Oil, War & the Military

Garrisoning the Global Gas Station Challenging the
Militarization of U.S. Energy Policy

By Michael T. Klare

American policymakers have long viewed the protection
of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of
"national security," requiring the threat of -- and
sometimes the use of -- military force. This is now an
unquestioned part of American foreign policy.

On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a
war against Iraq in 1990-1991 and the second Bush
administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global oil
prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in
the years ahead, military force is sure to be seen by
whatever new administration enters Washington in
January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our
well-being in the oil heartlands of the planet. But
with the costs of militarized oil operations -- in both
blood and dollars -- rising precipitously isn't it time
to challenge such "wisdom"? Isn't it time to ask
whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable to do
with American energy security, and whether a reliance
on military force, when it comes to energy policy, is
practical, affordable, or justifiable?

How Energy Policy Got Militarized

The association between "energy security" (as it's now
termed) and "national security" was established long
ago. President Franklin D. Roosevelt first forged this
association way back in 1945, when he pledged to
protect the Saudi Arabian royal family in return for
privileged American access to Saudi oil. The
relationship was given formal expression in 1980, when
President Jimmy Carter told Congress that maintaining
the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was a "vital
interest" of the United States, and attempts by hostile
nations to cut that flow would be countered "by any
means necessary, including military force."

To implement this "doctrine," Carter ordered the
creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force,
specifically earmarked for combat operations in the
Persian Gulf area. President Ronald Reagan later turned
that force into a full-scale regional combat
organization, the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM.
Every president since Reagan has added to CENTCOM's
responsibilities, endowing it with additional bases,
fleets, air squadrons, and other assets. As the country
has, more recently, come to rely on oil from the
Caspian Sea basin and Africa, U.S. military
capabilities are being beefed up in those areas as

As a result, the U.S. military has come to serve as a
global oil protection service, guarding pipelines,
refineries, and loading facilities in the Middle East
and elsewhere. According to one estimate, provided by
the conservative National Defense Council Foundation,
the "protection" of Persian Gulf oil alone costs the
U.S. Treasury $138 billion per year -- up from $49
billion just before the invasion of Iraq.

For Democrats and Republicans alike, spending such sums
to protect foreign oil supplies is now accepted as
common wisdom, not worthy of serious discussion or
debate. A typical example of this attitude can be found
in an "Independent Task Force Report" on the "National
Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency" released
by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in October
2006. Chaired by former Secretary of Defense James R.
Schlesinger and former CIA Director John Deutch, the
CFR report concluded that the U.S. military must
continue to serve as a global oil protection service
for the foreseeable future. "At least for the next two
decades, the Persian Gulf will be vital to U.S.
interests in reliable oil supplies," it noted.
Accordingly, "the United States should expect and
support a strong military posture that permits suitably
rapid deployment to the region, if necessary."
Similarly, the report adds, "U.S. naval protection of
the sea-lanes that transport oil is of paramount

The Pentagon as Insecurity Inc.

These views, widely shared, then and now, by senior
figures in both major parties, dominate -- or, more
accurately, blanket -- American strategic thinking. And
yet the actual utility of military force as a means for
ensuring energy security has yet to be demonstrated.

Keep in mind that, despite the deployment of up to
160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and the expenditure of
hundreds of billions of dollars, Iraq is a country in
chaos and the Department of Defense (DoD) has been
notoriously unable to prevent the recurring sabotage of
oil pipelines and refineries by various insurgent
groups and militias, not to mention the systematic
looting of government supplies by senior oil officials
supposedly loyal to the U.S.-backed central government
and often guarded (at great personal risk) by American
soldiers. Five years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq is
only producing about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day
-- about the same amount as in the worst days of Saddam
Hussein back in 2001. Moreover, the New York Times
reports, "at least one-third, and possibly much more,
of the fuel from Iraq's largest refinery... is [being]
diverted to the black market, according to American
military officials." Is this really conducive to
American energy security?

The same disappointing results have been noted in other
countries where U.S.-backed militaries have attempted
to protect vulnerable oil facilities. In Nigeria, for
example, increased efforts by American-equipped
government forces to crush rebels in the oil-rich Niger
Delta region have merely inflamed the insurgency, while
actually lowering national oil output. Meanwhile, the
Nigerian military, like the Iraqi government (and
assorted militias), has been accused of pilfering
billions of dollars' worth of crude oil and selling it
on the black market.

