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Pipeline War: Is our foreign policy driven by US energy policy?

Colin Miller is a new, and widely-travelled, Webdiarist. Colin has a deep interest in international relations, and this is his debut piece for Webdiary - a fascinating analysis of the politics of energy. Thank you, Colin.


Pipeline War: Is our foreign policy driven by US energy policy?

by Colin Miller 

The last time I was in Kabul I was rudely awaked by the sound of Russian tanks rumbling down the street near my sleeping quarters. That was just after the coup of 1975. By the time I had furtively clicked off a few rolls of film that morning, I knew someday I would be revisiting that war-ravaged place – if not in person then from a political viewpoint.

Ever since US President George W. Bush declared his "war on terror" in 2001 and began the bombing and continued military occupation of Afghanistan, so began the parallel propaganda campaign: to free Afghanistan and make it safe for ‘democracy’ to flourish. So far all the flourishing has been in the opium trade. There has always been an interrelationship between drugs, oil politics, and intelligence networks that has been central to U.S. [covert and overt] intervention and conflict escalation in Third World countries through alliances with drug-trafficking proxies – and these “interventions” have often spun out of control. But that’s another story. (see Peter Dale Scott, Drugs, Oil, and War, 2003).

The US and its allies, including Australia have a pre-determined, undeclared and primary motive: to make Afghanistan safe for United States’ oil interests.

What is the 'evidence' to back this statement?

A quick comparison with Burma is useful here. The ‘International Community’ accepts, however reluctant, that regimes' human rights record because to do otherwise would seriously interfere with the constant flow of oil to an oil-hungry world. But the main difference in public posturing to paint these two countries as pariahs is in the rhetoric of an 'evil' Taliban. After media saturation of those words there has been a multi-lateral military campaign to wrest control of Afghanistan from the Taliban and place it in a position of (relative) stability to enable a (US backed) government to survive.

Initially the Taliban enjoyed the support of Bill Clinton’s administration for a campaign against Iran, but the most strategically important goal was to secure the region’s oil and gas. In 1996-98 the US government supported the (US) Unocal oil company’s plans for a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan.

What was support (or indifference) toward the Taliban in the Clinton years, has turned to antagonism and a goal of elimination, whatever the cost, today. So many near neighbours have meddled in Afghanistan's affairs over decades - notably Pakistan and Russia, and to a lesser degree Iran and Saudi Arabia - that the region has rarely been free of conflict. And never more so than now, with the resurgent Taliban being fought vigorously with the stakes raised to dizzying heights in the interests of oil, and oil interests.

Prior to September 11, United States' policy toward the Taliban was largely influenced by oil. In their book, Ben Laden, la verite interdite, 2002, (Bin Laden, the forbidden truth), former French intelligence officer Jean-Charles Brisard and journalist Guillaume Dasquie document the “oil” connection between George W. Bush and the Taliban.

The United States' dependence on Middle East, and soon Central Asian, oil and gas has led the US government to intervene militarily under a variety of pretexts, which change to suit the domestic political mood at any given time. The development of a coherent U.S. energy policy would obviate the real (or perceived) need to dominate other countries.

This current stance is echoed by our Prime Minister John Howard and “me-too” Kevin Rudd, among a cacophony of (predominantly) media voices, who promote the 'terrorism' brand to great effect. Since the Taliban have garnered support from many tribal warlords in Afghanistan to fight a common enemy, their strength lies in their knowledge of the local terrain and language, and their cultural bonds - however tenuous their territorial ties might have been in the past.

Portraying a disparate group such as the Taliban as an evil rabble of terrorists is to underestimate their resolve and, importantly, their objectives. Just because this terrorist tag-line suits the imagery to garner public opinion in support of a constant military presence in Afghanistan today will not and cannot be sustained politically and militarily, by both Australia and the US into the future.

Already with two Australian deaths in Afghanistan Mr Howard said he was sorry (for the soldier's deaths) but it would not change the government's resolve: “I take the view that if it is important to defeat terrorism in Afghanistan it is also important to defeat it in Iraq."

