National Security Network

Energy Security, American Security

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Report 30 March 2011

Energy Energy


As the unrest in the Middle East and spiking energy prices at home have vaulted to the top of public consciousness, President Obama spoke today about the importance of energy security for the nation. Failure to have energy security, as well as the continuing challenge of climate change, are real threats to America's economy and environment. The intertwined threat of these challenges will require both diversifying America's energy sources while reducing energy usage, and creating innovative approaches to handling this challenge.  Yet instead of engaging in a serious debate, conservatives are reverting to hackneyed, unserious slogans such as "drill, baby, drill," showing they have no real plans to address the clear and present threats posed by overreliance on oil.

Twin challenges of climate change and energy insecurity are serious threats to U.S. national security.

Accelerating threats. The Quadrennial Defense Review states that, "While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world." [QDR, February 2010]

Dependence on unstable regimes. "America's billion-dollar-a-day dependence on oil makes us vulnerable to unstable and unfriendly regimes. A substantial amount of that oil money ends up in the hands of terrorists. Consequently, our military is forced to operate in hostile territory, and our troops are attacked by terrorists funded by U.S. oil dollars, while rogue regimes profit off of our dependence. As long as the American public is beholden to global energy prices, we will be at the mercy of these rogue regimes. Taking control of our energy future means preventing future conflicts around the world and protecting Americas here at home." [Letter from 33 retired Generals and Admirals, 4/29/10]

Long, vulnerable supply lines. "Certainly, for current operations and for the future, one of the things we're really focused on is reducing demand, [which is] reducing our consumption, because no matter what kind of energy we're using, the amount of energy we're using causes us problems in practice - particularly in the kinds of fights we're fighting today where so much of our logistics train is in the battlefield," according to Sharon Burke, director of the Pentagon's operational energy plans and programs. [Sharon Burke, 10/18/10]

Increased tensions even in stable parts of the world. The Center for Naval Analysis, a Navy-funded think tank, writes that, "The U.S. and Europe may experience mounting pressure to accept large numbers of immigrant and refugee populations as drought increases and food production declines in Latin America and Africa. Extreme weather events and natural disasters, as the U.S. experienced with Hurricane Katrina, may lead to increased missions for a number of U.S. agencies, including state and local governments, the Department of Homeland Security, and our already stretched military, including our Guard and Reserve forces." [Center for Naval Analysis, 4/07]

Staying competitive. Retired Air Force General Chuck Wald warns that, "We need to remain competitive in the world as we move toward a future of green, sustainable energy. That will keep our debt from growing. Importing less oil means fewer foreign policy impacts and more assured energy for what we need. The biggest motivation to do it is national security... the world is moving on. In energy, there's a need to compete economically. Everything's driving to clean energy in a big way. The technology is there, but you need a market signal... And we can get there through a combination of innovation, policy, and regulation. We need a friendly environment for businesses to invest." [Chuck Wald, CNA, 7/10]

Current events demonstrate susceptibility of energy markets, and the need for a smart, diversified, approach.  As Brian Katulis and Kate Gordon of the Center for American Progress ask in a recent article, "is it wise for the United States and the global energy markets to be so heavily dependent on a country [Saudi Arabia] whose government seems shaky and lacks popular support?" Katulis and Gordon argue that, "America must wean itself off oil. The Obama administration has already taken several important steps toward this goal, through policies aimed at fuel efficiency, clean fuel technology research and development, and getting more electric vehicles on the road."

A new report out today from the Center for American Progress states that, "The recent Middle Eastern democracy movement is inspiring, but it also sparked oil price increases that deliver higher costs to American families. And buying half of our oil from other nations means that instability 10,000 miles away can harm us here. The bottom line is this-imported oil costs too much in dollars and in independence. The United States must take immediate and long-range actions to lower the price of oil in the only way that works-by reducing our use of oil through energy diversification." [Brian Katulis and Kate Gordon, 3/3/11. Center for American Progress, 3/30/11]

Conservatives campaign against market-based energy solutions, offering naïve and disingenuous answers. Politico reports today on how conservative presidential contenders are fighting to demonstrate who is the most against a market-based solution for transitioning away from foreign oil and towards jobs-producing clean energy: "[Former Minnesota Governor Tim] Pawlenty has been trying for more than a year to distance himself from his work on climate change as governor... Pawlenty responded by acknowledging he's got ‘some clunkers' in his record, just like other possible GOP candidates who served as a governor. He didn't name names, though Pawlenty is clearly referring to the cap-and-trade views taken at various times by several potential Republican candidates, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman."

This fight shows that conservatives still don't understand the magnitude of the problem-or they intend to mislead-continuing a trend that goes back to the "drill, baby, drill" slogan touted by conservatives starting in 2008. Katulis and Gordon explain that the slogan is either naïve or disingenuous: "[W]e cannot wean ourselves from the Saudi tap by embracing a ‘drill, baby, drill' agenda. Oil is priced and sold in a world market, even more so today than in the early 1970s. As Ken Green from the American Enterprise Institute points out, even if the United States were able to increase our domestic production to cover 100 percent of our own oil needs, we still would not be able to affect the world oil price. In other words, even if we opened up every possible area in the United States to drilling and exploration, consumers would see the same price spikes at the pump if, say, China's increasing demand for oil caused a global shortage. But in fact the United States is unlikely to ever reach near 100 percent domestic production given that we possess only 2 percent of the world's oil reserves but use almost 25 percent of the world's oil." A Center for Naval Analysis report - from a panel of retired generals and admirals - spells out the bottom line that conservatives don't understand: "Energy business-as-usual is not a viable option for the United States. Continued over-reliance on fossil fuels will increase the risks to America's future economic prosperity and will thereby diminish the military's ability to meet the security challenges of the rapidly changing global strategic environment. By taking bold leadership actions now, the nation can turn the growing energy and economic challenges into great opportunity." [Politico, 3/29/11. Katulis and Gordon, 3/3/11. CNA, 7/10]

What We're Reading

The four stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daicihi nuclear plant will be decommissioned, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Security forces regained control of an Iraqi government building in Tikrit from armed militants who attacked and seized the location and held people hostage.

Bahrain's Shiite opposition leader is demanding that the Saudi-led force that the Gulf nation's Sunni rulers invited to help quell the anti-government protests leave the country.

The UK has taken steps to expel five Libyan diplomats, claiming the five - which include the military attache - "could pose a threat" to UK security.

Myanmar's former Prime Minister Thein Sein has been sworn in as the country's new president, marking the official transition of power from the military junta to a parliamentary system of government.

An adviser to Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has accused leaders of South Sudan of training rebels from Darfur in order to destabilize the north.

Ivory Coast tipped further toward civil war as forces opposed to the nation's strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, captured strategic towns on two fronts.

Former President Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet with Cuba's top dissidents during his visit to that country.

Preliminary results of Haiti's presidential election have been delayed due to alleged irregularities and fraud uncovered at the vote-counting center.

An investigation has been launched into how a fake bomb was put on a cargo plane and flown from the UK to Turkey without being detected.

Commentary of the Day

Jim Hoagland writes that President Obama's military intervention in Libya reflects the hard times in which he governs and that he is recalibrating American power in a world where a financially weakened, politically polarized United States no longer commands but can still lead - if with a lighter touch.

Joshua Landis argues that Syria's unrest isn't widespread enough to lead to a government ouster, with the Assad regime enjoying solid support from the country's Alawite leadership and Sunni majority.

John Judis argues that President Obama's Libya speech went further than any of his previous efforts in developing a viable post-Cold War foreign policy.