Guest Writings
Interests and Concerns of US Military about Oil By Sohbet Karbuz

For more than half a century the main concern of the US military has been to protect American interests. Until the breakdown of the Iron Curtain, the Pentagon had three key objectives: to contain Soviet influence, to keep the Persian Gulf region stable, and to guarantee uninterrupted access to oil reserves.

Oil has always been a powerful weapon that determined US interests. An article by Elhefnawy in Spring 2006 issue of Parameters, the US Army War College Quarterly, makes this clear. He states that “Americans are prone to forget that the oil weapon was not an innovation of disgruntled Middle Eastern states, but of the United States itself, which used it with considerable effectiveness in the past—for example, in the embargo against Japan prior to America’s entry into World War II, and in the Suez crisis in 1956 against Britain and France.”

There are so many other events that can be added to the list. For example, overthrow of Iran's Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the installation of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi by Anglo-American Intelligence services coincided with Mossadegh’s plans to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. Thereby Iran’s commitment to the free flow and marketing of Iranian oil become known as the central pillar of the Nixon Doctrine.

As soon as the US supported Shah of Iran was overthrown by Ayatollah Khomeini, Jimmy Carter made it clear at his State of the Union Address on January 23, 1980 that American interests in Persian Gulf are non-negotiable: “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” he said.

Soon afterwards the Reagan administration began establishing military bases in the Persian Gulf. In his testimony before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 30, 2006, Milton R. Copulos, President of National Defense Council Foundation, reminded us that “In 1983 the implicit promise to protect Persian Gulf oil supplies became an explicit element of U.S. military doctrine with the creation of the United States Central Command, CENTCOM.”

He added that “Without oil, our economy could not function, and therefore protecting our sources of oil is a legitimate defense mission, and the current military operation in Iraq is part of that mission.”

Actually this mission of Pentagon is defined nowhere clearer than in the Military Posture Statements, issued by the committee of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Oil and US Military Interests

’The following four quotes are from a paper by Mark A. Delucchi and James Murphy

Of these interests [oil security, regional stability and Soviet containment] “continued access to oil on reasonable political and economic terms is the most important to US and allied security” (Joint Chiefs of Staff, FY1982, p. 12).

“US interests in the Middle East and Southwest Asia focus largely, but not exclusively, on the region’s oil reserves” (Joint Chiefs of Staff, FY1983, p. 6).

“The United States is determined to preclude disruption or hostile control of the vital resources and to limit the spread of Soviet influence in the area. Other US interests, important in their own right but bearing heavily on the security of energy resources, include peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and increased stability throughout the region” (Joint Chiefs of Staff, FY1983, p. 6).

“The security of the Middle East and Southwest Asia is critical to the economic health of the free world and, consequently, to the security of the United States. Regional stability, Free World access to oil resources, and the limitation of Soviet influence remain important US objectives.” (Joint Chiefs of Staff, FY1988, p. 16; Joint Chiefs of Staff, FY1989, p. 21).

Between 1989 and 1993 Richard (Dick) Cheney was Secretary of Defense. Cheney regarded Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as a grave threat to US interests. He was so much into that subject that when hostilities began in January 1991, Cheney turned most other DoD matters over to Deputy Secretary Atwood. (see his bio’). 10 years later he continued his unfinished job, this time as Vice President.

In the meantime, the promised but not delivered communism broke apart in China in 1989 and in USSR in 1991, adding one billion people to consumer capitalism. Even the CIA couldn’t see that coming. So, suddenly three concerns of the Pentagon were reduced to two and oil became even more important. No surprise that Pentagon's February 18, 1992 draft of the Defense Planning Guidance for the Fiscal Years 1994-1999, was not far off reflecting this aspect.

“Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances: access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oilÉ..In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil“, was saying the report. (see, New York Times, March 8, 1992

Following the breakdown of USSR, the neo-conservatives were calling for a military build-up to assure American global dominance as early as 1992. That year Paul Wolfowitz prepared (for then Defence Secretary Dick Cheney) a Defense Planning Guidance document. In that report there is a remarkable sentence “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil.” This means oil has a special place in hegonomy and empire building.

American hegemony through militarisation is also implicit in the Project for a New American Century, backed by leading neo-conservatives (including Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Woolsey and others) in June 1997. (For more on PNAC, see Sarah Meyer’s PNAC I and PNAC II reports.) The National Energy Policy Development Group’s Energy Policy of 2001 is also not far from that. (I will return to this later.)

In Strategic Assessment 1995, prepared by the Institute for National Strategic Studies (part of the US Department of Defence's National Defence University), it was pointed out that energy and resource issues will continue to shape international security. It also forecasts that if an oil problem arises, "US forces might be used to ensure adequate supplies.”