So are we to believe John Howard’s (and Foreign Minister Downers’) mantra - that it is all about “terror”, and reject the very idea of “energy security” in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan and our support of the US in these conflicts? Is this to deny the reality staring us in the face – the bleeding obvious? The short and common sense answer must be a resounding “no”. The spread of flawed analysis (and widespread assumptions) depend on mainstream information.

This is plainly evident by the repeated rhetoric, ramping up ‘terror’ as sole casus belli from politicians who perceive an accepting public ready to believe without question anything they are told. “Terror”, we are told, is the “official” reason for war – they dare not mention something as fundamental to our (unsustained and profligate) way of life - or as simplistic – as ”oil”.

Let’s look again at the primary motivation underpinning these conflicts.

US interest in the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia is both economic and strategic. Part of the "Great Game" played for a century in the area between Britain and Russia was not just to gain control of these huge resources for oneself, but also to deny them to others.

As Zbigniew Brzezinski begins his book: "Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the centre of world power." (The Grand Chessboard, 1997, p. xiii).

America's world dominance is based in large part on its hegemonic influence over the world oil economy. A (US) National Security Council official told Congress in 1997 that US policy in Central Asia was "to in essence break Russia's monopoly control over the transportation of oil [and gas] from that region, and frankly, to promote Western energy security through diversification of supply" (Rashid, Taliban, 2001, p.174).

Any potential for disruption to very profitable oil and gas enterprises, owned by European and US cartels, will not be tolerated in Washington, in the case of Afghanistan.

The Australian alliance with the United States, and hence our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, is not a guarantee of largesse from America in the next few decades - to think otherwise is folly. In a final showdown we are expendable. A small fish in a big pond, to use a tired cliché. And to view Australian involvement in Afghanistan as a willing partner to shore up US foreign policy objectives through the lens of Islamic fundamentalism is to distort reality. Ideology might sell some on the idea of military dominance as a solution, but does not cut it in the ultimate survival stakes. By creating a threat where none existed, conflict is instigated and perpetuated, ultimately leading to the threat being realised.

This view has become mainstream simply because it is promoted by mainstream interests, who have no option but to operate convincingly to persuade a dull and disengaged public of the fears and prejudices that lurk beneath the surface are too great to ignore, and therefore must be tackled militarily.

If this sounds fanciful, what is the outcome of such a policy so far? Historically the spoils go to the victor.

But just who will win this latest war - more about sustaining the status, and status-quo of dominant market-driven economies, including China, than about complex ideological theories - has yet to be determined, and is now well under way in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight.

When - not if - Iran comes into play all bets are off. Why? Because Russia or China will not stand idly by and let another energy rich and strategic state be monopolised in the name of US energy needs. In the “axis of energy’ Iran is the last domino about to fall. As the preferred route to the Arabian Gulf to exit oil and gas from the vast reserves in Afghanistan and the Caspian basin, Iran is a strategic jewel. That is before the reserves of Iran itself are added to the bounty. This said, even with US military superiority an attack on Iran would create a swift and devastating response from, primarily, Russia, who has the most to lose from such an attack, and also has a massive military, including nuclear missiles to match the US.

If inevitability is a pessimist's view of current geopolitical manoeuvrings, then pragmatism runs a close second. For the pragmatist it is glaringly obvious that energy, in the convenient, cheap and easily transportable form of oil -and to a lesser degree gas – is now prized more and more as less and less becomes available, and competition for the remaining fields is a primary source of current - and future - conflicts.

As for the realpolitik in all of this, we can see the clear and unambiguous results.

But who is looking?

Certainly not many high profile journalists and pundits would dare jeopardize their social standing, much less their careers to criticize our current (foreign policy) trajectory publicly. This is not to say there are not some who remain steadfastly critical, but they are in the minority. The power of the media as an arm of government, or business, is often overstated. But when it comes to swaying public opinion, there is no greater power than that wielded by any large and determined media organization - public or corporate.

The question remains: is the image to be sent unscrupulous in intent, or benign? How many people would be able to tell before it is too late?

