Energy, a source of conflicts among nations

Posted by Admin on Saturday, 14 December 2002 | Opini

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 12/14/2002 12:00 AM

Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo, Former Governor National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), Jakarta

There is no life that can be sustained without energy. The struggle for survival is in fact a competition to capture useful energy and secure its continued flow. In our universe the sun is an important source of energy for our planet.

In a book titled Human Origins, George Grant MacCurdy wrote that the degree of civilization of any epoch, people or group of peoples, is measured by the ability to utilize energy for human advancement or needs.

Walter Youngquist writes that the average American uses each year 8,000 pounds of oil, 4,700 pounds of natural gas, 5,150 pounds of coal, and one-tenth of a pound of uranium.

We are also confronted by inevitable realities. There is the ""first law of thermodynamics"" which states that the total energy content of the universe is constant; it can neither be created nor destroyed.

But then the ""second law on thermodynamics"" says that while energy cannot be created or destroyed, it is continually changing in form, but always from available energy to unavailable.

If we burn a piece of coal, the energy remains but is transformed into sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and other gases that spread into space. While Americans consume 25 percent of the world’s usable energy, it is also contributing to unusable energy, accounting for about 30 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Although that seems unfair to the rest of the world, one could assume that the U.S. is not willing to lessen its energy use, which would mean reducing economic and social activities. It is more probable that it will always want to advance its civilization and therefore will require much more energy. Since the amount of usable energy is decreasing, it is obvious that the U.S. has to compete with other nations to satisfy its needs.

This is a source of conflicts among nations. This is also the main reason why advanced nations, the U.S. in particular, is not interested in the progress of developing nations, unless it promotes their political or economic interests.

Among the usable energy that is much in demand, oil and natural gas are the most important. The industrial world is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas in direct use and through its transformation into electrical energy. Although there is much talk about alternative energies, oil and natural gas are still the most efficient sources of energy. Hydrogen may become an important alternative, but its economic production is still in its starting phase and will become viable only around 2050.

The world’s security is therefore closely linked to the production and logistics of oil and natural gas. It is this reason why the U.S. today is so strongly demanding a regime change in Iraq. Although the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein with weapons when he fought Iran, he became a problem for the U.S. after he attacked Kuwait. Since that time the U.S. wanted him to be replaced or toppled, to enable its full control of the Middle East region with all the huge oil and gas reserves.

According the Oil and Gas Journal the world’s total reserves as of Jan. 1, 2001 of crude oil was 1,028.1 billion barrels. More than half is in the Middle East, or 683.5 billion, with Saudi Arabia at the top (261.7 billion), Iraq second (112.5 billion), followed by the United Arab Emirates (97.8 billion), Kuwait (96.5 billion) and Iran (89.7 billion).

The world’s natural gas reserves are 5,288.5 trillion cubic feet of which 1,854.8 trillion cubic feet are in the Middle East.

It is therefore obvious that the Middle East is a very high priority in U.S. foreign and security policies. This is why the U.S. is ready to attack Iraq with or without an agreement from the United Nations. Iran could well be next on the U.S. agenda. The U.S. is reportedly becoming impatient with the rulers of Saudi Arabia and it is also not impossible for them to facilitate a regime change in that country.

Full control of the Middle East would make it easier for the U.S. to start its actions in Central Asia where there are also rich deposits, like in Kazakhstan. The U.S. intention to have a regime change in Afghanistan dates long before the Sept. 11 tragedy. To transport oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region, a massive pipeline is required from that region to the Indian Ocean across Afghanistan. It seems that the Taliban government was not cooperative enough with the U.S. intentions.

With control of Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil and natural gas the U.S. will be in a strong strategic position to face future competition with China. Since its economic reforms in 1979, China has made very significant progress, with economic growth rates of 9 percent or more annually.

There are predictions that China will become a strong competitor for the U.S. in the near future. But China, with its 1,300 billion people and its development programs, will require much more energy than it currently has, in particular oil and gas. Even imports from the surrounding regions will not suffice.

There are already predictions that China will have to depend very much on oil imports from the Middle East and Central Asia. It would be very interesting to watch how China will do it without becoming entangled in security problems with the U.S.

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