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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

21 February 2006

Energy independence: a mixed blessing

As George W. Bush intensifies his campaign to wean America off its addiction of foreign oil, I find myself torn. On one hand, energy independence is the wrong yardstick: just because America becomes more independent, it does not mean that it will become more energy secure. There is also plenty reason to think that many of the geopolitical problems that America hopes to solve by energy independence (funding or being held hostage by unsavory regimes) are likely to persist (more on this in an earlier post: “Energy independence again,” 15 Jan 06). On the other hand, I recognize that there is some merit in calling for energy independence in that this is likely to include cleaner, more efficient and more diverse fuels. Therefore, as long as there is overlap between energy independence and energy security, there is no harm in rousing public support by being somewhat dishonest and imprecise about what the real problem is and about what the solution might look like.

But there is a downside. The rhetoric of energy independence can succeed only by demonizing oil producers. No harm in that you may say—many producers deserve to be demonized. But a closer look at the world energy market reveals a striking fact: if America adopts a confrontational tone towards the producers it finds reprehensible, there will be so few producers left. What will they do? They might try to cozy up to countries that are less judgmental, say China or India. They may also adopt a more skewed view of their national interests; historically, Saudi Arabia has been the driver of moderation in OPEC and few countries are as keen to take into account the views of the consumers. Even if energy independence is a desired outcome, the path towards it has to be complemented with skillful diplomacy; and at the heart of that skillful diplomacy is the need to preserve the desire in producing countries to accommodate the interests of the consumers.

And so the conundrum facing the United States is this: to achieve energy security it needs to adopt the rhetoric of energy independence and for energy independence to succeed, America must paint a highly unfavorable image of foreign oil producers; and yet the smooth transition towards that futuristic end-state depends on the desire of those unsavory producers to go along and make the process somewhat easier. I am the only one to think this is a risky strategy?

(Photo: AP)

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