In reality, the use of military force to protect
foreign oil supplies is likely to create anything but
"security." It can, in fact, trigger violent "blowback"
against the United States. For example, the decision by
the senior President Bush to maintain an enormous,
permanent U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia
following Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait is now
widely viewed as a major source of virulent
anti-Americanism in the Kingdom, and became a prime
recruiting tool for Osama bin Laden in the months
leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks. "For over seven
years," bin Laden proclaimed in 1998, "the United
States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the
holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering
its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its
people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its
bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which
to fight neighboring Muslim peoples." To repel this
assault on the Muslin world, he thundered, it was "an
individual duty for every Muslim" to "kill the
Americans" and drive their armies "out of all the lands
of Islam."

As if to confirm the veracity of bin Laden's analysis
of U.S. intentions, then Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld flew to Saudi Arabia on April 30, 2003 to
announce that the American bases there would no longer
be needed due to the successful invasion of Iraq, then
barely one month old. "It is now a safer region because
of the change of regime in Iraq," Rumsfeld declared.
''The aircraft and those involved will now be able to

Even as he was speaking in Riyadh, however, a dangerous
new case of blowback had erupted in Iraq: Upon their
entry into Baghdad, U.S. forces seized and guarded the
Oil Ministry headquarters while allowing schools,
hospitals, and museums to be looted with impunity. Most
Iraqis have since come to regard this decision, which
insured that the rest of the city would be looted, as
the ultimate expression of the Bush administration's
main motive for invading their country. They have
viewed repeated White House claims of a commitment to
human rights and democracy there as mere fig leaves
that barely covered the urge to plunder Iraq's oil.
Nothing American officials have done since has
succeeded in erasing this powerful impression, which
continues to drive calls for an American withdrawal.

And these are but a few examples of the losses to
American national security produced by a thoroughly
militarized approach to energy security. Yet the
premises of such a global policy continue to go
unquestioned, even as American policymakers persist in
relying on military force as their ultimate response to
threats to the safe production and transportation of
oil. In a kind of energy "Catch-22," the continual
militarizing of energy policy only multiplies the
threats that call such militarization into being.

If anything, this spiral of militarized insecurity is
worsening. Take the expanded U.S. military presence in
Africa -- one of the few areas in the world expected to
experience an increase in oil output in the years

This year, the Pentagon will activate the U.S. Africa
Command (AFRICOM), its first new overseas combat
command since Reagan created CENTCOM a quarter century
ago. Although Department of Defense officials are
loathe to publicly acknowledge any direct relationship
between AFRICOM's formation and a growing U.S. reliance
on that continent's oil, they are less inhibited in
private briefings. At a February 19th meeting at the
National Defense University, for example, AFRICOM
Deputy Commander Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller indicated
that "oil disruption" in Nigeria and West Africa would
constitute one of the primary challenges facing the new

AFRICOM and similar extensions of the Carter Doctrine
into new oil-producing regions are only likely to
provoke fresh outbreaks of blowback, while bundling
tens of billions of extra dollars every year into an
already bloated Pentagon budget. Sooner or later, if
U.S. policy doesn't change, this price will be certain
to include as well the loss of American lives, as more
and more soldiers are exposed to hostile fire or
explosives while protecting vulnerable oil
installations in areas torn by ethnic, religious, and
sectarian strife.

Why pay such a price? Given the all-but-unavoidable
evidence of just how ineffective military force has
been when it comes to protecting oil supplies, isn't it
time to rethink Washington's reigning assumptions
regarding the relationship between energy security and
national security? After all, other than George W. Bush
and Dick Cheney, who would claim that, more than five
years after the invasion of Iraq, either the United
States or its supply of oil is actually safer?

Creating Real Energy Security

The reality of America's increasing reliance on foreign
oil only strengthens the conviction in Washington that
military force and energy security are inseparable
twins. With nearly two-thirds of the country's daily
oil intake imported -- and that percentage still going
up -- it's hard not to notice that significant amounts
of our oil now come from conflict-prone areas of the
Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. So long as this
is the case, U.S. policymakers will instinctively look
to the military to ensure the safe delivery of crude
oil. It evidently matters little that the use of
military force, especially in the Middle East, has
surely made the energy situation less stable and less
dependable, while fueling anti-Americanism.

