One of them was Mark Thatcher, the son of
the former British prime minister. The conspiracy failed. Corrupt president
Teodoro Obiang Nguema remained in power -- and he is still shamelessly helping
himself to the funds in the state budget, which is fat with oil money. The Los
Angeles Times estimates that he has deposited some $500 million in foreign
Beijing's insatiable appetite
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in states as small as Equatorial Guinea, two powerful opponents are mustering
each other suspiciously, doing everything they can to score political points
and ensure that their businesses continue to prosper: the US, a current
superpower, and the prospective superpower China. India, the other great
player, is seldom far behind in this chess match. India has impressive
high-tech success to show and it is on its way to leadership in at least one
respect: By 2035, there will be more Indians than Chinese; and taken together,
the populations of the two countries will be almost four times as high as that
for resources more aggressively than anyone else -- and with even less
scruples than the West. The ruling Chinese communists deal with right-wing
African dictators, fundamentalist mullahs in the Middle East and obscure
left-wing populists in Latin America, without any ideological reservations. The People's Republic was long
an oil-exporting nation; during the 1950s, it was even the largest oil exporter
in Asia. Scientists had discovered enormous reserves of black gold in the northeast
of the country. "Learn from Daqing in industry," was the party
slogan at the time. The Maoist model worker "Iron Wang" was its
selfless protagonist, prepared to make any sacrifice.
The Middle Kingdom was still self-sufficient in
terms of its energy needs until the early 1990s. But the reforms of Deng Xiaoping,
which allowed for more and more private enterprise and eventually dovetailed
into a kind of Manchester capitalism, caused economic development to explode.
An ever greater number of cars, air conditioners and factory facilities turned
the Chinese dragon into an insatiable creature that scoops up oil, natural gas
and coal like an addict -- and the need for a fix continues to grow.
the producers behind the economic miracle and the consumers badly need the drug. In 2004, the People's Republic
alone was responsible for a full 36 percent of the global rise in petroleum
consumption. In 2002, China overtook Japan as the world's second-greatest oil
consumer, topped only by the US. According to some estimates, the number
of Chinese cars, motorcycles and mopeds will increase fivefold in the next 15
years -- and energy consumption will increase accordingly.
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a global scale, however, the Chinese are comparably moderate in their fuel
consumption. If the
average Chinese person lived as excessively as a US citizen, he would consume
thirteen times as much. The People's Republic would require more than 90
million barrels of petroleum every 24 hours -- more than is produced worldwide
in a day at present.
China has no
alternative. The Communist Party believes the only chance it has of holding the
country together -- and remaining in power -- is by achieving an annual
economic growth rate of at least 8 percent. The country had 10.1 percent growth
in 2004 and 2005 brought a lower, yet still astounding, 9.9 percent. Through
economic growth programs, the party leadership is hoping to contain the threat
of protests and demonstrations by Chinese who have been disenfranchised by a
lack of jobs. Beijing wants to alleviate the growing rift between the rich and
the poor and create at least a rudimentary form of social security for
pensioners and ill people.
But production is declining by between three and
five percent a year on the oil fields near Daqing. The figures that had been cited
by party functionaries were falsidied and, in the days of Mao, no investments
were made in new extraction facilities -- the state bet on the muscle power of
its workers and not new technology. Today, Beijing is extracting the country's coal reserves at
record speed and risking ever worse pollution as well as dangerous accidents.
Now Beijing is
betting on giant hydroelectric power plants to help meet its energy needs. It is investing in alternative
energy sources and will soon play a leading role in this area, along with
addition, China is building nuclear plants so quickly that by 2050 it will
probably be the world leader when it comes to nuclear energy, too. Yet despite
these developments, Beijing's leadership sees no other option but to go on an
aggressive worldwide shopping spree for energy.