We would do well to remember, in a democracy, and I use the term loosely, that it is a long time between elections - and if we have to vote, do we care enough to examine the detail of policies and promises.

So to examine Australia's Afghanistan adventure in lockstep with American foreign policy initiatives since 2001, we have to return to that time.

Just prior to September 11, a report from the US Energy Information Administration detailed the construction of pipelines through Afghanistan as part of a strategic plan because of its “geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural and gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea”.

Governments and oil company executives fondly refer to this plan as a "hub and spoke." In this analogy the Caspian oil- and- gas-rich region becomes the hub, and the spokes are pipelines radiating out – like a gigantic wagon wheel. The most recent “spoke” is the 4 billion (US Dollar) BTC - Baku Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline. From Baku (Azerbaijan) to Tbilisi in Georgia, and on to the Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan in Turkey the pipeline was opened in May 2005 and at 1,100 miles, the pipeline is one of the world's longest. By 2008, the project is expected to pump a million barrels a day for the US (and other Western oil-consuming nations). The pipeline is attractive because its route avoids Russia (and the environmentally sensitive Bosporus strait dividing Istanbul) and could be seen to offer an insurance policy against Russian control of oil supplies from the Caspian region.

Russia through its state-owned-private-hybrid energy giant Gazprom has all but sewn up the supply contracts of gas to Italy, Germany, France and other EU members. The US with its Strategic Air Command bases strung out throughout the Central Asian region, including the Caspian states, and now Afghanistan, has warned off Russian control, and secured contracts for the US oil cartels.

After 1991, natural gas from the Caspian Sea region, mostly from Turkmenistan, went into competition with Gazprom. All pipelines connecting the region to world markets were owned by Gazprom and routed through Russia so Turkmen natural gas became relatively uncompetitive and, consequently, Turkmenistan had little incentive for increasing its production of natural gas. The country’s output fell from 2.02 tcf (trillion cubic feet) in 1992 to only 466 bcf (billion cubic feet) in 1998 when the country was engaged in a pricing dispute with Russia over the export of its natural gas.

In 1999, a Turkmen-Russian agreement came into effect, and in 2000 production increased. In April 2003, Turkmenistan signed new agreements with Uzbekistan and Russia to increase its exports to both countries over the next 25 years. In late 2004, Turkmenistan re-negotiated the quantities and prices of its natural gas exports to Russia and the Ukraine. This agreement with Russia guarantees initial natural gas exports of 212 bcf in 2005, rising to2.4 tcf in 2007, and remaining at 2.8 tcf per annum until 2028.

Pakistan has lost its former influence over Afghanistan and is now cut off from Central Asia's resources. So long as the struggle to regain control of Afghanistan continues, the US is equally denied access to the much-coveted Caspian Basin through the construction of another conduit of energy (gas and oil pipelines). The TAP (Trans Afghan Pipeline) consortium is waiting in the wings for stability to begin construction. The US$3.5 billion 1,680-kilometer pipeline would enable gas from Turkmenistan's huge Dauletabad-Donmez field, which holds more than 2.83 trillion cubic meters to supply Pakistan and India without relying on Russian routes.

And now that the US has radically altered stability in the Persian Gulf, Vice President Dick Cheney has another card to play: the long-prized other major world source of oil, the Caspian Basin in Central Asia. And where US business goes, US national interests follows.

But Caspian oil, landlocked between Russia, Iran, and former Soviet republics, presents formidable transport challenges. Afghanistan is strategically located near the Caspian Sea. In 1994, the US State Department and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) sought to install a stable regime in Afghanistan to enhance the prospects for Western oil pipelines. They financed, armed and trained the Taliban in its civil war against the Northern Alliance.

This whole idea of the US and Russia fighting over Caspian oil appears obsolete, but after September 11, Russia, which had sustained the Northern Alliance for ten years, provided it with heavy artillery and encouraged it to use Kabul as it’s political and military stronghold. Eric Margolis (War at the Top of the World, 2002), warns of Bush’s naïveté in thinking of the Russians as “our friends”. He adds: “The president should understand that where geopolitics and oil are concerned, there are no friends, only competitors and enemies."