The report says that “The U.S. wants to ensure that Persian Gulf oil flows without supply disruptions that could inflict considerable cost on the U.S. economy. The U.S. also wants the price of oil to be relatively stable at a level that does not throw the world into recession. Finally, the U.S. seeks to prevent any restraints on free shipping of oil along the sea Lines of communication to the U.S. or its allies. For example, ensuring a reliable flow of oil from the Persian Gulf enjoys a broad consensus in the U.S. as an interest that must be defended with military force if necessary.”

In the 334 pages long Strategic Assessment 1999, it was mentioned that national security depends also on successful engagement in the global economy. Therefore national defence no longer means protecting the nation from military threats alone, but economic challenges, too.

The report also has excellent predictions for example “Such rogues as Iraq and Iran are gaining strength as the U.S. strategy of dual containment becomes harder to carry out ….If Iraq or Iran acquires WMD systems, they will threaten not only each other, but the entire Persian Gulf and Middle East ….U.S. policies will need to focus on protecting access to Persian Gulf oil, dampening WMD proliferation, …. U.S. forces may intervene in future crises and wars in the Persian Gulf. Energy dynamics will dictate that U.S. forces play a major role in Persian Gulf security ….At present, the United States is principally responsible for defending the Persian Gulf and Western access to oil; other industrial democracies have as much interest as America in the free flow of reasonably priced oil.”

Note that in all publicly available Strategic Assessments (1995-1999), the Persian Gulf in general, and Iran and Iraq in particular were identified as the biggest threat to security of future oil supplies.

Oil and Military Interests in 21st Century

When we entered the 21st century, India and the other Asian countries (after the recovery of Asian financial crisis) jumped onto the so-called globalization train, increasing the number of oil hungry consumerists, and hence worrying the US administration. However considered to be optimistic, the results of the US Geological Survey 2000 assessment on world petroleum resources were worrying some.

In May 2001, National Energy Policy Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group was released. The group was chaired by the Vice President Cheney, formerly CEO of Halliburton, oilfield service company. The Report (also known as the Cheney Report) underlines the global nature of fight for oil. It says “’By any estimation, Middle East oil producers will remain central to world oil security. The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S international energy policy, but our engagement will be global, spotlighting existing and emerging regions that will have a major impact on the global energy balance.”

This report also strengthened the role of the Pentagon in shaping US policy objectives.

“[O]ther threats to US interests remain a part of the strategic environment.  Thus, elements of our force are committed to other missions, such as defense of the Korean peninsula, protection of US interests in Southwest Asia, and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans” was in the posture Statement of Chairman of the JCS General Myers before the House Armed Services Committee on February 6, 2002.

In fact, General Myers makes it more clear what he meant with that in the conclusing part of his Posture Statement on February 16, 2005. “We must stay committed if we are to win the Global War on Terrorism and defend the US and our national interests. Our way of life remains at stake, so failure is not an option.”

A year later, on February 7, 2006, General Peter Pace, the new Chairman of the JCS told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his Posture Statement that “We are in a long war. Our enemy intends to destroy our way of life. They seek to expel American influence from the Middle East, overthrow the existing secular governments of the region, and establish a fundamentalist religious empire on which to base eventual global domination.”

These kinds of statements are found in almost every military publication. For example, the 2006 edition of the Quadrennial Defense Review Report states that the US military “protect and advance U.S. interests and values. They are often asked to be protectors of the peace and providers of relief. They are a force for good.”

But these US interests have always coincided with the interests of corporate America.

Oil and US Military-Industry Complex

Globalisation, notes Michel Chossudovsky “is the final march to the new world order, dominated by Wall Street and the U.S. military-industrial complex.” One of America’s most decorated soldiers Major General Smedley D. Butler said in 1935 confirms that:

“Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street …. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested,” says Butler.

This sounds like something of the past and remained in the past. No, it is not the past but present perfect! Pipeline politics in Afghanistan, Coup attempt in Venezuela, invasion of Iraq are only some of the recent examples.

In a December 2005 article at Michel Chossudovsky discusses Anglo-American alliance which addresses powerful economic interests in the oil industry, military and international banking.

The UN head Kofi Annan declared the illegality of Iraq invasion only after a year delay and has not raised his voice against American military unilateralism. Chandra Muzaffar sees this a leading indicator of empire building. He adds that “military power is an essential pre-requisite for the protection of the entire Washington helmed neo-liberal capitalist system with its Multinational Corporations and Transnational Corporations, banks, financial markets, currency dealers and commodity speculators. Thus there is hard power (military) and soft power that are both being harnessed to build the Empire.”

