One thing that both Obama and McCain expressly agree upon is the need for America to be independent of foreign (read Arab) oil. This seems to me one of the great unchallenged assumptions of the American political scene. I would like to explore the notion that we must be energy independent.
We live in an increasingly complex and interdependent world. Everything we need to sustain a Western way of life is in some way dependent upon the global economy. Think of food, computers, medicine, raw materials, mechanical parts, labor, and the list goes on. This raises the question, why should we categorically reject this increasing global economic interdependence when it comes to oil and gas?
First, I am not talking about the general move toward sustainable energy. I am all for wind farms, solar, hydroelectric, biofuels, and most other clean and green technologies for both environmental and economic reasons. However, this does not seem to be at the crux of the argument made by both the Democrats and Republicans. The primary rationale behind the energy independence agenda, as expressed during the presidential debates, is the idea that depending on foreign (Middle Eastern) oil and gas is a basic security threat to America. This is where I disagree.
Dependence on other countries for natural resources does not necessarily make a country less secure. Countries like Japan and Germany are almost entirely dependent on foreign oil and or natural gas and have not experienced security problems because of it. We seem to fear the idea that the Saudis (or other Middle Eastern countries) could hold us hostage because we are dependent on them for oil, but this misses the point. Sure we depend on them for oil, but they depend on the rest of the world to buy that oil; we are interdependent and interlocked economies. If the regime was using the money to spread a movement of destruction, economic turmoil, or global terror, they would lose their buyers and thus their funding.
Further, energy independence would not necessarily make us more secure. As we learned on September 11th, our largest security threat comes from terrorists, not state actors. We could be entirely energy independent and face no less of a threat from terrorists and extremists around the world. Even if we can suppose that radical terrorists get funding from oil sales, the increasing global appetite for oil on behalf of China, Russia, India, and Brazil would maintain a high enough demand for oil that prices wouldn’t crash.
The idea that our security depends on our ability to wean ourselves from foreign energy is wrongheaded. In fact, isn’t it feasible that a decrease in the global demand for oil could even increase regional instability in the Middle East because it would cause their undiversified economies (and population) severe distress? We live in an interdependent world and should not fear global trade as a point of American weakness. Furthermore, it seems that people believe that we are captive to the Middle East for their oil, but we have, on average, imported about the same amount of oil from Africa as we did from the Middle East during this past year. We also get vast amounts of oil from Canada and South America. The fear that Middle Eastern oil producers could sabotage the West by jacking up the price of oil doesn't hold given our diversified energy portfolio. They too must compete for our consumption.
In short, I believe that home-grown, green, and sustainable energy solutions are great opportunities to create American jobs and protect our environment. However, telling Americans that our “addiction to foreign oil” is a grave security threat is based on an outdated worldview. We are not an island; global economic interdependence strengthens, not threatens, our collective security.
What do you think? Do we need to rid ourselves of foreign oil to become more secure?