The Taliban's rise to power in Afghanistan can be linked to the same "single, golden theme" which Michael Griffin (Reaping the Whirlwind, 2001, p.115) has discerned in the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, Turkish Kurdistan and Chechnya: "each represented a distinct, tactical move, crucial at the time, in discerning which power would ultimately become master of the pipelines which, some time in this century, will transport the oil and gas from the Caspian basin to an energy-avid world."

Russia as the major power broker in the Central Asian region sees itself - not the US - as bearing the security burden. Iran would prefer a Russian dominated Caspian Basin to halt further US encroachment in the region. China also has definite strategic interests in Central Asia. Beijing has financed a network of pipelines in Central Asia to Xinjiang province as an alternative source of oil supplies from the Middle East. US predominance in the region, or US-inspired political instability, could disrupt China’s plans, as well as potentially encourage ethnic unrest in Xinjiang. Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are all successor states to the Soviet Union and, together with Iran, have a claim to their huge hydrocarbon (oil and gas) resources, second only Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

But with Iran as the only one of the five with access to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea ports, and since the mid 1990s penalised with US sanctions, its development and integration into the global economy have suffered, affecting regional political stability.

The undeclared plan of the US and its allies, including a willing Australia, is to “stabilise” Afghanistan to allow construction to begin on new pipelines. These will traverse Afghanistan and Pakistan (by-passing Russia and Iran) and hydrocarbon energy will flow to the West to supplement the dwindling reserves of the Middle East.

As far back as1998, a hearing entitled US INTERESTS IN THE CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS” before the Sub Committee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations, in the US House of Representatives, stated: “US policy goals regarding energy resources in this region include fostering the independence of the [Caspian]States and their ties to the West; breaking Russia's monopoly over oil and gas transport routes; promoting Western energy security through diversified suppliers; encouraging the construction of east-west pipelines that do not transit Iran; and denying Iran dangerous leverage over the Central Asian economies”.

Today, in 2007 this has become the undeclared US policy goal, with Australia tagging along, keeping up the pretence of “fighting terror”.

With the price of crude oil already hitting US 100 dollars a barrel the race is on to secure Afghanistan - whatever it takes- and however many Australian lives are lost.


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An Afghan Pipeline

Nice, detailed post. While it's true that U.S. policy on the Caspian is oil- and pipeline-oriented, in Afghanistan I think what you see is what you get -- it's an anti-terror policy. I looked at this question pretty closely on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the 1990s Unocal pipeline fiasco, and there's simply no reasonable scenario in which Afghanistan becomes a pipeline route, certainly in the next decade. Pipelines have to have a 40-year life, and no one will put up the billions required for a pipeline in Afghanistan given the instability, and the resurgence of the Taliban.


Steve LeVine, author, The Oil and the Glory (Random House)


Fiona: Welcome to Webdiary, Steve. I hope you will continue contributing to this debate.

Pretext For War

Steve, I was wondering how long it would take for someone to disagree - I love dissent, it sharpens the debate - the pipeline may be a diversion arguably, to the destabilization. 40 years pipeline life? if it has 20, the figures will add up - billions for the pipeline - trillions for the hydrocarbons. Today’s cost for the pipeline - much more for the hydrocarbons as these are depleted and the competition drives up prices - yes and price signals will drive them down again- but not to the levels of the cheap energy we enjoy today (even at 100 US dollars it is still relatively cheap energy) to keep industrial economies underpinned and stable. Unocal's pullout is well known, but paved the way for other players.

You obviously did not read my piece because the central theme was all about the stabilization of Afghanistan (and by implication the region) to enable the production of  hydrocarbon resources to be permanently accessible. My sources within the Australian Intelligence Community which for obvious reasons shall remain confidential have analysis that would indicate the viability of a pipeline should Iran be "neutralised". But the real object is to focus on the stabilization of the region, and include Afghanistan as a major gas producer. You did not mention this. Your view is that it is about 'terror' -  you say it's an "anti- terror' policy - because 'what you see is what you get' ? So are we to believe any conflict is about what we are told - we don't have to think for ourselves ? My piece spelled it out- it's about public manipulation to (politically) allow a militaristic involvement to continue. Do you really believe these conflicts are to stop 'terror' ? 

