Stoking the Engines of Empires
[Editor: Originally, the third paragraph of this article stated erroneously that the United States imports over 4 trillion barrels of oil annually. It has been changed below to reflect the correct statistic: 4 billion barrels of oil annually.]
In the modern world, being a first-rate global power is expensive. It takes a lot of fuel to keep the engine firing.
Modern luxuries such as jetliners and suvs, electronics and computer technology, spacious air-conditioned homes and offices require an unprecedented supply of resources to operate—resources like oil, natural gas and coal, not to mention human laborers. The more elaborate our civilization becomes, the more resource-dependent it becomes—developing from a patchwork of self-sufficient communities using only local resources into a dizzyingly complex, economically interdependent matrix of pipelines, shipping lanes and trade routes that transmit resources to the folks who hunger for them.
The United States is the most voracious devourer of natural resources ever. Its 296 million citizens spend over half a trillion dollars each year on energy. Over 40 percent of that energy comes from oil, of which the U.S. guzzles 20 million barrels, and growing, daily. Since the U.S. produces only about a third of that itself, it must import well over 4 billion barrels of oil annually (a quarter of that from our “friends” in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela). That is what it takes to enable 4.6 percent of the world’s population (Americans) to consume 25 percent of the world’s oil production. The Institute Français de Petrole warns that if all countries consumed oil on a per-person basis equal to that of the U.S., the world’s known oil resources would be gone in eight years.
America’s unmatched prosperity and record-breaking use of resources has erected a new standard not only in materialism and convenience, but also power projection. And it is a standard to which other nations in a competitive world are aggressively trying to catch up. Consider the U.S. military: To possess the most impressive armed forces in the world, the United States has paid close to a billion dollars a day, every day, for over 60 years. Nations that aim to compete on that level are shelling out money and manpower on a massive scale, forming alliances and pooling their assets—and all the while increasing their thirst for greater and greater quantities of natural resources.
This is not an insignificant development. The world is already straining just to fuel one superpower. But other empires-to-be are now coming of age. China, the most dramatic example, is growing twice as fast economically as the U.S. and has settled into its new role as the world’s home base for manufacturing.
As countries like China industrialize and urbanize, their oil consumption inevitably expands. Whereas a man living in a developing country uses two barrels of oil per year (that is the average per-capita usage of 5 billion of the planet’s 6.4 billion people), his brother in the developed world uses 18 barrels. The gap between these two figures is shrinking—and not because the developed world is cutting back in its oil usage.
Unfortunately, though demand is ballooning, supplies aren’t: In fact, global oil production appears to be approaching its peak.
Existing oil fields are already working at or close to full capacity—and, in many cases, have already started to decline in output—and new discoveries aren’t expected to make up the difference. According to former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, “The underlying problem is that for more than three decades, [world] production has outrun new discoveries. Most of our giant fields were found 40 years ago and more. Even today, the bulk of our production comes from these old—and aging—giant fields” that are past peak production (www.senate.gov, Nov. 16, 2005).
The U.S. Department of Energy’s statistical agency, the Energy Information Administration, insists that the world will “require new [oil] production equivalent to three Saudi Arabias by 2025” to meet projected growing global oil needs. In other words, three “Saudi Arabias” must be discovered, permitted, drilled and put into production over the next two decades just to meet demand (Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, Sept. 5, 2005). Furthermore, all infrastructure—including pipelines, tankers, storage facilities and refineries—would also need to be constructed before the oil could reach the market.
Clearly, this is not going to happen. What will happen is that competition for what oil does exist will get vicious.
While the scope of resource extraction, distribution and consumption in today’s world is unparalleled in human history, competing for resources is as old as the hills. A shortage or perceived shortage of required resources, or an increased appetite for resources, has time and again brought families, clans, tribes, states and nations into conflict with one another in tragic cycles of violence, conquest, enslavement and revolution. To take nothing away from the friction between contrasting ideas (particularly religious ideas), nor from the competitive and hostile tendencies within human nature to simply want to dominate other people, throughout history physicalresources—including land, water, livestock, material supplies, treasure, armaments and even slave labor—have been among the principal pursuits of those nations that have engaged other nations in war. The two world wars of the past century, for example, were ignited largely by resource grabs by Germany within Europe and Northern Africa, and by Japan in Southeast Asia.
So it will be in our day. Only now, in the age of wmd,the stakes are much, much higher.
Precursor to War
The classic sign of oil demand exceeding supply is already in evidence today—and that is price hikes. Over the past decade, crude oil prices have tripled.
Such rate escalation especially wallops the countries that import oil the most. Certainly the U.S. is hurting: In 2004 it imported 58 percent of its oil. The world’s most populous nations, China and India—which import 44 and 70 percent of their oil respectively—also feel the crunch, though they are, as yet, generally less dependent on it. But this is a real crisis for the European Union, which ships in over 80 percent of its oil (last year, that figure in Germany, France, Italy and Spain exceeded 90 percent)—and the island nation of Japan, which imports 98 percent. Mounting costs for those oil imports can ravage a nation’s economy, simultaneously stunting economic growth and driving up inflation.
It is easy to see how quickly the tension will escalate between those nations that have the resources and those that need them—and among those who are competing for them—as they become more scarce. The incalculably high stakes of this game are producing some serious side effects. First, the nations that export those resources, especially oil and natural gas, are coming to enjoy a disproportionate amount of clout (witness Iran, which the world appears completely unable to prevent from gaining nuclear weaponry simply for fear of jeopardizing the 4.2 million barrels of oil it puts on the market each day). Second, while demand for resources skyrockets, production increases have not kept pace. As a result, the competition to lock down sources is already starting to become more fierce—and it is about to get ugly.
From Washington to Brussels, Caracas to Moscow and Beijing, national leaders and international corporations are stepping up their efforts to gain control over major sources of energy and commodities. With oil especially, never has the competitive pursuit of resources been so sharp, and, in the words of Michael T. Klare, director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies, “Never has so much money as well as diplomatic and military muscle been deployed” to gain control over major stockpiles (TomDispatch.com, May 9, 2005).
Economic analyst James Puplava succinctly sums up the global situation we face: “At a time of tremendous population growth and escalating demand for commodities of all types, resource scarcity will become a harbinger of war. The wars of the 21st century will arise over the scarcity of resources like water, oil and food as much as they will religion and economics. National security will become aligned and directed towards the securing and protection of global resource flows” (Financial Sense Online, Feb. 22, 2002).
The facts we are about to examine are compelling, even alarming. But it is only when we compare those facts with the Holy Bible’s prophetic descriptions of the interplay among nations during the final days of our present civilization that the utter ferocity of the rivalry over resources we are about to witness truly leaps into focus—and the extent to which today’s great powers will claw their way into becoming tomorrow’s superpowers by raping weaker nations, while enriching an elite collection of international corporatists.
As the following pages show, two of the major players in this drama, the United States and Iran, are about to be eliminated in a shocking manner. The world is about to witness a titanic struggle for dominance—already appearing in its embryonic stages—between, principally, Germany and China. In large part, it will be competition over resources that ignites it.
Realizing their resource dependency and the potential for a coming supply crunch, nations, especially China and EU nations, have already begun scrambling to secure sources. In fact, we are actually witnessing the reemergence of colonial-type relationships, in which greater powers offer their manufactured goods in exchange for raw materials from their weaker partners.
But considering there is more than one empire in the game—and that they are all pursuing the same select group of “colonies”—this development is a clear precursor of resource war.