This is, of course, not the definition of "energy
security," but its opposite. A viable long-term
approach to actual energy security would not favor one
particular source of energy -- in this case, oil --
above all others, or regularly expose American soldiers
to a heightened risk of harm and American taxpayers to
a heightened risk of bankruptcy. Rather, an American
energy policy that made sense would embrace a holistic
approach to energy procurement, weighing the relative
merits of all potential sources of energy.

It would naturally favor the development of domestic,
renewable sources of energy that do not degrade the
environment or imperil other national interests. At the
same time, it would favor a thoroughgoing program of
energy conservation of a sort notably absent these last
two decades -- one that would help cut reliance on
foreign energy sources in the near future and slow the
atmospheric buildup of climate-altering greenhouse

Petroleum would continue to play a significant role in
any such approach. Oil retains considerable appeal as a
source of transportation energy (especially for
aircraft) and as a feedstock for many chemical
products. But given the right investment and research
policies -- and the will to apply something other than
force to energy supply issues -- oil's historic role as
the world's paramount fuel could relatively quickly
draw to a close. It would be especially important that
American policymakers not prolong this role
artificially by, as has been the case for decades,
subsidizing major U.S. oil firms or, more recently,
spending $138 billion a year on the protection of
foreign oil deliveries. These funds would instead be
redirected to the promotion of energy efficiency and
especially the development of domestic sources of

Some policymakers who agree on the need to develop
alternatives to imported energy insist that such an
approach should begin with oil extraction in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other protected
wilderness areas. Even while acknowledging that such
drilling would not substantially reduce U.S. reliance
on foreign oil, they nevertheless insist that it's
essential to make every conceivable effort to
substitute domestic oil supplies for imports in the
nation's total energy supply. But this argument ignores
the fact that oil's day is drawing to a close, and that
any effort to prolong its duration only complicates the
inevitable transition to a post-petroleum economy.

A far more fruitful approach, better designed to
promote American self-sufficiency and technological
vigor in the intensely competitive world of the
mid-21st century, would emphasize the use of domestic
ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills to maximize the
potential of renewable energy sources, including solar,
wind, geothermal, and wave power. The same skills
should also be applied to developing methods for
producing ethanol from non-food plant matter
("cellulosic ethanol"), for using coal without
releasing carbon into the atmosphere (via "carbon
capture and storage," or CCS), for miniaturizing
hydrogen fuel cells, and for massively increasing the
energy efficiency of vehicles, buildings, and
industrial processes.

All of these energy systems show great promise, and so
should be accorded the increased support and investment
they will need to move from the marginal role they now
play to a dominant role in American energy generation.
At this point, it is not possible to determine
precisely which of them (or which combination among
them) will be best positioned to transition from small
to large-scale commercial development. As a result, all
of them should be initially given enough support to
test their capacity to make this move.

In applying this general rule, however, priority
clearly should be given to new forms of transportation
fuel. It is here that oil has long been king, and here
that oil's decline will be most harshly felt. It is
thanks to this that calls for military intervention to
secure additional supplies of crude are only likely to
grow. So emphasis should be given to the rapid
development of biofuels, coal-to-liquid fuels (with the
carbon extracted via CCS), hydrogen, or battery power,
and other innovative means of fueling vehicles. At the
same time, it's obvious that putting some of our
military budget into funding a massive increase in
public transit would be the height of national sanity.

An approach of this sort would enhance American
national security on multiple levels. It would increase
the reliable supply of fuels, promote economic growth
at home (rather than sending a veritable flood of
dollars into the coffers of unreliable petro-regimes
abroad), and diminish the risk of recurring U.S.
involvement in foreign oil wars. No other approach --
certainly not the present traditional, unquestioned,
unchallenged reliance on military force -- can make
this claim. It's well past time to stop garrisoning the
global gas station.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world
security studies at Hampshire College and the author of
several books on energy politics, including Resource
Wars (2001), Blood and Oil (2004), and, most recently,
Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of