In his latest striking post, Michael Klare begins his survey of a world floating on a flaming sea of oil this way: “Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts. At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances. But look more closely and they share several key characteristics — notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.
“In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighboring (often intermingled) tribes, sects, and peoples. In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians, and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others. It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fueled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets. Make no mistake about it, these are twenty-first-century energy wars.”
In the rest of this wide-ranging post, Klare looks in some detail at four global conflicts – Iraq/Syria, South Sudan, the Crimea/Ukraine, and the South China Sea, revealing the role of oil and natural gas in each of them. And he concludes this way:
“In a fossil-fuel world, control over oil and gas reserves is an essential component of national power. ‘Oil fuels more than automobiles and airplanes,’ Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told a State Department audience in 2002. ‘Oil fuels military power, national treasuries, and international politics.’ Far more than an ordinary trade commodity, ‘it is a determinant of well being, of national security, and international power for those who possess this vital resource, and the converse for those who do not.’
“If anything, that’s even truer today, and as energy wars expand, the truth of this will only become more evident. Someday, perhaps, the development of renewable sources of energy may invalidate this dictum. But in our present world, if you see a conflict developing, look for the energy. It’ll be there somewhere on this fossil-fueled planet of ours.”