I have lived and worked in the US and the public there are totally brainwashed into this type of thinking because the political agenda needs public support. You worked for some of the biggest corporate media, who don't give a damn for a few million lives here or there. You may see things from an American perspective - I see things from a global perspective. You obviously have an interest in promoting your book. I have no such interest. My interest is to promote debate, to root out the 'truth' and promote as far as possible, less suffering.  My piece is just that - not a 'post'. I am not a 'blogger' as I see that word used far too often in the pejorative. Everyone will come from a different bias or objective - I do not receive one red cent for my efforts- I have nothing to promote except a wish to see things as they are, not what vested interest would want us to believe.  I write this to ensure, for the record I have justice, truth and peace as my primary suite of motivations.

In conversations with Australians Grahame Morris (Grahame Morris is a director of Jackson Wells Morris PR and a former adviser to John Howard), Andrew Bolt (journalist for the Herald  Sun), and Dick Smith (Business Entrepreneur), Morris disagreed with me on the need for a ‘vision’ for Australian,  relative to our current stance on the world stage, particularly our engagement with the Asia region and China. Bolt strongly disagreed with my rebuttal of his portrayal of Iraq as a beacon for peace and democracy, calling me an “ideologue”. And Smith encouraged my efforts to bring public awareness to the perils awaiting us in terms of peak production of oil and ‘energy security’ issues more generally.

RE: An Afghan Pipeline

I agree with Steve that the Afghan pipeline idea is as dead as a doornail. It was originally going to bring oil from the Caspian region to Karachi via Afghanistan. Hence the Taliban's now-famous visit to Texas to be courted by the oil barons, featured in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. The pipeline was originally designed to service Pakistan and India, primarily.

Now we have a number of pipelines operating out of the Capsian. There's the 1,180km Baku-Ceyhan pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey through Georgia, and the 960km pipeline connecting Kazakhstan with China, built by China National Petroleum and KazMunaiGaz of Kazakhstan in just one year.

The one to watch is the proposed Pakistan-China Karakoram Highway pipeline, linking the Caspian region, Pakistan and China. The project includes plans for a pipeline, optic cable and possible railway line. By itself, it may not threaten US interests, but China are hoping to link this pipeline to another from Iran, which may be strongly resisted by the US.

Much depends on Pakistan's on-going political stability for this project to succeed, which explains why the US is backing both Musharraf and Bhutto, should the country destabilise or Musharraf be booted out. Right at this point, Pakistan doesn't look like much of a better long-term bet than Afghanistan, depending upon events yet to run their course...


Colin, you mentioned the relative disinterest in what has been happening in Burma in comparison to Afghanistan.

I've just got a reminder that Asian leaders will decide at the East Asia Summit in Singapore tomorrow what -- if anything -- they will do to help progress in Burma.

So we can do something to held the peoples of Burma today.

One thing we can do in what little time is left is to click through to Avaaz.org. They are helping citizens of every Asian country to send messages to the leaders attending the East Asia Summit. Thanks to Avaaz.org we can send messages urging those leaders to take action to support UN mediation.

Avaaz.org has also launched a call for a global boycott of Total Oil and Chevron and all their subsidiaries. These giant international oil corporations pump hundreds of millions of dollars every year into the the Burmese junta through their operations in Burma.

Something else we can do is keep spreading the word: Don't forget Burma.


Colin, congrats on a great piece. I have been following the pipeline-politics of the mid east and caspian for a while but you filled in a number of blanks for me.

Also, (belatedly) welcome back Margo. Great to hear you on LNL a few weeks back.

Missile launch platform

We should also remember another reason for the USA to have invaded Afghanistan is the strategic position of Afghanistan in relation to where the USA's supposed enemies are situated. From Afghanistan you can launch missiles to any country in the world with much less propellant than is needed at sea level.

