While We Were Sleeping
Guest post by Nancy Brune
Dr. Nancy E. Brune is currently the director of Research and Policy at UNLV’s Institute for Security Studies, where she works on energy security and national security issues. She is a Truman National Security fellow, as well as a member of Women in International Security and the Pacific Council on International Policy.
There’s a reason why the Senate’s new clean energy bill is called the American Power Act. If America fails to adopt a comprehensive energy strategy to keep us strong in the 21st century, we won’t have much national or military power to speak of as we confront an increasing number of national security challenges.
The new Senate clean energy and security bill was a long time coming. The decision made by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham several weeks ago to suspend his involvement in negotiations did not bode well for America’s energy security. Long gone are the days of Summer 2008, when candidates from both parties called on America to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, offering solutions to make us greener and safer. Sadly, while our political leaders have yet to achieve any real progress in making us safer and less reliant on foreign oil, other countries are aggressively taking steps to ensure their own long-term energy security and sovereign power.
Over the last few years, geopolitical powerhouses – including China and Russia – have taken bold measures to ensure their long-term energy security. Driven by the need to fuel its rapidly growing economy, China has invested in distant, oil-rich African nations including Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, and the Sudan. But it has also ponied up money closer to home. On April 20, China’s National Petroleum Company announced a $900 million heavy crude production project with Venezuela. Just a week earlier in neighboring Brazil, a country that sits on vast pre-salt oil reserves, China’s Sinopec and the China Development Bank signed a strategic development pact with Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company.
In addition, China – along with several sovereign wealth funds owned by countries in the Middle East – have made significant investments in energy companies in Canada, one of America’s closest allies and biggest source of oil imports (almost 25 percent). This wave of investment in our northern neighbor stands in stark contrast to the recent decisions last fall by the U.S. Department of Defense and private firms to reverse course and cancel plans to develop and use Canadian tar sands oil.
Russia has also been quite active in building strategic relationships with several resource-wealthy countries to enhance its long-term energy security. In September 2009, Russia and Venezuela announced several cooperative agreements on defense, trade, and energy. A consortium of energy giants in Russia signed two agreements with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the country’s national oil company. Last week, former Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed the merger of Gazprom, Russia’s state gas company, with Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state energy company, in a deal that would give Russia control over the Ukraine’s vast European pipeline network.
Even our European allies, despite facing significant economic strain, announced recently that they are investing precious financial resources in almost fifty new energy projects “to strengthen the region’s energy security.”
Around the world, America’s allies and competitors are moving aggressively to secure access to energy resources as part of a comprehensive national energy strategy. For instance, in addition to investing in oilfields, China is also making significant investments in renewable energy. In 2009, China’s investment in renewable energy totaled $34.6 billion, surpassing U.S. investment of $18.6 billion.
America cannot afford to delay any longer. Energy security and resiliency are inextricably tied to America’s long-term national security interests, geopolitical bargaining power, and economic might. Every day that we put off forging a comprehensive national energy strategy undermines the power of our military, the single largest consumer of energy in the world. We need a climate and energy bill that will provide measures to help us diversify our sources of energy, protect our military, and reduce our vulnerability to turbulence in global energy markets.
As was clear in 2008, energy security is an issue of national importance. We can’t afford to let politics or a single interest group hijack our long-term energy security. There are signs that national leadership is committed to moving forward. Last month, the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar took the bold and courageous step of allowing the Nantucket Sound wind project to move forward. The recent oil spill has made the urgency of supporting measures to develop other sources of energy more critical. On Wednesday, Senators Kerry and Lieberman presented their new energy and climate bill, the American Power Act.
We now have before us an opportunity to make America less vulnerable to political instability and volatility in global energy markets. Other nations recognize the critical link between energy surety and national security. Will America?