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Wednesday, 22-November-2006
The Jakarta Poat - In the wake of a global energy crisis, conflicts over natural resources have become an increasingly prominent feature of the international landscape. The scarcity of crude oil has pushed many countries into changing their strategies in securing those resources. These strategies include economic and military means that are implemented in the scope of energy security policies.
The United States as the world's biggest oil consumer and producer has been highly active during the last decade in securing oil sources. The U.S. is even willing to wage war in Iraq and the Middle East to advance its interests. With the aggressive nature and the urgent need for oil, the U.S. is ready to take any necessary measures. Thus, the impact of U.S. energy security policies will be felt by many countries, especially those that are rich in oil, including Indonesia.
To face the threat of oil scarcity, the United States has adopted the paradigm of energy security, which includes, first, "rationing", which calls for allocating available supplies and limit consumption. Second, "stockpiling", which is reducing an importing country's vulnerability to a supply interruption by proving cushioning measures. Third, "diversification", which indicates attempts to ensure the continuity of energy supply by having alternative sources and suppliers.
Energy security policies are intended to strengthen economic and military power. After the Cold War, there was a shift in the understanding of what economic and military power is. Whereas weapons technology and alliance politics once dominated the military affairs discourse, American strategy now focuses on oil-field protection, critical trade routes and other aspects of resource security. In the wake of many energy-dependent industries, economic growth is now also identical to the amounts of energy sources being stockpiled. The underlying idea beneath this shift is that now national power is defined by economic strength, and economic strength depends heavily on the availability of energy.
Before exploring the economic and military means that the U.S. is imposing, a picture of how vital the Persian Gulf area is needs to be drawn. The Gulf's oil deposits are highly concentrated and located near the surface, making it easy to extract and develop. Many geologists believe that new petroleum sources can still be found, and those will exceed the potentials in the North Atlantic or Siberia. The Persian Gulf region possesses 65 percent of the world's proven oil reserves.
The area comprises five major and several secondary suppliers. One of the most significant suppliers is Saudi Arabia, which alone controls 27 percent of the world's oil supplies, with 263.5 billion barrels (bbl) in proven reserves. Closely trailing are four states with relatively large resources: Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iran. Secondary suppliers consist of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Yemen. The region now holds 673.2 bbl of oil in proven reserves.
In comparison, the U.S only has 28.6 bbl. The U.S. is strongly committed to protecting Gulf oil, although only about 10 percent of oil used in the U.S. is imported from the region. Gulf oil was and is still important because of its impact on the global economy.
As mentioned before, the U.S. energy security policy relies on economic and military measures in securing oil resources in the Middle East. In economic terms, the U.S. still uses the classic mercantilist approach by using its oil Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) as an instrument in gaining power. The U.S. government and its MNCs have a very close relationship, where both of their interests are usually coordinated into a certain policy.
A case in point is the "Silk Road Strategy", an integrated policy that satisfies energy, trade and geopolitical interests in the Caspian Sea where China, Russia, Eurasia and Western Europe will be connected through American oil MNCs pipelines. The U.S. continually encourages its MNCs to invest in the Middle East by giving away tenders, tax breaks and loans. The presence of American MNCs will ensure the sustainability of oil resources and supply back to the country.
In military terms, the U.S. has two main strategies. First is maintaining regional security and stability as to not jeopardize its pipelines by establishing military bases in the Gulf region. Vast supplies of heavy equipment, ships, aircraft and carriers are positioned at strategic points so they can carry combat force from the U.S. on very short notice. Standby weapons and brigades are also located nearby in Kuwait and Qatar, all ready to spring with sufficient hardware should any conflict erupt.
Second, the U.S. also maintains "friendly" relations with the Gulf states by military diplomacy through arms transfers, aid, training and regime support. The U.S. has made numerous arms transfers to the Gulf Cooperation Council to improve their military self-sufficiency and capabilities in assisting American forces.
The U.S has sold some of its most sophisticated weapons, including F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, M-1 tanks, AH-64 Apache helicopters and Patriot air-defense missile. Even the upgraded F-16 sold to the United Arab Emirates are far more modern compared to the ones in the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. also continues to support and protect the Saudi Royal Family and their regime, whether politically or economically. The vast human rights violations and political oppression are dismissed as long as a hassle-free access to oil resources is sustained.
The U.S. strategy of combining economic and military might in securing energy sources seems to have been adopted by other major oil-importing countries such as China and Russia. If worldwide oil consumption increases by 55 percent by 2020, as predicted by the U.S. Department of Energy, clearly there is no other region that can satisfy this demand other than the Gulf. With the securitization of oil politics and limited resource, the Gulf will continue to be a hot spot for the world's resource wars.
The writer is a fifth semester undergraduate in International Relations at the University of Indonesia. She is active in many debating competitions and social work, and was a delegate for the National Team at the World Schools Debating Championship 2003 in Peru, and 2004 in Germany.

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