Archive for December, 2012

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Happy Holidays

December 21, 2012

EnerGeoPolitics will be shutting down until January 3.

Happy Holidays to all our readers!

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Oil trade and international relations

December 20, 2012

The fact that oil trade has an influence on international relations is a self-evident truism.  However, just how those influences work – and in which directions – are often mysterious and frequently subject to change.  Two energy fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations (Michale Levi and Blake Clayton have published a data driven study on the vagaries of these relationships   Levi and Clayton conclude that, with the general liberalization of trade and the success of globalization, the influence of oil on international affairs has lessened.  However, they warn that this could be a temporary situation, due to an unusual confluence of events.  Indeed, the  tightening of supply envisioned by Peak Oil theorists would drastically change that situation; so, too, would projections of a world awash in oil, led by a resurgence of North American production.  I recommend their article, although I think it is a bit Pollyanna-ish:  energy in general and oil in particular are critical components to the modern world economy, and any change – real or perceived – in the availability of oil will have profound changes in international relations and geopolitical considerations, regardless of how the influence has seemingly waned.

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Peak China update

December 19, 2012

Read the blog Monsters Abroad for a good discourse on the challenges facing new Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.  The Chinese model of an authoritarian, state-run economy has many admirers in the US, but it is hitting its natural ceiling, as the entrenched state-business interests resist reform that threatens their position.  State management guarantees monopolies and creates such power centers – this is the flaw of centralized, managed economies.  The system lacks the ability to generate natural and internal competitors to challenge these interests.

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Clinton: US seeks to prevent the Eurasian Union

December 18, 2012

Vladimir Putin’s plan for a common Eurasian economic space dominated by Russia will face the resistance of the United States.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared the objective to be a “re-Sovietization of the region” and that the US intends to prevent it, or at a minimum to slow it down.

Clinton is the author of the much discussed “reset” in US/Russian relations – although that “reset” has been more rhetoric than reality, as the two nations have continued to jostle on most of the same issues that separated them during the Bush presidency.

The Eurasian space contains the Strategic Energy Ellipse, the most intensive concentration of fossil fuels on the entire globe.  The US, Russia and China are engaged in a tripartite struggle to maximize their own access to those resources and to prevent their domination by either of the other two.  This is the primary conflict between these nations, and everything else – missile defense, Syria, Iran, etc – is secondary.  Of course the US will resist Russian imperial impulses in Central Asia.  The reset was never anything more than a feint, a trick, a dodge.

CIEP SEE

This map shows the Strategic Energy Ellipse in Central Asia, relative to the four primary energy consuming centers of the world.

 

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A new look at US cultural geography

December 17, 2012

Business geographer Justin Holman has examined interior US geography from a cultural and economic point of view and has conceived of a new map of the nation focusing on micro-regions that he calls “cultural ecoregions.”  I think the map needs more work, but it comes from an accurate theoretical presumption and it is an interesting first pass.

Holman’s American Cultural Eco-Regions

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US Navy sets sights on Information Dominance

December 14, 2012

Military strategists have a growing realization that information operations – both offensive and defensive – will be critical in conflicts for the foreseeable future.  The US Navy, under the leadership of Vice Admiral  Kendall Card, is determined to seize and maintain dominance in the information spectrum of any future battlespace.  Card discusses the efforts of the Navy in the most recent edition of Signal, the journal of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (subscription required).   The “information spectrum” includes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as well as the security of data and networks.  In 2009, the Navy founded the Information Dominance Corps (IDC), tasked with the missions of gaining “a deep understanding of the inner workings of adversaries, develop knowledge of the battlespace, provide naval operating forces with sufficient over-match in wartime command and control and project power through and across the network.”

The IDC is engaged in a large number of programs, one of which is the creation of an aircraft carrier based unmanned vehicle tasked with both offensive and defensive missions:

Unmanned vehicles also are critical to gaining and maintaining information dominance. Te Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program is developing a fighter jet-size UAV capable of being launched from sea. “Tis is an ISR vehicle from the sea that has good range and great endurance and persistence. It will be a multi-intelligence platform that will be critical to the warfighter because there will be some areas of the world where we need ISR from the sea,” Adm. Card offers. “The strike capability is also part of that global war against terrorists that provides insecurity to those terrorists from wherever they’re operating.”

As usual, I suggest that you read the whole thing, but as noted, the link is subscriber-only access.  Signal is a specialty publication, primarily of interest to those in the fields of defense electronics and communications, and not to a general audience.

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US Intelligence Estimate predicts imminent end of US hegemony

December 13, 2012

The National Intelligence Council’s annual Global Trends report is out.  It is a disappointing product, weighted down with faddish themes and, in my opinion, insufficient recognition of the historical world economic system.  Focusing on anticipated changes to the economic and geopolitical environment over the next two decades, the report comes to the non-controversial conclusion that China will overtake the US as the world’s largest economy and that the US will cede its role as global hegemon in favor of a multi-polar system of shared power.

As I noted, the statement that China will become the world’s largest economy is non-controversial . . . but that does not mean the outcome is inevitable.  True, China has been the world’s largest economy for most of recorded history; the last century and a half are anomalous.   In some instances, though, size is not definitive. The term “largest economy” does not equate to “leading economy.”  The size of a nation’s economy is an aggregate measure of economic activity and not a measure of economic influence.  For example, throughout its nearly two centuries of global hegemony, England never had the world’s largest economy (indeed, China was the world’s largest economy until late in the 19th century).  According to estimates, France probably exceeded England in total economy just prior to the Napoleonic Wars, and Germany certainly exceeded England just prior to World War One, the last two global contests for hegemony (see chart below).  In both cases, the larger economies failed in their bid for hegemony.

copyright EnerGeoPolitics, 2010

copyright EnerGeoPolitics, 2010

It is also far from clear that China will actually ascend to the top position.  A continuing theme of this blog has been that of “Peak China” – the belief that China’s ascent has neared or reached its peak.  I think it is possible (likely even) that India surpasses China in the next two decades and becomes the world’s largest economy.

The report also predicts that the US will achieve energy independence over the same period (welcome to the party – I have been predicting as much since 2007).  And this is why I believe the US will maintain hegemony for the rest of the century.  The US will be not only energy independent, but has the capacity to become the worlds greatest producer, consumer and exporter of energy.  Additionally, the US will remain the supermarket to the world – the top producer of food in an increasingly hungry world.  The ability to fuel and feed ourselves and our allies, combined with the geographic reality of a two-ocean buffer, are the most profound geopolitical advantages of any nation on the globe for the foreseeable future.

Consciously or not, Chinese leadership is making a bid for global hegemony.  I believe that these variables mean that the Chinese bid will crest short of that goal, and that the US will remain not simply the “important” nation that the NIC envisions, but the continued world hegemon that it has been since the end of World War Two.  Of course, decline can be deliberately chosen by a series of feckless leaders, but I find it unlikely that the American people and the leaders they choose going forward will be as comfortable with that choice as the current occupants apparently are.