The Geopoliticization of World’s Oil & Gas Industry

Irwin Stelzer has written a sobering article in the February 7, 2005 issue of the Weekly Standard on what he calls the “geopoliticization of the world’s oil and gas industry.”
His key point is:

…it can’t be said that the free play of supply and demand ever set prices in the oil market. But we are now seeing an even more profound uncoupling of the oil industry from anything resembling the model characteristics of market economies. Governments rather than traditional commercial enterprises are increasingly taking control. And those governments often have interests quite hostile to ours.

In support of his thesis, Stelzer makes the following points:

…America remains highly dependent on Saudi oil, the production of which is controlled by state-owned Aramco, an instrument of the Saudi government’s foreign policy…
[Through] the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, established in 2000,…state-owned companies in China [are] buying oil from state-owned companies in Iran…
The China Petroleum & Chemical Company (Sinopec) also signed a 30-year natural gas purchase deal to help the mullahs get their gas industry moving and agreed to invest in the development of the Yadavaran oil fields in return for Iran’s agreement to sell it 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil…
As Gal Luft and Anne Korin pointed out in the March 2004 issue of Commentary (subscription required), China “has sold ballistic-missile components to Iran as well as air-, land-, and sea-based cruise missiles…Even more significantly, China has provided Iran with key ingredients for the development of nuclear weapons,” and China’s Fiber-Home Communications Technology is building a broadband network in Iran.
Sinopec agreed to spend $300 million to develop natural gas resources in Saudi Arabia…The Sino-Saudi oil-for-arms trade has included the sale by China of ballistic missiles with a range of 1,800 miles and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead…
China clearly aims to position itself as an alternative to America as an ally and armorer of countries that oppose U.S. foreign policy…China also tends toward countries that are key suppliers of the oil that keeps the wheels of American commerce turning…

We cannot forget that the real price America is likely to pay for the Clinton-Gore years will not be from inappropriate sexual dalliances, but from that administration’s peculiar dealings with China, which Bill Gertz outlines in his 2001 book entitled “Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security.” Character does matter in the end.
Gertz has also elaborated previously on the growing threat from China in his 2000 book entitled “The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America.”
Stelzer continues:

Canadian prime minister Paul Martin just visited Beijing and came away with a broad-ranging deal to cooperate in a wide variety of energy projects, including plans for a pipeline and ports that would allow…oil from Alberta’s tar sands to move to Canada’s west coast for export to China…According to their joint communique…”Canda and China share the view that the United Nations and other multilateral institutions have an essential role to play in the development of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”
…[Chinese] President Hu Jintao has agreed to invest $100 billion in Latin America in a variety of energy-related an dother partnerships…
Most threatening is the arrangement made with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a man with close ties to Fidel Castro and who claims his country is under “a new U.S. imperialist attack.” China has agreed to invest over $400 million in Venezuela’s oil and gas industry, and to buy 120,000 barrels of that country’s fuel oil each month. Chavez has made it known that he plans to use the proceeds of his oil industry to fund sales of cheap oil to Castro, and he has not denied rumors that he plans to finance revolutionary groups in other Latin American countries. Moreover, he has announced that he is no longer bound by his exploration and development deals with American companies ConocoPhillips, Harvest Natural Resources, and ChevronTexaco, putting into question the reliability of supplies from Venezuela, which account for 15% of U.S. imports…

We cannot forget that any long-term consequences here were made possible by Jimmy Carter’s ignoring of well-documented voting irregularities which allowed Chavez to “win” what most other observers said was a stolen election that he should have lost. (Or, as Power Line subsequently said when talking about Carter and Iraq: “Jimmy Carter isn’t just misguided or ill-informed. He’s on the other side.”)
Stelzer continues with the litany of problematic developments:

CNOOC, China’s third largest oil company, is preparing a series of acquisitions in Asia that will allow China to acquire the resources it needs to fuel its growth and extend its influence into countries in which its commercial presence has until now been insignificant…
Putin has been developing what astute observer Roger Boyes calls “a new policy instrument” to reassert Russian power. That instrument is “the Russian gas and oil-exporting companies that already all but dominate Europe’s energy supplies…According to the IEA, by 2020, natural gas will account for 62% of Europe’s energy consumption, and Russia will supply two-thirds of that gas…
Germany already gets 35% of its oil and 40% of its gas from Russia…
Russia is using its reserves to…make Germany, France and other countries heavily dependent on Putin’s goodwill…[Putin can then] rely on German and French self-interest to tip those countries to his side in any dispute with the United States…

Ronald Reagan must be turning over in his grave since he led the effort to stop a Soviet pipeline to Western Europe, thereby denying the Soviets both hard currency and political leverage.
The list of other efforts contrary to American self-interest continues:

Russia also plans to use its ample reserves of oil and gas to extend its influence in Asia. It has already agreed to allow Japan to finance an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Pacific, from where it can be transported to Japan…and allow Russia to export to several Asian nations as well as Japan…
Perhaps most important is Russia’s use of oil to cement relations with China…Putin has offered China National Petroleum Corporation a piece of Yukos, the Russian oil giant that produces 1 percent of the world’s crude oil, and that Putin effectively renationalized…Putin’s siloviki, which includes his old KGB chums, is now firmly in control of Russia’s oil industry…
Putin’s offer to the Chinese of a branch connection with the pipeline joint-venture with Japan…

At the same time, there is a new report about the growing number of Russian spies in our country.
The core issues raised by Stelzer were also raised in a 2004 book by Bill Gertz called “Treachery: How America’s Friends and Foes are Secretly Arming Our Enemies.”
Stelzer sets up a potential endgame conflict scenario:

Russia and China are using state-owned companies that are not bound to profit-maximize to achieve their long-term goal of weaving a web of relationships that will stand them in good stead in any diplomatic confrontation with the United States. Whether America can continue to rely on its private sector to provide us with comparable clout is no longer certain. After all, when companies that have to maximize profits compete with companies that seek to maximize national influence and power, the latter will engage in projects that the former simply cannot.

Does anyone doubt that these actions amount to nothing less than economic warfare against the United States?
Will anyone pay attention and act before it is too late?
A recent news article also highlights the strong presence of Chinese spies in America.

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Marc Comtois
19 years ago

Great post. A similar point was made today at TCS by Rowan Callick. While we correctly should continue emphasizing the War on Terror and the Middle East, we shouldn’t take our eyes off of China and Russia. Of course, just because a lot of us in the blogosphere have doesn’t mean that the Administration has forgotten or ignored China and/or Russia. At least that’s what I hope!

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