Current Affairs

Diplomacy and the Global Energy Economy: A New Frontier

Today is Blog Action Day for climate change, so I’m posting our piece on how international cooperation must be a central element of America’s energy policy.

In today’s globalized world, our country’s greatest challenges are inextricably woven together. Peace, affordable energy, a healthy environment, and a strong economy all require new energy strategies grounded in greater international cooperation.

America’s new energy strategy needs two broad and coequal initiatives. First we need an Apollo Project-like push for a steep ramp up of energy efficiency and renewable energy at home. But a new national energy economy isn’t enough. Like it or not, far-flung fossil fuels are in our short-term future. Competition for energy resources will grow as countries like China and India address their growing needs. We will also need a bold diplomatic initiative that shares the Apollo Project’s vision and ambition. Competition for dwindling resources and the threat of climate change demand global strategic cooperation the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

The current approach to US energy security and international relations is embodied in the Carter Doctrine. In January of 1980, Jimmy Carter shared his doctrine with the public in his last State of the Union speech: “Let our position be absolutely clear: 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 and such an assault with be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

The Carter Doctrine spawned the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), which Ronald Reagan elevated to the US Central Command (CENTCOM) in 1983. This command has been particularly expensive in terms of US blood and treasure. This is where Americans have fought and died. The peacetime cost of the US military presence in the Persian Gulf is approximately $50 billion annually, or roughly 10% of the military budget. Add the cost of recruiting, training, and equipping the forces and costs rise to $150 to $200 billion.

The doctrine of military might to protect fossil fuels has expanded to include deploying other US forces. This includes European Command (which is training local soldiers to protect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Georgia) and a newly minted AFRICOM whose creation explicitly relates to oil in places like Nigeria, Sudan, Libya and Angola.  If one adds the cost of these other operations you start to see just how expensive the Carter Doctrine is. What could be accomplished by investing these funds in clean energy sources? From “The Military Cost of Securing Energy,” a report by the National Priorities Project:

Without including costs of war, NPP research estimates that approximately $100 billion of the military budget is spent to fulfill the mission of securing access to energy in fiscal year 2009. If we include three-fourths of the spending on the Iraq War, the figure doubles. Without war, securing energy access accounts for about 20 percent of the Department of Defense budget.”

The new president and Congress should:

1. Pass the President’s plans on energy and climate change into law. Implement a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, invest $150 billion over the next ten years to build a clean energy future, and increase the share of our electricity we get from renewable sources to 25 percent by 2025.

2. Replace the Carter Doctrine with a more comprehensive approach that emphasizes strategic cooperation and multilateral institutions to ensure energy stability worldwide.

3. Implement and expand the policy coordination mandated as part of the Energy Diplomacy and Security Act.  The State Department’s Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, working with the Secretary of State, should increase the priority the department puts on energy diplomacy.

4. Create a new international energy organization to coordinate global energy strategy. This organization would have a broader mandate than the International Energy Agency and would include leadership from developing countries as well as mechanisms to bridge the divide between producing and consuming countries. The goal should be to replace the militarization of energy policy with the rule of law to ensure access to supply.

5. Work with the wealthiest countries to fund global efforts to develop clean energy and promote technology sharing that can tackle global warming and encourage sustainable development.

6. Increase bilateral strategic cooperation with large energy consumer nations like China and India on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, strategic petroleum reserves and collective energy security.

7. Increase stability in countries with significant energy resources by marshalling humanitarian and development aid towards areas to alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

8. Begin to reduce the military footprint and expense of the old approach with a redeployment of troops from Iraq, while making sure that Iraqi oil is controlled by Iraqis. This can increase US security by reducing the widespread perception that the US invaded Iraq to control Iraq’s oil and by reducing the stress on our military.

9. Increase US standing in the Middle East and therefore improve national security by further reducing our large, seemingly permanent military presence in the region. This presence underpins a narrative of neo-colonialism that is put forth both by adversaries like Al-Qaeda as well as at times by allies in the region.