Foreign Oil Dependence
The Argument for Foreign Oil Dependence
Throughout history many nations have strived vigorously to maintain energy independence. Nations have feared that relying on other nations for valuable energy will leave them week and thus vulnerable to attack, invasion and conquest. Limited energy has been the downfall of many great nations. In a book by Daniel Yergin, entitled “The Prize: the Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power”, the author depicts how many countries have lost wars due to a lack of oil CITATION Dan081 l 1033 (Yergin). One infamous example was that of WW II Germany. Germany, like most of Europe, is rich in coal but lacks oil. Coal is fine for energy but fighting WW II required oil to move tanks and planes. When Germany began to run out that is the point when they began to lose the war. This is an alarming thought; perhaps it was a dependence on foreign oil that was the Nazi’s ultimate downfall.
The topic, as it has always been, is at the forefront of many geopolitical debates. The United States like many other countries are trying vigorously to rid themselves of foreign oil dependence. “In 2014, about 27% of the petroleum consumed by the United States was imported from foreign countries,1 the lowest level since 1985” CITATION USE15 l 1033 (U.S Energy Information Administration). The United States has stated that they hope to be an energy exporter in the near future and thus not be reliant upon external energy ever again. However, the thesis of this paper is that this focus is a bad idea. Not that the US shouldn’t’ develop oil reserves if they have them, but rather that it isn’t that important. The thesis of this paper is that foreign oil dependence is actually a good thing. The reason for the claim is what some might call the “gentle commerce” or even “The Golden Arches Theory” CITATION Tho99 l 1033 (Friedman). The theory basically states that countries that trade with each other over time become peaceful. The Golden Arches Theory states that no two countries that have McDonalds have ever gone to war with each other; the idea being if you have a McDonalds you’re likely a free market country. Thus there is a bit of a double-edged sword here. If you are energy independent then you are susceptible to attack. However, if you trade in the first place you are less likely to have enemies. It is the thesis of this paper that the second force is more powerful. Thus it is important to trade as this promotes piece; energy then should be a commodity like every other. This paper will further develop this idea and state why nations should promote oil dependence rather than fear it.
The Benefits of Trade and Dependence
Perhaps Germany never would have gone to war if they were already trading with the rest of the world. This was the thought behind the creating of the coal and steel community after WW II which forced Germany and France to trade. The idea, which later led to the European Union, was that dependence is a good thing. It makes countries cooperate and become allies. As mentioned it can be a bit of a double-edged sword; the tension of having to be dependent on another country may initially lead to war. Thus the European Coal and Steal commission might be looked at as an anomaly. It was essentially forced on the countries involved post WW II when they were week and had little choice. Thus it is hard to really say that it has led to the long peaceful co-existence in Western Europe that has taken place since. Obviously there is something to being dependent leading to war as well. If a country is stronger they won’t be so obliged to form an agreement with another country but rather to invade and take over their oil reserves. However, it can be shown that there is not as much to this these as many think.
In an article entitled “Oil Prices, Scarcity, and the Geography of War” the authors write “Many commentators warn that oil scarcity increases the likelihood of war; we question the simplistic concept of scarcity driven wars” CITATION Phi09 l 1033 (Cervantes). The paper concludes that oil scarcity and oil dependence can heighten tension and lead to stressful foreign relations it rarely leads to war. Most wars took place in response to a much more complex set of stressors than simply oil scarcity and dependence. The paper also points out that oil scarcity can just as often form organizations that lead to peace; organization like the European Coal and Steal Commission. As noted this organization eventually leads to the European Union (EU) and it is almost unimaginable now that any countries with in the EU would now go to war. Thus we see that dependence in the correct situation can lead to peace and prosperity.
The basic idea behind the thesis of this paper is somewhat complex and contextual. Oil dependence can lead to many different outcomes based on the specific factors involved. However on a whole more good has come from oil dependence than bad. Once the forces of gentle commerce are unleashed and countries become integrated peace is sure to follow. This argument is not without its skeptics. Many, especially those that criticize globalization, see the argument as week and simply in support of Multi-national Corporations to exploit the poor countries of the world. However it is hard to argue with the facts. In a book by Steven Pinker entitled “The Better Angles of our Natures: Why Violence has Declined” the author suggest that violence is at a historical low CITATION Ste11 l 1033 (Pinker). The author backs this claim up with an in-depth look at history. So why has violence declined? What is the answer to this large question? As Pinker suggests violence is part of our human nature. We evolved to be somewhat violent creatures, however, and very importantly, we also evolved to be cooperative. Thus while our human nature hasn’t changed institutions have that have made people more cooperative and less violent. People are now more likely to solve problems through peace. One of the main drives of this is trade and gentle commerce. As people become to depend on each other through trade networks they are much less likely to be violent towards those same people.
The argument does not appeal to everyone but as stated it is hard to argue with the facts. As Pinker demonstrates as trade has spread from one region to the next region violence has systematically diminished. One needs to look no further then back to the Coal and Steal Commission. Before WW II the economies of Germany was not integrated much into the rest of Europe. If someone said after the end of WW II that in 40 years the chance of another war between France and Germany would be essentially zero, they would probably reply, “ok well who conquered who”. Yet neither state has conquered the other and the fact remains, war today between France and Germany is so unlikely it would baffle any one if it actually happened. Well what changed? They became depended on one another and the bonds grew through trade and gentle commerce. It is a powerful force and it often hard to see. It is a force that plays out through time and creates peace and prosperity. It is also a very hard process to start because it takes a lot of initial trust or force. The reality is after WW II France didn’t trust Germany but was forced into trade. When you first agree to depend on each other the gains are the smallest and the trust issues are the hardest to solve. Thus when we hear of the US, or other countries, talking about oil dependence they are at the initial stage. They don’t trust others and as such don’t’ want to be dependent. Oil is an important resource and it is hard to agree to depend on others. There is a certain asymmetry when it comes to war. If you take oil from one country and trade back manufactured goods the country that has the oil will be at an advantage when it comes to conflict. However, importantly, the gains remain there. Thus it is important to focus on the gains.
Conclusion This paper has argued that debates about oil dependency are over rated. While it is hard for a country to become oil dependent it is inevitable in the best interests of the world to do so. Not only are their economic benefits that come when the lowest cost producers produce what they are best at and trade. There are also major benefits with regards to long term peace. The theories of gentle commerce, or even the golden arches theory, demonstrate that dependence on others is a good thing. While these relationships may be delicate to start, once they are started they lead to peace and prosperity. It is hard to imagine now that 70 years ago Europe was a war torn area. After the two great wars it was Europe that looked like the most violent place in the world. Yet, amazingly, now Europe is very peaceful and war between EU countries seems impossible. What changed? More than anything it was that Europe became dependent on each other. They started to rely on each other and now the gains from dependence and trade are so strong that they are nearly impossible to break.
Oil is a very valuable resource and has always been at the forefront of international tensions. Many countries seek oil dependence and have set forth to achieve this goal. However this paper argues it is not in the long term interest of the world. This type of talk will only lead to more tension as countries become isolated from one another. This was the situation before WW II as Germany became quite isolated and then sought to get energy through invasion. It is important to link countries now so this strategic move would seem idiotic and fruitless.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Cervantes, Philippe Le Billon and Alejandro. “Oil Prices, Scarcity, and the Geography or War.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, (2009): 836-844.
Friedman, Thomas. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. Picador, 1999.
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angel of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. New York: Viking, 2011.
U.S Energy Information Administration. Frequently Asked Questions. 12 3 2015. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=32&t=6.
Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power . Free Press, 2008.
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