When it comes
to the hunt for oil and natural gas, the Communist party leaders have no qualms
about locking antlers with Japan and the US. For months now, Beijing has been
preventing the imposition of harsh United Nations sanctions against Sudan, even
though the regime in Khartoum is inciting militias in the Darfur region to
systematically murder thousands of people. The simplest explanation for
Beijing's behavior is that the Chinese are exploiting the oil reserves in the
southern part of Africa's geographically largest country, with the consent of
the fundamentalist Muslim regime. Beijing has even stationed its own security
forces there. Five percent of the oil imported by China already comes from
Iran -- ruled
by a president who aggravates the entire world -- provides even more -- over 13
percent. Under the recently closed deal, which is valid for 30 years, China's
dependence on the mullah state will likely increase even further. And vice
versa: The state-owned Beijing corporation Sinopec plans to invest in the
opening up of the giant Iranian natural gas field Yadavaran.
Communist Party bosses don't want Iran to build nuclear weapons, but what they
want even less is for their partner to be significantly weakened economically.
That's why only hopeless optimists can hope that China -- one of the five
permanent members of the UN Security Councile -- will snub its business partner
and endorse the isolation of Iran through sanctions that the West is pushing
for. If such a resolution should be passed, a Chinese veto is highly likely.
Washington and Beijing seem to be on a
collision course -- two giant oil tankers approaching each other at full speed,
without either one of them being willing to make even minimal changes to his
direction, or even to his speed.
House is outraged because Beijing continues to help the aggressive Iranian
President Ahamdinejad develop his missile production facilities. The Chinese
leadership speaks of an entirely legal business transaction between two
independent states and is highly upset that the US government imposed sanctions
on five state-owned Chinese corporations in December for doing business with
Iran. One of the corporations that the US punished is Catic, one of China's
largest weapons producers.
leadership surrounding President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is
accusing the US administration of hypocrisy, and even of arbitrarily limiting
the free trade whose praises the US is always singing. Last year, a planned
takeover of the US oil company Unocal by China's CNOOC failed even though
CNOOC's bid of $18.5 billion was the highest. Washington prevented the
takeover, citing "national strategic interests."
Beijing is now
trying to hit the Americans where it hurts -- mainly in the US's trade with the
White House's traditional allies. China has signed long-term contracts on the
shipment of natural gas and iron ore with Canberra and has surpassed the US to
become Australia's second-largest export market. Asia's expansionist enthusiasts have bought themselves
into energy projects in Canada as well, spending billions.
percent of Chinese direct investment is funnelld to Latin America -- and a lot
of it goes to Africa too. President Hu and Prime Minister Wen have visited
dozens of African states in recent years, closing business deals with many of
them and trumping Washington in the process. According to Mikkal Herberg, a US
specialist on economic development, a confrontation between the US and China over energy is inevitable.
their relentless strategy of expansion, the self-confident Chinese are taking
on Japan too. Maritime gas reserves that both countries stake a claim to are
central to the conflict. The Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's
Daily newspaper, published a chauvinistic editorial that described the
tensions between the two countries as a mere "prelude" to "more
dire" conflicts. And Japan's government has revised its security strategy
-- on the basis of the assumption that "conflicts over resources can
develop into wars."
pinning its hopes on nuclear energy produced inside the country as well as on
the huge energy reserves "outside its front door" -- in vast Siberia.
But as much as the Russians need a powerful ally to help them access the
enormous amounts of natural resources there, the Japanese aren't necessarily
Putin's first choice.
The leader of
the Kremlin hesitated for a long time before finally awarding Toyko a contract
for the construction of a 3,800 kilometer (2,361 mile) pipeline from Angarsk on
the southern edge of Lake Baikal to the port of Nakhodka -- a port from which
petroleum could easily be shipped to the Japanese coast. The Chinese had proposed
an alternative project from Siberia to the Chinese city of Daqing, a center of
the Chinese oil industry. A Chinese "branch connection" will now
likely be added to the Japanese pipeline. But when he visited Beijing last
March, Putin refused to offer the Chinese an exact date for the realization of
the project and merely agreed to two enormous natural gas shipments -- a
commitment that gave rise to the fear, in Western Europe, that there could be a
shortage of natural gas supplies for Germany and France.
