Prof. Michael Klare - Oil

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Prof. Michael Klare - Interviewed by Julian Darley
Filmed in Athens, Ohio, USA on 4th April 2003

Q1: What are the motivations for and implications of the war on Iraq?

Something as complex as war or something as complex as this war is going to be determined by many factors, not just one or two. So, I think basically there are three primary causes of this war. They're all related to issues of power and wealth, and I always begin by saying oil is more than a fuel, oil is also a source of economic power and it's often in the sense of, the power of oil that's crucial. So the three factors, I think are first of all, simply the Carter Doctrine, the continuation of the Carter Doctrine. The Carter Doctrine from 1980 says that the oil of the Persian Gulf is essential to American security. We must use any means necessary to protect that oil including use of military force, and Saddam Hussein has represented the greatest threat to the Persian Gulf since 1990 and in the 1991 war, his power was diminished substantially, but not eliminated, and I think for the people in Washington it's essential to complete that job.

Take Saddam Hussein off the table as a threat to the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, that's number one, number two I think is to demonstrate the effectiveness of military force as an instrument of American foreign policy. This is an administration that came to power with an agenda, a strategic agenda which calls for the use of force pre-emptively to eliminate threats to the United States and Iraq was chosen as the first test case, and I think that's terribly important in their minds to show that military force can work to enforce and advance American interests, and they're very critical of those in past administrations who were reluctant, inhibited to use military force because they think that invites dangers. You must use force periodically to demonstrate its effectiveness, so that's the second factor. And the third factor is America's growing dependence, or future dependence on Persian Gulf oil. The United States must have the oil of the Persian Gulf to perpetuate it's lifestyle into the future, and this will become more important the further we go into the future. In 2020 we'll need a lot more Persian Gulf oil than we will need now, and each year after that we'll need more and more, and I think Iraq has been chosen as a beachhead for permanent American domination of the Persian Gulf region, at least until all the oil is gone. Because so long as we're dependent on oil, the Middle East will be the main source that we depend on.

Q2: What is the likelihood that America will invade other Middle East countries?

At this point I think the war in Iraq is essentially over. Iraq will be an American protectorate for as long as we can see into the future. I don't think that there's any question about that. I don't think anybody doubts that, but I think that the struggle for the larger region is just beginning, it's been underway for a while but it's going to accelerate, and by the larger I mean not only the Persian Gulf but the Caspian Sea Basin, which is more or less adjacent including the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Cacuases in Central Asia, so add that area to the traditional Persian Gulf countries. In my mind this is the center of world geopolitical struggle for the next 50 years. This is the pivot of geopolitical struggle, and it's not just the United States that's involved but increasingly China, certainly Russia, Turkey, Israel, Iran and the lessor powers in the region. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kuwait, United Arab Emirate's all are part of this mix. All will be jockeying for power and advantage and I think the United States is determined to be the dominate player in this region. That's the most important concern in American strategic policy. So it's very likely that Iran will be the next battle ground in this struggle and here you have a case where China is a party, China is dependent on Iran for it's oil and it's the supplier of military technology and the Russian's and the Chinese said they're not prepared to stop their support of military supplies to Iran. So the picture becomes much more complex and more dangerous, if the United States needs to put pressure on Iran or even to attack Iran.

Q3: What are the implications of the fall in estimated oil reserves in the Caspian Basin?

Well certainly the indications are that there isn't that much oil there. Now, that again was possible oil, not probable oil. That's what the Department of Energy was saying might be there or there's reasons to believe might be there and the Department of Energy is still saying that it could be conceivable that much oil is there. Cause the oil companies are saying something different. They're saying, we don't see that there's that much and even if there's less than the original amount, this is crucial to the US strategy of diversification and that's what's important to recognize. The US has a formal policy of diversifying it's sources of imported oil, recognizing as I say in resource wars and elsewhere that any of these sites, foreign sites of oil are potentially unstable or could be having civil wars or who knows what in the years ahead. You can not rely on any of them with any degree of assurance. So the only way to protect yourself against a disruption in the supply of oil is to have as many sites as possible, so that if one is shut down you can go to the others and increase your imports from that area. So the Caspian looks very appealing as an alternative to the Persian Gulf for example and I think it's for that strategic reason that the US has put so much emphasis on the Caspian.

Q4: Under George W Bush, has US policy changed significantly in the Caspian area?

No, what's surprising is the degree of continuity. It was the Clinton administration that viewed the BTC, Baku-Tbilisi-Ciyhan pipeline as the centerpiece of American strategy and the Bush administration has completely endorsed that policy. Nine-eleven has only sort of accelerated or intensified this development, but as we speak, American military instructors are training a special brigade of the Georgian Army whose function will be to protect the pipeline once it's fully constructed. So under the guise of anti-terrorism, so the war against terrorism is now being converted into a war to protect the flow of petroleum from the Caspian Sea. I might add the same thing is true in Colombia where the pipelines are under attack by the gorilla's. The US also has military instructor's in Colombia now working with a brigade of the Columbia Army to protect that major pipeline, the Cano-Limon pipeline, which goes from Occidental Petroleum's fields from the North East to the coast in the Caribbean.

