Extreme energy, extreme implications: Interview with Michael Klare

If oil and gas is a profoundly dynamic phenomenon, then so too must be environmental risk and conflicts over natural resources—and we are not getting the full picture from the mainstream media, according to Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, TomDispatch blogger, and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (Metropolitan Books, 2008). As risk multiply, conventional sources evaporate and we are left with "extreme" energy, renewables may be the only way to avoid war and disaster.

James Stafford: In a recent article, you opined that "Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington." Can you add to this from the perspective of the unconventional oil and gas boom in the U.S.?

Michael Klare: The United States emerged from the end of the Cold War with the most powerful military force on Earth and, because of the decline of the USSR and its other rivals, was seen as the world's dominant power. In recent years, however, the rise of China has led some analysts to question America's overwhelming superiority, saying that China's accumulation of economic and technological power will allow it to compete on equal terms with the US in the not-too-distant future.

This, combined with the economic toll generated by the economic crisis of 2008 — largely attributed to lax economic oversight in the U.S. — has led some to speak of the eventual "decline" of American power. But now, with the rise in domestic oil and gas production, that talk is disappearing; instead, analysts are speaking of a "resurgence" of American power based on strong oil and gas output.

James Stafford: In terms of the pending decision on whether to expand U.S. natural gas exports, the geopolitical argument for this appears to be trumping the economic arguments. Will the geopolitical argument--natural gas exports to challenge Russia and Iran--win out in Washington?

Michael Klare: This is hard to predict, as the geopolitical argument cuts both ways:

While increased exports bolster American power vis-a-vis Russia and Iran, a revival of domestic manufacturing based on cheap energy also bolsters American power in the global economic equation. I would predict some exports, but not so much as they endanger the expected surge in domestic manufacturing.

James Stafford: How important is Myanmar to Washington's Asia "pivot", and how should we interpret the sudden blossoming of relations here despite the systematic ethnic cleansing that is taking place? China has the foothold here, but can it maintain it?

Michael Klare: Myanmar is important to the Asia-Pacific pivot, especially in symbolic terms (as it was long in the Chinese orbit), but not especially critical. Far more important are US ties with Japan, the Philippines and, above all, India. You can expect a major US drive to bolster military ties with New Delhi - this will really capture the attention of the Chinese!

James Stafford: How important will Myanmar's potential hydrocarbon reserves be against its position as a strategic gateway?

Michael Klare: Myanmar's hydrocarbon reserves are not that important to either China or the US. But it is becoming very important as an alternative delivery route from the Indian Ocean to southwest China, diminishing their reliance on the vulnerable Strait of Malacca, which is largely dominated by the U.S. Navy. China is keenly determined to reduce its reliance on sea lanes controlled by the U.S. Navy.

James Stafford: Iraqi Kurdistan is shaping up to be one of the hottest exploration venues in the Middle East, and while it comes with a lot of political baggage, oil companies show no concern. What do you think the political risk potential is once the Kurds get a new pipeline up and running directly to Turkey by the end of this year or early next year, courtesy of Anglo-Turkish Genel Energy?

Michael Klare: I think it would be very dangerous to make predictions about this, given all the instability in the region. The Iraqis in Baghdad are obviously very unhappy about this, and have various means to make it difficult for companies that invest there. But these companies may feel that the risks can be overcome, or minimized. Given the unrest in Syria and Turkey, I just don't know how all this will play out.

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