As radical as
Beijing's rhetoric towards Tokyo may be, and as hard-nosed as the Chinese act
in their dealings with Washington -- when they're dealing with India, they
become more gentle. On the official level, there is much talk of "common
interests." Behind the scenes, however, Beijng is asserting its energy
interests against those of Delhi as toughly as against anyone else.
summer, the China National Petroleum Corporation acquired the PetroKazakhstan
corporation, based in Calgary. The total volume of the business transaction was
more than $4 billion. An Indian consortium also made a bid for the corporation,
which has access to resources in central Asia. Delhi also lost out on a deal
signed early this year: the Beijing-based CNOOC bought $2.3 billion worth of
shares in a private Nigerian oil company.
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state-owned Indian company Oil & Natural Gas had already won the bid in the
West African state, but the government in Delhi prevented the deal from being
closed. The property rights within the Nigerian company were too
non-transparent for the Indian cabinet. The story is not without irony: India's
democratically elected government, which is supported by the Indian Communist
Party, is skeptical, whereas China's Communist Party leadership, which has never
undergone popular ratification and probably will never do so, proceeds
regardless whether it is with dubious business partners.
In the short
term the authoritarian state, with its system of state capitalism, is leading
two to zero. State
capitalism allows Beijing to advance its ambitions of economic expansion -- a
guideline issued by the Ministry of Trade lists almost 70 countries and regions
for China's economic actors to play a privileged economic role in.
Naturally, companies that invest and take over other, local companies in
accordance with this guideline receive generous aid from China's state banks.
In the long term, however, India's democratic approach may well turn out to
have advantages that China's market-oriented Leninism lacks: It provides legal security for
investors and, perhaps more importantly, an opportunity for the Indian people
to express themselves through elections on all levels -- an important
corrective for negative developments.
revolutionary nature of India's new way of orienting itself on the world stage
is expressed in the country's relationship to the US, which is improving at a
dramatic pace. Washington
even wants to supply India with the most up-to-date nuclear technology that can
be used for civilian purposes. Visiting Delhi in early March, US President
George W. Bush agreed to provide India with nuclear fuel -- despite the fact
that India is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to commit to in return was placing 14
of his country's 22 nuclear reactors under international supervision. Following
Bush's visit, a visibly pleased Indian government spokesman announced that
India had succeeded in maintaining its weapons programs while simultaneously
improving its energy security.
notwithstanding, India's population -- which is a billion citizens strong --
remains dependent on oil, and that dependence will continue to grow. Already,
India must cover 70 percent of the country's oil consumption and 50 percent of
its natural gas consumption through imports. With an economic growth of 7.5
percent in 2005, India is booming, despite its often extravagant bureaucracy.
The economic expansion is taking place mainly in the software sector, but also
in biotechnology and the especially energy-intensive manufacture consumer goods
industry -- from refrigerators to air conditioners.
important oil supplier is Saudi Arabia. India also entertains an intensive
resource trade with Iran. And deal was closed with Myanmar for the construction
of a pipeline. All three of the states that India is doing business with have
extremely undemocratic governments. But the Singh administration seems willing
to set aside old grievances with other states when it comes to resources. Serious
talks about a natural gas pipeline through Pakistan are ongoing. Delhi's oil
minister, Mani Shankar Aiyer, is even dreaming of an Asia-wide network of
pipelines. In pursuing this project, he is striving for cooperation with
India's great rival China.
Beijing, the Indian politician warned against endangering India's and China's
"mutual security" through the run on natural resources. He referred
to a proposal prepared by both countries for a natural gas field in Syria, as
"exemplary." The relationship between the two giants looks a lot like
a love fest: In January, Aiyer and his Chinese counterpart signed an agreement
on cooperation in the energy sector. The purpose of the agreement is to prevent
a ruthless bidding war over petroleum resources.
Within a few
hours, the Indians had learned how difficult it can be to cooperate trustingly
with China on energy issues. The ink on the agreement had barely dried when it
transpired that Beijing had secretly secured for itself the exclusive rights to
lucrative natural gas reserves in Myanmar -- notwithstanding the fact that two
Indian companies are formal co-proprietors of those reserves. In the eyes of
the dragon, the elephant is a junior partner.
