U.S. Oil Dependence: Driving U.S. Military Strategy

Friends Committee on National Legislation, April 2004


U.S. economic prosperity and military power were fueled over the last century by abundant, cheap domestic oil. The Bush Administration believes that oil will continue to be key to U.S. economic and military power in the years ahead. Because U.S. domestic oil production continues to decline, the Administration is seeking to rapidly secure access to oil supplies around the world.

U.S. oil demand is huge and increasing. Today, the U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet it consumes more than 25 percent of global oil production-about 20 million barrels per day (mbd). Oil is the dominant fuel in the U.S. energy market, meeting almost 40 percent of total U.S. energy needs. Most of this is consumed by the transportation sector. If current U.S. oil demand trends continue, by 2025, the US. will be consuming over 29 mbd. More larger and heavier cars and trucks- with bigger engines, driven more miles each year- will account for most of this growth.

U.S. domestic oil production began declining about 1970. There have been no major new oil discoveries in the U.S. for decades, and ;the cost of extracting oil from maturing wells is going up. In 2002, the U.S. imported 54 percent of its supply, and by 2025, the U.S. will need to import more than 70 percent at current demand projections.

Oil Scarcity Will Only Increase

The U.S. is not alone in its quest for more oil. Industrial economies around the world remain highly dependent on oil which, increasingly, they will need to import from other countries.

China, with its rapidly growing economy, 1.3 billion people, and millions of new cars, has just passed Japan to become the second largest consumer of oil after the U.S. In 2003, China consumed more than five mbd, of which more than 35 percent was imported. By 2030, China will need to import 80 percent of the 12 mbd it is expected to need. India, with its 1 billion people and surging economy, also has a growing thirst for oil, most of which will have to be imported.

All tolled, today, the world is consuming a little over 80 mbd (30 billion barrels per year). By 2030, global demand is expected to grow by 50 percent to 120 mbd (45 billion barrels per year).

It is highly uncertain that enough new oil will be discovered to meet this demand. There have been few major discoveries in recent decades, and production from mature oil fields is expected to peak soon.

An estimated two-thirds of the world's remaining proven oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf region. Eventually, this is the region upon which all oil-dependent countries will have to rely. Other regions with oil reserves are as follows: Central and South America, 9% of total global reserves; East Asia and Oceania, 4%; Western Europe, 2%; North America, 5%; Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, 6%; and Africa, 7%.

Militarization of US. Oil Dependence

The U.S. staked its claim to oil in the politically volatile Persian Gulf region long ago through security assurances with various regimes past and present. For decades, each administration has pronounced its willingness to use military force to secure U.S. access to oil in this region. However, the Bush Administration has pushed the militarization of U.S. oil policy to a new extreme. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, ousting a hostile regime that controlled more than 112 billion barrels of oil (the second largest proven reserves in the world) is the most obvious example. Other U.S. military ties may be less well known.

To support its operations in Iraq and its "war on terror," the U.S. has either provided military aid and training, deployed troops, established bases, sold weapons, or negotiated security agreements with governments throughout the Persian Gulf region. The list of countries includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgystan, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. The U.S. has fleets deployed permanently in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. It is seeking to establish forward operating bases in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia and aircraft refueling bases in Senegal and Uganda. It continues to operate large bases in Turkey and is planning to move forces from Germany to new bases in Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria to the east, where they will be closer to anticipated zones of conflict in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

To reduce reliance on Persian Gulf oil, the Bush Administration has sought to strengthen relations with other non-OPEC, oil-rich countries. In February, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited Kazakhstan, promising security assistance for Kazakhstan's oil pipelines and facilities on the Caspian Sea, where an estimated 7-9 billion barrels of oil were recently discovered (the largest oil discovery anywhere in 30 years). Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey just signed a U.S.-backed deal to build an oil pipeline to bring that oil to ports on the Mediterranean. The U.S. has military ties with each.

Securing Other Sources of Oil

In 2003, the U.S. increased its military aid and provided more military trainers to Colombia to protect an oil pipeline there. Colombia provides about 4 percent of U.S. oil imports. U.S. oil imports from Africa are expected to increase from 15 percent of total U.S. imports to 25 percent by 2005. Most will come from Nigeria and Angola, from whom the U.S. already imports almost 1 million barrels per day. Reportedly, the U.S. is considering building a naval port and air base on the nearby island nation of Sao Tome.

The Bush Administration's costly and provocative efforts to secure access to foreign oil through military relationships stands in stark contrast to its insignificant efforts to reduce U.S. oil consumption. This misguided policy seems certain to lead to future oil wars. The U.S. needs a more sensible energy policy-a national mobilization to reduce U.S. oil dependence. Such a policy would strengthen the U.S. economy, make the U.S. more secure, and help prevent war.

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