From Afghanistan you can intimidate the world on the cheap, except for the number of lives lost to secure their launch platform. But to those in power lives are expendable when it comes to economic control, as we see world wide

Afghanistan scaleback

Scott Burchill recommends Fields of little glory: Nato begins to scale back its Afghan ambitions:

...Afghans are not the only ones frustrated at the progress, or lack of it, in the six years and one week since Kabul was liberated from the Taliban. Western governments, which have 50,000 troops in the country, are struggling to maintain their military commitments. Instability in neighbouring Pakistan, on which they depend heavily to get people and equipment into the country, has heightened their anxiety. Some governments are now wondering whether peace can be made with the Taliban, or at least parts of it.

"The river now appears to be running backwards," says Joanna Nathan, Kabul-based representative of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation seeking to curb conflict.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan rates 78 districts, almost one-fifth of the country, as extremely risky and therefore inaccessible to UN agencies for humanitarian work. Rates of insurgent and terrorist violence have been running 20 per cent higher, at an average of 548 incidents a month, than in 2006 and there are eight times as many suicide attacks as there were just two years ago.

Such setbacks are important. Losing Afghanistan threatens to recreate a failed state in a strategically important region, provide a haven for terrorists and drug traffickers and undermine, perhaps fatally, the credibility of the Nato alliance in its first big out-of-area operation. Some 40,000 of the foreign troops are under Nato command, the rest with a US-led anti-terrorist coalition.

Nato officials say the insurgents' terror tactics are a sign of weakness, not strength. They have turned to these methods after being shown up as a rag-tag force unable to prevail in conventional military confrontations in the south and east of the country over the past two years, the argument runs. Nato thwarted a putative "Taliban offensive" in the spring of 2007. People and commerce have returned to towns such as Sangin, in the troubled province of Helmand, thanks to joint operations by Afghan and Nato troops.

Yet signs of impatience among some western governments are unmistakable. Nato, according to its own calculation, is a minimum four battalions (totalling 4,000 soldiers) short of what it needs and the force lacks crucial equipment such as helicopters...

Further also.

From Todd Gitlin in the Spring 2002 issue of the US Dissent magazine (http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=59  ):

"THE FAILURE of intelligence that afflicted the United States, before September 11 has more than one dimension. Oil dependency also ranks high on the list of gross, unexamined irresponsibilities. For half a century, purported realists in Washington have thought nothing of greasing the palms of Middle Eastern tribal leaders so that they will grant us (and the Japanese and Europeans to an even greater degree) the favor of buying their oil. Oil makes America grovel to Saudi tyrants, who funded the Taliban in Afghanistan and Wahhabi madrassas throughout the world. Earlier, oil lubricated our disastrous support for the brutal Shah of Iran-another gift to Islamic fundamentalism, as it turned out. Oil floated, and continues to float, the terror regime of Saddam Hussein. Access to Saudi and Gulf oil looks like a triumph of empire but could easily be its undoing. Now the United States is tying itself to Central Asian dictatorships for the sake of new oil sources, and underwriting counter-guerrilla military action in Colombia to protect an oil pipeline. Some realism. "

The full article is highly worth reading in my view.

Further... ?

Colin: "Today, in 2007 this [US perceived strategic interest] has become the undeclared US policy goal, with Australia tagging along, keeping up the pretence of “fighting terror”.

With the price of crude oil already hitting US 100 dollars a barrel the race is on to secure Afghanistan - whatever it takes- and however many Australian lives are lost."

Apropos of this, and for the record, what specific policy recommendations would you make to the Australian Government?

Australian Lives

Ian, any policy settings our Government makes in the future will be determined by the domestic attitudes already in play. In particular the deeply held belief in the use of force to solve a (perceived) threat.

Governments, authoritarian or otherwise, have a vested interest in keeping this belief alive, as has been demonstrated during the past decade in Australia. As you would be well aware, this 'political tool' is far too useful to discard. The way democracies are structured, imperfections in the formation, governance, and the administration of power has been at the crux of dissent in recent times - both here at home and abroad.