Q5: Is Afghanistan still important as a location for a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan?

This is one where I don't share the views of some who think that was a key factor. The pipeline that Unocal corporation was promoting in the late 1990's was a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. It wouldn't have benefited the United States, by the way this was a time when Pakistan was under sanctions from the United States, it wasn't the ally that it's become. So, no I don't think that's so important. What the Clinton administration was most emphatic about was developing a secure route from the Caspian to the West and that became the BTC pipeline that goes to Turkey. That's the one that they cared about the most, so Afghanistan was less important. Now that Afghanistan has been brought into the American sphere of influence and the operations of maintaining that in a stable way are costly, yes, the US now favors constructing a pipeline through Afghanistan that will produce some income for the US sponsored government in Kabul. That's more of a revenue stream than it is a strategic interest. As distinct from BTC, which was seen as having strategic importance for the United States.

Q6: Given China's increasing need to import oil & gas, what is the situation with regard to the South China Seas?

Well, this is one of those great stories I think in world politics that we're just beginning to see the beginnings of. So, it will be very interesting as time goes on. China was self-sufficient in oil until as recently as 1993. Now, of course it's depending more and more for it's oil supply on imports and increasingly that is going to have to come from the Persian Gulf. Now, the Chinese because of their history and their idealogical view, prefer to be self-reliant to the highest degree that they possibly can. So they'll do everything they can to develop oil in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea and Qinghai province in the West, but they realize I think the handwritings on the wall, that they're not going to be able to rely on their own sources to meet their needs. Meanwhile their economy is growing very rapidly, a middle class is emerging. That middle class is buying automobiles, so the level of demand is increasing at a very high tempo. China has the fastest growing demand for oil for any large country in the world, about 4% a year, which is 3 times the rate for the OECD countries. The mature industrial countries, which is you know to satisfy that over a period of time requires a tremendous amount of petroleum and it's going to have to come from elsewhere. Clearly the Chinese are out scouring the world for sources of petroleum, and like the United States their drawn to the same places, Africa, the Caspian, and the Persian Gulf, and they are going to meet competition from the US and the European countries and Japan for the access to the same supplies of oil. And like the United States they view this in geopolitical terms, not only in economic terms but in geopolitical terms. The Chinese wants to have some kind of political insurance that it's investments in these areas will be safe, so just as when the United States becomes dependent on a foreign source, the military tends to follow, either directly or indirectly through the supply of weapons, training, building ties with the military. The Chinese are behaving in a similar fashion. They depend on oil now from Sudan and they've developed close military ties with the Sudanese government. They seek oil in Kazakhstan and their trying to strengthen their ties with Kazakhstan. So, you have a pattern of Chinese political involvement in an area that the United States views as its' paying oil preserve and this is in my mind going to be a source of considerable friction and difficultly in the years ahead. It could explode in Iran as I indicated, because the US is very fearful and troubled by Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The Chinese are implicated in that, so what happens in Iran can be the source of a US-Chinese clash, that has oil as its roots.

Q7: The Spratly Islands are the key to the South China Seas. Is it true that the Chinese want to capture the whole set of islands?

The Chinese have defined the South Chinese Sea region as part of their national maritime territory, that they've extended a form of sovereignty over that region. They claim Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands are part of their national territory, and therefore the waters around them are part of their maritime territory. And they do hope that, that region will be a source of oil and natural gas in the future. So, it's energy that's driving this policy but there are other claimants to those Islands. Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei also claim the Islands, and in the case of the Philippines there's a military alliance with the United States, there's a mutual defense treaty that obligates the United States to come to the assistance of the Philippines if it comes under attack. So here too, you have the possibility, there have been clashes between the Chinese and the Philippines in the Spratly and over Mischief Reef in 1995, and more since then, and the Philippines did ask for assistance which the US is obviously reluctant to get too deeply involved in, but one could easily imagine a scenario in which a clash in Spratly's triggers a bigger conflict between China and one of the surrounding countries, and the United States could easily become involved.

There are two issues in the South China Sea, very quickly one is the oil underneath it, the other is the freedom of navigation and Japan gets almost all of its oil from the Persian Gulf by ship through the South China Sea and the United States has gone on record as saying that if China or any other country interrupts the flow of Japanese petroleum through the South China Sea, the US will offer military protection to the Japanese. And as well the US relies on transite routes through the South China Sea for its aircraft carriers and warships based in Japan to be able to go to the Persian Gulf and they have said they will not permit any interference in our freedom of navigation in this region. So there's multiple factors related to oil that could cause a sparked conflict in the South China Sea that leads to a US Chinese confrontation.

Q8: In the west of China, Xinjiang has long been contested. Is it still important and why?

