Petroleum, Power and Fear: Challenges for Canada

(This paper is adapted from a power point presentation at the Group of 78’s Foreign Policy Conference on September 27 in Ottawa)

Every time we fill our tanks with gasoline we think about petroleum. I think about oil and gas in global terms. I spent my life doing this. Those global aspects are under-reported in our media.

In thinking about petroleum, fear and conflict as well as the challenges for Canadian public policy. One particular conflict puzzles me – Afghanistan. Why has Afghanistan become the major focus of Canadian defence, aid and foreign policy? I found petroleum — natural gas — has a role in Afghanistan. In their book “The Unexpected War – Canada in Kandahar” Stein and Lang say Canada went to Afghanistan to placate the Americans. Our leaders knew little of Afghan tribal divisions or history of expelling foreign armies.

Petroleum equals power. Energy fears are driving rivalry and conflict today. World energy issues present challenges for Canada too.

We usually think in terms of military power, economic power or even soft power. What does the world look like in terms of petroleum power?

The Middle East still dominates with the most oil. The United States is highly dependent upon oil imports — 60% of its consumption. Economic and military power depend on reliable supplies of oil and gas.

Europe is the world’s largest gas importer; and imports to Japan, China and India are growing fast as well.

What happens when supplies can’t keep up with demand? Oil prices rise and governments get antsy. Oil companies go farther afield, deeper offshore, and into the Tar Sands, wildlife preserves and the Arctic.

In a new book on the geopolitics of energy, Michael Klare writes that global competition over energy will be “A pivotal feature of world affairs for the remainder of the century.”

An Oil Corridor extends from the Middle East north to the Caspian region and is watched over by US Central Command. The Middle East alone has 60% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of natural gas. The US has military bases all over the Middle East except in Iran, but surrounding Iran. The Bush administration pushed for global domination through overwhelming unilateral power. An Oil Corridor extends from the Middle East north to the Caspian region and is watched over by US Central Command. The Middle East alone has 60% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of natural gas. The US has military bases all over the Middle East except in Iran, but surrounding Iran. The Bush administration pushed for global domination through overwhelming unilateral power.

  • Kazakhstan is the largest Central Asian country and has the largest oil reserves in Central Asia.
  • Turkmenistan may have the world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas.
  • Azerbaijan is a significant producer of oil and gas.

These countries sent their oil and gas north to the Soviet Union. Now the New Great Game is among countries who want energy to flow in directions under their control. So the Russians are building new pipelines north, the Chinese are building east while the US promotes pipelines west to Europe and south through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India.

Pipelines are important today as railways were important in the 19th century.

Washington has long promoted a pipeline to take natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. Realistic or not, construction is planned to start in 2010 and Canadian Forces are committed to be present in Afghanistan until 2011.

Meanwhile Iran has offered an alternative route to supply Iranian gas to Pakistan and India avoiding Afghanistan. The US-promoted pipelines bypassing Russia and Iran are the jewels in the crown of US strategy. So Russia plans a line under the Black Sea to Bulgaria.

President Bush claims the increase in US troops to Afghanistan is to protect Afghanistan’s “infrastructure” and democratic institutions and ensure access to services like education and healthcare”. When asked if Canadian forces were in Kandahar to defend a pipeline, Peter MacKay said, “We are not there specifically to protect a pipeline across Afghanistan.” Canada is supporting US policy through NATO. But does Canada want NATO to be a worldwide energy protection service?

PR efforts to convince Canadians to stay in Afghanistan emphasize development. Downplayed are violence and US involvement. Energy issues are avoided altogether.

We are on course to participate in the militarization of energy through NATO, a recipe for disaster.

International trade, cooperation and diplomacy as well as a foreign policy that respects other countries works. The Cold War is over. Let it remain so.