Will the US
intervene directly in the competition between the aspirant superpowers China
and India? Will Washington help Japan gain access to new energy sources? Will
it take serious action to curb Russia's attempts to use oil and natural as
instruments for exerting political pressure?
looking in the US's direction -- and seeing a nation that is beginning to sober
up after decades of wasteful energy consumption. It would have been inconceivable just a short time ago,
but for several months now, the Bush government has been advising its citizens
to conserve heating oil. The oil corporation Chevron has published an ad
campaign reminding customers that "black gold" is only available in
finite quantities, and that saving energy is therefore important.
Consumers are changing too; they're developing an interest in small cars,
scared by oil and gasoline prices, which have increased by about 90 percent
since early 2004 (which still makes them only about half as high as prices in
Germany and much of Europe).
first came into office in 2001, his administration didn't need to explain the
importance of oil to anyone. Before becoming a politician, the president
himself had made a career for himself in the management of the Texas oil
company Harken -- thanks to connections made by his father, a man well-versed
in the energy business with close ties to Saudi Arabia. Vice President Richard
Cheney was once in charge of another Texas oil company, Halliburton. National
Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, who became Secretary of State following Bush's
re-election in 2004, once sat on the board of directors of the multinational
oil corporation Chevron. Professionals like these know that most oil fields in
Texas will never again yield as much oil as they once did, just as they know that the US's
total oil production has sunk to the levels of the 1940s.
paper commissioned by the Bush administration and issued in May 2001 paints a
sombre picture of the global energy situation, warning of the prospects for
serious US energy deficits and energy dependence. The conclusion drawn is that
questions related to "American energy supply security" should be
given a high "priority" in US foreign policy. Soon after the paper
was issued, Cheney formulated the same message in more precise terms: He warned
that Saddam Hussein was striving for hegemony in the Gulf region and might
succeed in bringing a substantial part of the world's energy reserves under his
control. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the almost 3,000 victims who died in
New York's World Trade Center and in the Pentagon then dramatically revealed
the US's vulnerability.
the US invasion of Iraq, Lawrence Lindsey, one of Bush's leading economic
advisors, said that "the key issue is oil" and that "a regime
change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil." By and large,
however, US politicians avoided making the obvious connection between a
pre-emptive strike and resources.
may have played a role as well: the fear of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass
destruction (a fear either imagined or rhetorically induced), or the desire to
create a counterbalance to other authoritarian governments in the region -- a
kind of beachhead of democracy in the Middle East. But most of all, the US had
what former CIA strategist Kenneth Pollack has called a "vital
interest" in guaranteeing its energy supply and avoiding "possible
blackmail" from hostile countries in the Persian Gulf. According to
Pollack, only an idiot would fail to understand why Bush and company are in Iraq:
"It's the oil, stupid!"
The US went on
to suffer bitter setbacks in Iraq. And now the country is facing a possible
confrontation with Iran, one in which its options don't look particularly
promising. Add to that a possible long-term confrontation with China and the
picture that emerges is far from pretty, at least from the White House's
perspective. Despite Republican majorities in both the Senate and the Congress,
Bush hasn't even been able to push through plans for oil extraction in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
course, there's that new troublemaker in the neighborhood, just four hours from
Texas by plane, in South America, the US's backyard. He's making a name for
himself as George W. Bush's opponent, and the control he wields over
substantial amounts of oil permits him to subject the US president to more than
the occasional pinprick. Forbes magazine recently described Hugo Chavez,
the 51-year-old president of Venezuela as "Oil's New Mr. Big."
whenever and whereever he can. Speaking at the Caracas counter-summit he
organized to coincide with the World Economic Forum Davos, at the end of
January, Chavez pulled no punches, calling George W. Bush "the greatest
terrorist on earth" and the Bush administration "the most perverse,
murderous and immoral government in history." He's even threatening to
boycott the US by cutting off Venezuela's oil shipments to that country.
