Access to Oil: By any Means (Or Cost) Necessary

June 3rd, 2003 - by admin

by Steve Kretzman / The Ecologist –

(April 22, 2003) — Reacting to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution and the lingering fear generated by the Arab oil embargo of 1973, then US president Jimmy Carter first specifically articulated the Persian Gulf as a ‘vital interest’ of the US in January 1980. Laying out what is now known as the ‘Carter doctrine,’ he pledged to ‘defend’ the Persian Gulf by ‘any means necessary – including military force’.

That commitment has been costly. Five weeks after Carter’s speech, the US Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) was formally established at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. By the time Ronald Reagan took office, the RDJTF comprised 100,000 army troops, 50,000 marines, and additional air force and navy personnel. In January 1983, RDJTF became US Central Command (USCENTCOM), which 20 years later is overseeing the build-up of US troops around Iraq.

Estimates of the costs associated with ensuring ‘access’ to Persian Gulf oil supplies run as high as $90 billion a year. A survey by the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the various governmental and independent studies on the topic from 1990 to 1996 came up with an average annual cost of $32 billion. Speaking at a conference in Whitehall last year, British Cabinet minister Peter Hain said: ‘Paid predominantly by the US, the costs of protecting our Middle East oil supplies are as high as $15-25 a barrel.’ Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations together import about 10 million barrels per day from the Persian Gulf. Hain’s estimate puts the cost of defending those imports at between $54 billion and $91 billion annually.

The cost of waging war to guarantee oil supplies from the Persian Gulf is also high. The financial cost of the first Gulf War of 1991 is estimated at between $60 billion and $80 billion. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences forecasts that the cost of a second US-led Gulf war is likely to fall between $121 billion and $1.2 trillion.

Two decades after USCENTCOM was established, the US military is clearly positioning itself to assert the Carter doctrine on a global scale. In the Caspian region, Georgian president Eduard Schevardnadze has noted that ‘the prospect of using the US military to guard transportation routes for the Caspian’s energy resources to the world markets is quite realistic.’

Georgia recently received $64m worth of US military assistance. Neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey also benefit handsomely from US military largesse. In Colombia, the Bush administration’s decision to allocate $98m to train a ‘Critical Infrastructure Brigade’ of Colombians for the explicit purpose of protecting Occidental Petroleum infrastructure fuels the idea that US involvement in the region (including neighboring Venezuela) is all about oil. Similarly, in West Africa, which could soon supply 25 per cent of US oil imports, credible rumors are swirling regarding the establishment of a US military base in Sao Tome.

Testifying before the US Congress recently, former CIA director James Woolsey spoke out strongly in favor of alternative energy technology, noting that ‘there is no incompatibility between being a hawk and being a green’. While that may be true, it’s hard to imagine that a society fuelled by hydrogen fuel cells and solar power would perceive vital national interest in the Persian Gulf or a half dozen other places around the world. If the energy is limitless, the supply will always be secure.

Steve Kretzman, an oil analyst with the Institute for Policy Studies think-tank in Washington DC, is co-author of a report on the military costs associated with oil globally.