The term, ‚Äúnational security‚ÄĚ has come to be synonymous with national defense. But given the geography of the United States, it‚Äôs unlikely we would ever need to use our defense forces to secure the homeland from an invading army. National security really has more to do with the protection of those critical infrastructures the loss or degradation of which would place the country in a position of economic and military vulnerability. These infrastructures include:
o Banking and Finance: The nation‚Äôs banking system and securities exchanges as well as the public confidence in this system
o Transportation: Road, rail and waterway networks, airports and seaports
o Power: Electrical power generation, transformation and distribution, pipelines for natural gas and oil
o Public Works: Reservoirs, aqueducts, wastewater treatment plants and drainage systems
o Communication: Radio and television networks, satellite networks, computer networks, the internet
Of these critical infrastructures, I would argue that power, or energy production and distribution, is the most sensitive to disruption; not just from physical attack, but because the very sources of energy we rely upon are largely imported from politically and socially unstable regions of the world. For this reason, I believe the United States‚Äô national security is increasingly tied to its energy security.
In the pre-industrial age ‚Äď before the rise of steam power, gasoline engines and electricity, communities and entire societies were based on an agricultural foundation. Fuel was primarily associated with wood for cooking and heating fires and to generate heat for basic ore smelting and metalworking. This fact of history was brought home to me when we lived in England during the 1980s. The rolling green countryside of central England had once been covered in dense, deciduous forest. By the 20th century, after thousands of years of human habitation, most of these vast forests had disappeared; the trees having been cleared for farming and grazing land, and subsequently used for fuel and building material.
Today, in a post-industrial world, all the technologies we rely upon for everything from food to shelter to transportation, depend on energy. Securing stable sources of energy has now become a key objective of our national security strategy. Despite all the technological advances in the last century, our primary sources of energy in this country remain fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), as a result of a combination of declining oil production and increasing demand, net US imports of oil and petroleum products increased by 400% from 3.16 million barrels per day in 1970 to 12.04 million barrels per day in 2007. The largest net suppliers of oil and petroleum products to the US are Canada and Mexico, which supply about 30% of the US daily oil demand. Another 28% of this demand is supplied by other countries, including OPEC nations such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. This means that the US domestic production supplies only about 42% of our own oil demand.
According to the EIA, about 86% of the coal mined in the US is used for the production of electricity. Coal plants account for 52% of the electricity generated in the United States. Unlike oil, the US is actually a net exporter of coal, so the situation is not nearly as dire. Coal reserves are estimated to be sufficient to last for hundreds of years at current rates of consumption.
The only other existing source of energy for the production of electricity (other than hydroelectric power) is nuclear energy, which provides 19% of the electric power in the US. Nuclear power, while a relatively untapped source of clean energy (nuclear energy comprises only 14% of the world‚Äôs electricity production), spent nuclear fuel is highly radioactive and extremely hazardous. Transport and long term storage of nuclear waste is fraught with controversy.
But the point of this article is that US energy supplies are a critical strategic vulnerability for the future security of the country. We know that fossil fuels will become increasingly more expensive to extract, and will eventually be depleted altogether. No new petroleum refineries have been built in the United States for decades, and the existing refineries are operating at near peak capacity. Nuclear energy is unpopular, highly regulated and as a result, new reactors are slow to come on line.
The solution is energy independence. To the degree we can become free of dependence on external sources of fuel we also free ourselves from the threat of being held captive by petroleum supplying nations or cartels who clearly could care less about the economic well being of the United States. Those who are old enough to remember the days of the OPEC oil embargo in the early 1970s realize the potential devastation that might be wreaked on this nation in the event of a major disruption in oil supplies. And that embargo occurred at the point of America‚Äôs peak domestic oil production! We have since become embarrassingly dependent on oil imports to fuel our economy.
This need for secure, stable and environmentally friendly sources of energy is so vital to our national security that this country should invest in a national research and development program on the scale of the Apollo project of the 1960s. Such a program‚Äôs goal would be nothing less than the invention and development of next generation energy technology, whether that be nuclear fusion, electrical storage technology (batteries) or significant advances in solar, or other sources of renewable energy supply. In the meantime, all efforts should be made to exploit the reserves of oil, coal and natural gas that exist within our borders, whether they are in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or off our nation‚Äôs coasts.
The technology for extracting fossil fuels with a minimum of environmental disruption exists today. Contrary to the assertions of environmental lobbies, this is not an ‚Äúeither/or‚ÄĚ situation. It is possible to shift the production of energy back to a domestic basis while at the same time driving toward the next generation solution. As a nation, we should accept that the goal of achieving independence from fossil fuels will involve a period in which we simultaneously cushion ourselves from disruptions in external sources of supply while we wean ourselves from oil. This cushion is necessary. Neither should we hamstring ourselves with the needless burden of cap and trade regulations, the outgrowth of a completely fabricated global climate ‚Äúemergency‚ÄĚ.
Those critics of President Bush, who
accused him of waging a ‚Äúwar for oil‚ÄĚ may not have been that far off the mark. The middle east would likely not be such a strategically significant part of the world for America were it not for the fact that is currently in our national interest to ensure middle east oil supplies continue to remain on the open market. That‚Äôs a reality we must live with. Imagine what it would be like if we didn‚Äôt have to.
¬© 2009 by Michael Cochrane. Used with permission. All rights reserved.