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one reality. The other can be studied in Punto Fijo off the Caribbean coast.
Punto Fijo is Venezuela's main oil port, where large vessels are filled up with
the precious substance after it has been extracted from nearby Lake Maracaibo.
Half a dozen oil tankers glisten in the bluish-green water, devouring 36,000
barrels every hour -- each complete cargo load is worth $50 million. The most
frequent destinations of these ships are Port Everglades, Baltimore and Boston.
And when they have arrived and been cleared of their cargo, they immediately
head back -- every minute counts for big business.
The US is the
main importer of Venezuelan oil; business is going smoothly; and the volume of
business transactions is increasing. But the mutual dependence of Venezuela and
the US is increasing too. Left-wing populist Chavez is dependent on billions in
revenues from Venezuela's petroleum company PDVSA, which was nationalized in
1976, prior to Chavez coming to power. More than half of Venezuela's natural
resources go to its large northern neighbor, and Chavez's Venezuela is one of
the US's main oil suppliers, along with Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.
the petrodollars from his dealings with the abhorred "Gringoland" to
finance his army as well as the social welfare programs he has introduced for
the neediest of his compatriots. The teacher's son sees himself as a latter-day
Simon Bolivar, as a liberator from colonialism. And in his view, the US of
today has taken the place of the Spaniards of the 19th century. Chavez has
taken it upon himself to unify the entire continent. In many parts of Latin
America he has, in fact, succeeded his friend and advisor, Cuban revolutionary
hero Fidel Castro, as the "hero of the street."
A new wind is
blowing through Latin America -- it's coming from the left and lashing at the
US president's face. The pro-American governments of Brazil, Argentina and
Uruguay were already toppled two or three years ago. An Indio and a champion of
common people, Evo Morales, won the elections in Bolivia last December -- his
election campaign was largely financed by Chavez. Venezuela's President was
immediately visited by his new ally following the latter's his electoral
triumph. Chavez promised Morales oil supplies at generously low prices -- in the
manner of a feudal lord, without any parliamentary debates, even of the purely
Large parts of
the Latin American population are displaying a marked willingness to orient
themselves in a new way. Latin Americans may have freed themselves from their
brutal dictators during the 1980s and 1990s, but the increase in personal
liberties and the democratic form of government didn't improve their material
circumstances. On the contrary, the "structural adjustment"
prescribed by Washington led to high unemployment and a growing split between
the rich and the poor -- fertile ground for change.
even interrupted an OPEC meeting to receive an Iranian delegation. And he told
a specially arrived economic delegation from Beijing: "We have produced and
exported petroleum for more than a century. But that century was dominated by
the USA: Today we're free -- and we're happy to make our petroleum available to
the great Chinese nation." Chavez has paid his respects to African
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enemy to the south has started to worry US politicians. The Senate Committee
for Foreign Affairs has commissioned an urgent Emergency Plan to deal with the
possibility that no more petroleum arrives from Venezuela. The USA have built
up sufficient reserves to deal with such a scenario. But they would still be
hard hit if their main supplier were to leave them in the lurch. There are
barely any reserves on the global petroleum market that the USA could fall back
on. If Venezuela cut off its oil supplies to the USA, oil prices would rise by
at least 15 percent and cause considerable unrest, Washington's unofficial
parliamentary report predicted in mid-June.
The rise and
fall of nations will involve considerable power shifts during the coming years.
The USA aren't likely to be the winners of the coming conflicts over natural
resources. While many factors remain uncertain, some general trends can be
Despite the far-sightedness
of its energy strategy -- and the ruthlessness with which it implements
that strategy -- China is having serious difficulties securing the
resources it needs. For this reason alone, it is far from certain that the
much-quoted "Chinese century" will really happen. The same is
true of China's aspiring rival India -- and of Japan, which has to import
80 percent of its resources.