Oil and Militarization of the US Foreign Policy

Energy policy, or more precisely oil, has been the driving force behind American foreign policy and Pentagon for the better part of a century. “The militarisation of the United States’s energy policy is distorting the country’s democracy and damaging its standing in the world,” says Godfrey Hodgson. Michael Klare claims in his book ’Blood and Oil” that US military operations are hard to distinquish from protecting energy assets.

“The United States is today the preponderant military power in the world. Still, our military establishment is heavily dependent upon oil. Moreover, in the longer run, as we face the prospect of a plateau in which we are no longer able worldwide to increase the production of oil against presumably still rising demand, the question is whether the Department of Defense will still be able to obtain the supply of oil products necessary for maintaining our military preponderance. In that prospective world, the Department of Defense will face all sorts of pressures at home and abroad to curtail its use of petroleum products, thereby endangering its overall military effectiveness.”

The sentences above are from the statement of James Schlesinger (former CIA director) before the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, on 16 November 2005.

It is in fact not suprising. During the height of first oil crisis, the same Schlesinger (then Secretary of Defense, was talking about invading Saudi Arabia and occupying its oil fields. In April 2003, Schlesinger argued the US “won a war—and taught the Middle East a lesson.”

Place of Peak Oil in US Military Strategy

Karen A. Harbert, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, Department of Energy, said in her testimony on March 2, 2006 that “Actions taken by any country to misuse or mismanage their energy resources without considering the global implications of their actions will have a negative impact on every country. As traditional energy resources become scarce and more difficult to develop, energy security will become an even more critical component of economic security and national security …. Resources are often located in places that are geographically hard to reach, geologically difficult to develop, politically unstable, or unfriendly to new investment.”

In other words, be scared and keep in mind that oil is a vital interest.

Former CIA director James Schlesinger published an article entitled “Thinking seriously: about energy and oil's future” in the winter 2005 issue of The National Interest. After discussing the peak oil issue at length he argues that “The Day of Reckoning is coming, and we need to take measures earlier to cushion the shock. To reduce the shock, measures to ameliorate it should start ten years earlier at a minimum, given the length of time required to adjust the capital stock—and preferably much longer. The longer we delay, the greater the subsequent pain.”

He clearly admits that peak oil is in sight and Americans should do something. What Americans do and has done until now was already in his previous speeches and his actions in the past. In any case, both Harbert and Schlesinger must have been heavily influenced by the Hirsh Report of the DOE.

The US military does not only have many courageous soldiers (at the end it is the soldiers who die in action, not the generals) but also has good researchers.

For example, a September 2005 report prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entitled “Energy Trends and Their Implications for U.S. Army Installations” is an important breakthrough on how the Pentagon sees the future of oil and beyond.

If you didn’t know that it is an official Army publication, you would have thought that it is another Peak Oil story influenced by the ’’Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. Here are some important quotes from the report: (Some extended quotations from that report as well as other references are given in the Peak oil and the Army’s Future by the editors of EnergyBulletin.)

“The doubling of oil prices from 2003-2005 is not an anomaly, but a picture of the future. Oil production is approaching its peak; low growth in availability can be expected for the next 5 to 10 years. As worldwide petroleum production peaks, geopolitics and market economics will cause even more significant price increases and security risks. One can only speculate at the outcome from this scenario as world petroleum production declines.”

“In conclusion, we are clearly entering a very different period for global energy markets and relations. We shall continue to face geopolitical risks and uncertainties and concerns around energy security will continue to rise. Petroleum will remain the most strategic and political energy commodity with natural gas running a close second. There will be increasing focus on É resource depletion. The situation is particularly acute in the case of petroleumÉ. The roles of leading actors in the global energy system will also change as the center of gravity for oil production shifts back towards the Middle East and Central Asia.”

After discussing at length all the alternatives to oil, the report includes in its recommendation to increase national supplies and release capacity, and to open up Federal lands for oil and natural gas harvesting where environmentally appropriate in helping the Army meet its energy challenges.

This is a contradiction compared to most parts of the report in which renewables and technology are highly promoted. Indeed, they state in the report exactly the likely outcome of all the discussion which did not show up in the conclusions: “Oil wars are certainly not out of the question’.”

In fact, Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, already warned in June 2005 that the global battle for control of energy resources could become the modern equivalent of the 19th century great game. He is reported saying that “The amount of energy is finite, up to now in relation to demand, and competition for access to energy can become the life and death for many societies. It would be ironic if the direction of pipelines and locations become the modern equivalent of the colonial disputes of the 19th century."

All these signal the necessity of preparedness of military to possible oil wars.