Yes, Xinjiang is itself a source of oil and natural gas and the Chinese do produce oil there. Now, up until now, the results of exploration have been somewhat disappointing. There doesn't seem to be enough oil, or it's more scattered than it's really usable, so Xinjiang is now become more important, I think for geopolitical reasons as the sight of pipelines that would connect coastal China with the Caspian Sea, and this is the other area that China is becoming involved in politically. The Caspian region, it's developing ties with Kazakhstan. So Xinjiang, which if we had a map we could show, sticks way out from China, way deep into Central Asia and boarders on Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan, and other of the Central Asian countries and it's close therefore to, not only the Uygur's, who are a people who live in Xinjiang who have revolted against Chinese rule, but Xinjiang is also close to countries that have experienced Islamic upheavals other than the Uygur revolt. In fact some of the groups linked to al Qaeda are active in this area for Gansu Valley, which is Turkistan and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are all in this area. It has become the site of a lot of Islamic discontent and some terrorist activities, so this whole area is very sensitive.

The Chinese are very worried about the spillover effects of conflict in the Caspian Central Asian region into Xinjiang fueling the Uygur revolt, and posing a threat to it's control of that territory. So they're very worried, Now on top of this, to make matters even more anxious for China, the United States has established bases in Uzbekistan and Kirghizstan which put US forces very close in world terms to China's rear, cause China has always faced a threat from American bases in China and it's support for Taiwan and it's navel presence in Okinawa and the Western Pacific. Now they have to worry as well about an American military presence to their rear and the Central Asian region and this apparently has Chinese leaders very worried, deeply troubled and partly explains why China has been so unsympathetic to America's position on Iraq.

Q9: Japan imports most of its energy. What problems might it face because of this?

I can only look at the trends of Japan, I don't know what's in the thinking, or their senior leaders and in their foreign policy experts. They are dependent on the Persian Gulf and they're dependent on the United States protection of their access to the Persian Gulf, and in fact this is you know, probably the most important reason why Japan persists in its military alliance with the United States in a subordinate position. It is a junior partner in an alliance in which the United States is the bigger partner and it's probably because the US has assumed its responsibility for protecting Japan's pipeline to the Persian Gulf and I think that this dependency on the United States is a matter that is troubling to some Japanese leaders. It is in effect a demolition of its sovereignty and its self-sufficiency. And so Japan is attempting to address this problem by relying more on nuclear power for its energy and it's invested huge amounts of money, trillions of yen, in developing a self-sufficiency plutonium based nuclear energy cycle. They've run into tremendous problems with that, what its future is, is hard to say. They haven't abandoned it but it's not making a lot of progress. But this has enormous implications because they're beginning to stockpile plutonium, and it could make Japan a nuclear power very quickly because they have so much bomb grade plutonium at their disposal as a result of the re-processing of spent nuclear fuel. So, should a future Japanese government, we'd have to imagine a situation that's not right away but some 5, 10, 15 years for whatever reason, there's a breach between Japan and the United States and Japan seeks greater freedom of operation, one way it could quickly move, is to become a nuclear weapons power because it has all this plutonium and that would alter the equation in Asia substantially.

Q10: Finally, back in the Americas, is America preparing for serious military engagements in Colombia and Venezuela?

With the case that's clearest of course is Colombia because the US has explicitly identified the flow of petroleum from Colombia as a military concern to the United States. Now it's not so much at this point that we rely so much on that oil that we're doing this, although I think that's a factor. That's not the main reason, the main reason is that the Colombia government absolutely relies on revenue from the sale of oil to finance its military and the US is very determined to prop up the Colombian military so as to eliminate the gorilla threat and Americans are not likely to pay for it. Oil will pay for that, that's the only way Colombia could finance its expansion of its military. So, the US is very concerned about the gorilla's sabotaging it's pipelines therefore reducing Colombia's oil income. So, the US has said it will take steps to protect the pipeline so that the oil could flow and the money could reach the Colombia government.

Q 10a: Do you think they'll get more upset with Venezuela? There's speculation about that there might be some regime, or more regime change encouraged in Venezuela?

I understand, my understanding is, is that there are divisions within the Bush administration about how to deal with Venezuela. They're clearly some people in the administration who would like to see Hugo Chavez overthrown, and who may have provided moral support if nothing more to the anti-Chavez factions, and there has been some funding given in terms of promoting democracy to the labor unions that are part of the anti-government coalition. Was it deeper than that? Was the US more deeply involved in efforts to overthrow the government? I do not know. It may be, some day we'll find documents that indicate one way or the other. On the other hand, I think there are people, you know, Hugo Chavez wants to sell oil because he wants to produce enough income to improve the conditions of the poor people in Venezuela, and he understands he must increase production and sell more oil. So, there isn't a direct clash between the US interests and Venezuelan interests as one might imagine. There is some mutuality of interests, I mean the US is not happy with Chavez, because he's a firm supporter of OPEC, but he does not stand in the way of the flow of oil from Venezuela to the United States. In fact, he favors increasing the sale of oil to the United States, so it's unclear where that's going to go. Certainly it's a matter of concern in the administration.


Transcript of MichaelKlare.Interview.2003-04-04