Oil: The Pentagon’s Achilles Heel

October 6th, 2010 - by admin

Olivia Ward / The Star & Jim DiPeso / Republicans for Environmental Protection – 2010-10-06 00:45:19


Supply Route May Decide
Outcome of Afghan War

Olivia Ward / The Star

TORONTO (October 4, 2010) — If countries were rated on how tough it is to fight wars on their soil, Afghanistan would come close to the top of the list.

Landlocked, with an extreme climate and paralyzing dust storms, it’s also bordered by dizzying mountains and safe highways are sparse.

That’s why escalating militant attacks on NATO fuel trucks heading from Pakistan to Afghanistan — the most recent on Monday — are a sign that the war against the Taliban is limping badly, if not hobbled. And they show the scarcity of supply line options may be a decisive factor in how and when the conflict concludes.

“The US has tried to develop the northern distribution system, but the heavy duty supplies still have to go through Pakistan,” says Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington. “Given the short timetable the coalition is operating on, the chances of finding an alternative are dim.”

Between 75 and 80 percent of NATO supplies are trucked from the Pakistani port of Karachi through the forbidding Khyber Pass and into Afghanistan. The most crucial is fuel. But they include vital items from water to weapons.

The pass has been shut down several times, and after a helicopter fired on and killed three Pakistani frontier troops last week Pakistan blocked the supply lines. It had complained earlier of similar cross-border attacks.

For NATO, the route has been dogged by years of mayhem and uncertainty.

“We accept responsibility for the attacks on the NATO supply trucks and tankers,” spokesman Azam Tariq of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan told reporters Monday. “We will carry out more such attacks in future. We will not allow the use of Pakistani soil as a supply route for NATO troops based in Afghanistan.”

The US is well aware of the dilemma and has been expanding its use of an air base in Kyrgyzstan to deliver troops and supplies to Afghanistan’s battlefields. But there have been ongoing disputes with the Central Asian country over rental fees, and a coup earlier this year put its stability in doubt.

Possible overland alternatives include a route through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, inviting a diplomatic wrangle with Russia, which is wary of American influence on its former possessions.

“We are pretty much stuck with Pakistan,” says Thomas Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, who has advised the Canadian and US governments. “The Central Asian states are completely landlocked. It is a very dire situation.”

The dependence on Pakistan includes more than geography, says Ontario-based defence analyst Sunil Ram of the American Military University.

“About 80 percent of (NATO) fuel requirements are from refineries in Karachi,” he said. “It’s strategically easy for the Taliban to stop the convoys. Even if they cut off 15 to 20 percent of the fuel it has a large impact on the war because it reduces the ability to operate.”

And, he points out, a number of international media reports contend the US has reverted to paying the Taliban to stay away from the convoys.

Washington is also at odds with Pakistan over Islamabad’s responsibility for quelling the Taliban on its territory, although the dispute has diminished since massive floods hit the country and the army was deployed to aid displaced civilians.

“There are 70,000 troops deployed in flood relief, and 150,000 are in locations in the northwest and along the (Afghan) border,” said Nawaz. “But it’s still not enough to protect convoys going up from Karachi. The danger used to be when they approached the Khyber Pass. Now it’s starting from Karachi. The local Taliban has affiliates all over.”

Afghanistan itself may be working on a solution. Officials there “want to create a state-run military brigade equipped with its own trucks and thousands of soldiers to carry essential NATO supplies around the country,” said a report by McClatchy Newspapers.

But there is skepticism that Afghanistan, often at odds with neighbouring Pakistan, would be able to deal with the “highway barons” who control the roads and demand protection money — both at home and across the border.

How the Pentagon Can Help Build
A Better Energy Future

One solution to the energy problem that neither libertarians nor environmentalists are likely to embrace, is our military.

Jim DiPeso / Republicans for Environmental Protection

(August 1, 2010) — When I staffed a booth at a local solar energy fair earlier this month, a man approached my table, knelt close to my chair, and earnestly argued that development of energy technologies should be left entirely to the free market.

I politely said something to the effect that when a free market exists in energy, I would let him know. He didn’t like my answer.

Tea Party types believe that the nation started going to hell in a handbasket around the time of the New Deal, when America walked away from the libertarian Elysian Fields of their dreams and traveled down perdition’s road to bureaucracy, big gummint, and socialism.

Actually, we’ve been arguing about the role of government in the economy since Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson fought about establishing a national bank during the Washington Administration. Hamilton won that political battle. The scale of both government and business have vastly expanded since their day, but if Hamilton and Jefferson were brought forward to our time, they would understand today’s arguments. There is nothing new under the sun.

Speaking of the sun, there is an ongoing meme among conservatives that renewable energy technologies are propped up with subsidies and special government favors. Liberals counter that fossil fuels and nuclear are propped up with subsidies and special government favors.

Every form of energy is propped up with subsidies and special government favors. Neither side likes to acknowledge that. It’s more fun to have tribal arguments that my energy technology is more politically correct than yours.

To borrow the old Buffalo Springfield lyric, our energy songs “mostly say hurray for our side.”

A more productive debate would focus on what we want and need from our energy resources and the proper role of government in achieving those goals.

Such as security, in its environmental, economic, and defense dimensions. An example of clear thinking that popped through the usual political dross is a report published recently by a panel of retired generals and admirals from the Center for Naval Analyses, a think tank. The foundation stones of their idea have been heard before, but bear repeating — business as usual will expose the nation to greater envirionmental, economic and geopolitical risks, and we’re twiddling our thumbs while other countries are heading for new energy frontiers.

Their idea is that the Defense Department would be a great leverage point to move the US towards new energy frontiers.

DOD is a big energy consumer — 300,000 barrels of oil per day, for example. The Pentagon has a strong interest in deploying energy technologies that reduce costs and meet operational needs. One is minimizing tactical dangers — think of a photovoltaic array producing the energy that today is supplied by diesel fuel convoyed along roads littered with IEDs.

A significant problem with pushing new energy technologies into the market, as energy entrepreneurs well know, is moving from the R&D stage to full deployment. They encounter the “valley of death,” where investors are wary of dumping big sums of capital into bringing a promising but unproven energy technology to commercial scale. The ideas die on the vine. And we carry on with business as usual.

Why not, the retired brass argued, use the Defense Department’s vast physical establishment as a proving ground for energy innovations? DOD maintains bases that are small cities. DOD has 300,000 buildings worldwide, covering four times the floor space of every Wal-Mart building everywhere. New ways to heat, cool, and illuminate buildings – which consume nearly half the energy used in America – could be demonstrated at commercial scale in defense facilities.

The panel offered other ideas, such as working with business incubators to demonstrate promising new technologies. Small start-ups can’t spend time on the red tape that normally comes with government procurement, so they steer clear of doing business with the Pentagon.

DOD purchasing managers can’t keep track of all the entrepreneurs who might have a good product idea, so they never hear about them. Incubators would be a meeting place where DOD could find out about promising products, test them at scale and help the gems navigate the “valley of death.”

Tiny-government libertarians might not like hearing this, but in many cases, critical technologies that we have grown to depend upon were spurred by defense needs and funded by big gummint. Blogs demanding shrinkage of the federal government to a size befitting an 18th century backwater republic are hosted on the Internet, which originated as a result of DOD-funded research driven by Cold War imperatives.

DOD could lend a big hand in developing the energy technologies that fit today’s imperatives — meeting societal energy needs securely and without trashing the natural capital on which human society depends. Imagine the discussion that Hamilton and Jefferson would have about that.

Jim DiPeso is the policy director for Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Read more: http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/republican/pentagon-alternative-energy#ixzz11YR16Dbn

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