The United States would be all but powerless to protect the American economy in the face of a catastrophic disruption of oil markets concluded in a war game called "Oil Shockwave".

A few months later, in October 2005, European troops from France, Belgium and Germany conducted air and ground exercises in southern France simulating an international defense of an oil-rich country under attack. It was only reported that the objective was to be able to command from Paris an operation that is happening 5,000 kilometers away.

November 2003 issue of Defense Horizons starts with a soft warning: “While there is no near-term fuel crisis facing DOD, this situation is likely to change over the coming decades as fossil fuel reserves deplete and world demand for them grows. DoD will be confronted with some significant challenges, ranging from protecting U.S. interests as supply and demand come into increasing conflict, to resolving defense-unique fuel requirements as the Nation moves to alternate fuels.”

However, the report is not very optimistic about Hydrogen, which is seen by many as the saver of future oil problem. “The current trend toward a hydrogen economy presents DoD with some special challenges, because a pure hydrogen fuel likely will not satisfy many DOD requirements. The resolution of this problem will take decades,” concludes the report.

An article by Lt. Col. John M. Amidon in the winter 2005 issue of the Joint Forces Quarterly discusses in length the Peak Oil and beyond from military point of view. The author first admits that current energy strategy of the US assumes its oil needs can be met “by managing the oil-producing countries diplomatically and militarily.” He continues with “However, this thinking overestimates the available oil supply, ignores growing instability in the oil-producing countries, and understates the military costs of preserving access.”

He is doubtful that “any military, even that of a global hegemon, could secure an oil lifeline indefinitely. Failing to take urgent economic steps now will necessitate more painful economic steps later and likely require protracted military action.”

All these statements up to here overlook one vital point: Just as we currently demand assured access to sources of oil, in the near future we will demand assured access to a broad-based, diverse supply of genes, ie, plants and animals. This issue is tackled in a stunning article entitled “From Petro to Agro: Seeds of a New Economy” by Robert Armstrong in October 2002 issue of Defense Horizons.

“As agricultural fields will assume the same significance as oil fields,” he argues, “Relations with oil-rich countries will be of less importance, and relations with gene-rich states will assume greater significance.” He points to equatorial regions as the main target for securing the future needs.

From whatever angle we look at the security issues it becomes clear that future of the world will be very unsecure one.

Likely path in the 21st century

The Pentagon knows that

  • Asian consumers will become the most important customer of the Persian Gulf oil.
  • The US oil demand will increase substantially in the next 25 years.
  • Peak Oil is approaching and the US needs to secure its future oil supplies.
  • Mexican oil production would not be sufficient enough to continue to be the second largest import source of the US.
  • Oil sands production will not be sustainable in the future due mainly to environmental pressures and other technical and economic reasons. This means Canada, today’s largest oil import source of the US, cannot be relied too much.
  • North Sea oil production is going down and Europe is becoming more dependent on Russia.
  • Neglecting South America was a big mistake. The ‘Bolivarian revolution’ is spreading throughout South America and the region will not be the puppet of the US, at least in the short to mid term.

The Pentagon also knows that the US is addicted to oil and that the American way of life is non-negotiable. It also knows that they are already too late for alternatives. On top of that, the American economy and the US dollar are also in big danger. But the US military is still the world’s biggest power and oil consumer. (See for example the DoD Factsheet.)

Therefore, the Pentagon had to change its strategy and had to create a global ghost enemy called “terrorism”, which is enough to scare everybody living on this planet. The words such as threat, concerns, democracy, terrorism, liberty, interests, freedom have become to be used as excuses for a global war against ghosts.

While playing around with regional definitions such as “Persian Gulf”, “Southwest Asia” and “Middle East”, the Pentagon in fact has already selected Africa as the US’s next oil frontier and has been working hard towards that. The world has been deceived. The US, however, is not the only one to be blamed. The other major power, the European Union also has an interest in 'energy security'.

Today, double standards surrounding nuclearization coupled with ever increasing sales of military weapons and equipment push us closer to a clash over “interests”. Corrupted governments in some developing countries are still the battleground are where the major powers clash. However, corruption is a doubled edged sword, corrupters on one side, and corrupteds on the other.

It seems that “interests” are now turning into “concerns”, and wars are considered to be a solution to concerns. We humans, consider ourselves as “intelligent animals”. But history proves that we do not deserve the adjective “intelligent”. Shame on us!

Dr. Sohbet Karbuz is former head of non-OECD energy statistics section of the International Energy Agency (Paris). Before joining the IEA he held academic positions in Germany and Austria. The views presented in the article are his own and should not in any way be interpreted as shared by his current or former employers. He can be contacted at

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