Given the diminishing oil
supply in the North Sea, the European Union will have to think seriously
about its energy security during the coming decades -- and may still end
up being one of the global winners. The EU's coordinated political
approach provides it with all the possibilities it needs in order to
overcome its present dependence on Russia. It could reduce Russia's status
to one of a number of suppliers, albeit a big one. Europe's proximity to
oil fields in North Africa (Liberia, Nigeria) and around the Persian Gulf
serve as an advantage for the EU.
Given the wealth of its
energy resources, Russia will likely be among the global winners of the
future -- provided it masters its domestic problems, including rampant
corruption and social inequality.
Brazil has everything it
needs for a future free of energy-related concerns. The South American
country maintains giant sugar cane plantations and extracts large
quantities of ethanol from the harvest. It also disposes of sufficient
fossil fuel resources to make imports unnecessary. A few thousand
kilometres farther north, Sweden is experimenting with biofuel won from
wheat and wood in order to achieve energy autonomy -- and be able to
function economically without petroleum by 2020.
governance" -- fair distribution of wealth by proper government -- will
play an important role in the rise of the smaller states. Libya, a country that
disposes of large amounts of natural resources, and one whose favour everyone
is currently striving for, has the possibility of assuming a more prominent
political and economic position on the world stage. That is, if General Moammar
Gadhafi chooses to really do something for his 6 million citizens. States such
as Kazakhstan in central Asia or Angola in West Africa dispose of enormous
natural gas and petroleum reserves; their political leaders could provide the
populations of these two countries -- some 15 million people in each -- with a
high standard of living. That's even more true of the emirate Qatar. The tiny
state in the Middle East -- which has a population of 860,000 -- disposes not
only of plenty of petroleum, but also of the third-largest natural gas reserves
in the world.
Yet for most
people living in countries with an abundance of natural resources, the
underground treasures have not been much of a blessing in the past. The
standard of living has declined for most of the population in corrupt states
such as Nigeria, Algeria and Gabun, for example. Experts speak of a "resource
for the future
world in January 2012: More than a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks on
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The US had to exit Baghdad a long time
ago. Iraq is being governed by a Shiite dictator following an Iraq war that the
US lost in embarrassment. Iran has become a nuclear power. And the royal family
has just been toppled in Saudia Arabia -- the fanatics who organized the putsch
are calling the fundamentalist state "Islamajah."
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and the Gulf emirates still take a sympathetic stance towards the West, and at
least some of the petroleum continues to be shipped. But the terrorist
advocates of global jihad are already working to devastate the embassies and
cultural centers of the US and the EU -- from Doha in Qatar to Manama in
Bahrein -- with acts of violence.
intelligence experts in London and Washington discover that the People's
Republic of China is constructing a secret missile facility in the desert of
the former Saudi kingdom. Beijing is obviously out to secure access to the oil
fields and refineries for itself. The hawks in Washington have been waiting for
just this type of escalation. They plan to use the ultimate weapon in order to
decide the struggle for the world's most important resource reserves. It's 2012
and the world is heading for nuclear war.
frighteningly good plot that unfolds in the new thriller "The Scorpion's
Gate." What makes the book politically explosive, however, is its author:
Richard Clarke worked as an advisor for the White House and the Pentagon for
more than three decades. During the hours following the 9/11 attacks, Clarke
was in charge of President Bush's crisis management team. In March 2003, the
anti-terrorism expert resigned and became one of the harshest critics of the
current US president and of the ideology of pre-emptive strikes proffered by
Cheney and Rumsfeld.
Clark has said
that the Middle East scenario in his novel fairly accurately reflects scenarios
of future developments that have been played out in the CIA. He adds that the
part about the dangerous and determined warmongers in Washington is his
personal prediction, but a realistic one. Clarke says the scenario doesn't have
to come true, but it very well could.
attack carried out in eastern Saudi Arabia in February shows how closely fact
and fiction already resemble each other. Terrorists attempted to attack the
world's largest oil processing facility near Abkaik, only a few kilometers away
from Ras Tanura. Two cars filled with explosives tried to break through the
security perimeter. The guards opened fire on the cars, which caught fire. The
terrorists were killed. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack -- and
promised further attacks on "the world's gas station."