If I were to postulate specific policy recommendations for consideration by an Australian Government, I would start with a detailed examination of our energy policy first and foremost. If climate change poses the greatest security threat, as some have argued (see Chris Abbott's views - the Oxford Research Group, London - online), then the absence of conflict would require a concerted, rapid and dramatic shift to non-reliance on all resources including hydrocarbons, and especially oil. Will this be desirable and possible politically - to halt and heal the suffering already happening over conflict for scarce resources?

The economics in this argument alone would entail a deep philosophical and cultural shift to avoid a divisive social battle to sustain the present market economy which is predicated on continuous growth.

Social and political marginalisation has a lot to answer for. It may not explain every reaction to the interplay between states and within states in terms of attack and counter-attack but it seems to me a lot more plausible than purely economics as the sole cause of violent dissent. More on this at a later date.

Is there more?

Colin, an excellent piece. 

The idea that Australia is gaining any security, any favours, from tagging along with the US has always amused me.  The US divides countries into three categories:  those without mineral and energy reserves, or whose resources are depleted, those it is screwing, and those that it intends to screw.  The only hope of achieving some stability in the world is for the countries being disadvantaged by the unbridled greed of the US to stand against them and declare: ‘not one step further’. 

Well, that and the probability of a collapse of the US economy. In the washup of such an event we could hope for a more balanced distribution of power in the world.

Many more

This is an excellent article, Colin, I line up with Evan in hope that you'll write more for Webdiary on what I think is a most important issue - geostrategic resource conflict - because it can cause so much human suffering.

Thanks Colin. Well written

Thanks Colin.  Well written and very informative (I confess a complete and shameful ignorance of Afghanistan).  If you wanted to write more about daily life in this part of the world I'd be very interested to learn more.

The factor I wonder about is China.  Australia probably wants the US as a counterweight to China, so shores up America's interests against those of China in other regions.  I would value your opinion on how much needing a competitor power to China influences Australia's relations with the US.

Thanks for a great piece.  Hoping you do many more.

China vs The US

I appreciate your feedback, Evan.

The influence of China is what everyone is watching. As a global competitor for hydrocarbon energy with the other great consumer, the US, China has had to diversify it's supply options, notably in Africa. The US has effectively shut China out of the Middle East.

As China's economy grows so do its energy needs, and the Achilles heel for the US is China's unpinning of the US economy, through  US bonds. The symbiotic relationship of China with the US economically is in my view, weighted toward China, because to withdraw its support of US dollar hegemony, and reinvest in for example the Euro would force the US treasury to reassess its borrowing capacity.

The main factor keeping the US currency as the preeminent trading currency for oil is the military stretch of the US. As a portent for the future, a rather rough indication to the decline of the US dollar is  the billion (dollar) global drug trade slowly, but inexorably being replaced by the Euro.

As for Australia - while China is trading with the US and continues to prop up their dollar, control of our resources  will be determined by the market, in line with our Government's guidelines and policies. If China reneges on this arrangement and the US goes into recession, as confidence in the primacy of the dollar evaporates, the military option for China will intensify leaving Australia exposed because the US will have other "spheres of influence" to occupy.

Here are two factors to consider, more conceivable: Can China's growth continue unabated given its voracious appetite for energy?  This is the big question. Then there is the potential for internal social and political instability to disrupt the growth trajectory, or will the disruption of growth cause internal chaos? My bet is that access to resources will start an economic decline, in turn leading to a government crackdown on internal tensions. The US could only hope to be the 'last man standing'.

I leave you with this question: what resource(s) do we have that would interest the US ? We already export much of our natural gas to China. China may turn out to be a new best friend.

Thanks Colin

Perhaps we have just cashed in our last resource of value to the US - legitimacy - by supporting the invasion of Iraq.

I'm pretty ignorant of China but I can't see them having a better human rights record or being less inclined to foreign aggression than the US (if they have the technology). 

It is (as they say) a worry.

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