The Carter Doctrine Goes Global
[Persian Gulf oil policy]
by Michael T. Kiare
The Progressive magazine, December
In the first U.S. combat operation ' of
the war in Iraq, Navy commandos stormed an offshore oil-loading
platform. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night,
Navy Seals seized two Iraqi oil terminals in bold raids that ended
early this morning, overwhelming lightly armed Iraqi guards and
claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil
empire," wrote an overexcited reporter for The New York Times.
A year and a half later, American soldiers
are still struggling to maintain control over these vital facilities-and
the fighting is no longer bloodless. On April 24, two American
sailors and a Coast Guardsman were killed when a boat they sought
to intercept, presumably carrying suicide bombers, exploded near
the Khor al-Amaya loading platform. (This was the first Coast
Guard combat fatality since the Vietnam War.) Other Americans
have come under fire while protecting some of the many installations
in Iraq's "oil empire."
George W. Bush's Iraq War, while duplicitous
in many respects, is actually the culmination of twenty-five years
of U.S. policy to ensure continued domination of the Persian Gulf
and its prolific oil fields. In fact, it was a natural expression
of the Carter Doctrine. Enunciated by then-President Jimmy Carter
in his State of the Union speech in January 1980, the doctrine
defines Persian Gulf oil as a "vital interest" of the
United States that must be defended "by any means necessary,
including military force." Seen in this light, Bush Jr. was
merely applying the doctrine when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He's
not the first. President Reagan cited it to justify U.S. intervention
in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 to help ensure the defeat of
Iran. President Bush Sr. invoked it to authorize military action
against Iraq in 1991, during the first Gulf War. And Bill Clinton,
though not explicitly citing the doctrine, adhered to its tenets.
So the use of force to ensure U.S. access
to Persian Gulf oil is not a Bush II policy or a Republican policy,
but a bipartisan, American policy.
In Iraq, it has exposed American troops
to unrelenting danger. The U.S. military is protecting pipelines,
refineries, and oil-export facilities throughout Iraq. Although
this effort has received far less media attention than the urban
warfare in Baghdad and Najaf and Fallujah, and it is no less important:
With petroleum constituting the nation's only significant source
of income, ensuring uninterrupted oil exports is essential for
the economic survival of Iraq's U.S.-installed interim government.
(In the first half of 2004 alone, guerrilla attacks on the pipelines
crisscrossing Iraq deprived that government of $200 million in
lost revenue, interim Prime Minister lyad Allawi declared in June.)
Most of the U.S. oil-protection effort
in Iraq is devoted to protection of the country's onshore pipelines
and refineries. Heavily armed Army units patrol the vital pipeline
carrying Iraqi petroleum from Kirkuk in the north to the Turkish
border, and the equally critical line connecting Kirkuk with Basra
in the south. But U.S. Navy and Coast Guard forces also protect
the offshore loading platforms that are used to export Iraqi oil
by ship through the Persian Gulf. And they keep an eye on the
Iranian threat to the Strait of Hormuz-the narrow passageway connecting
the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and the world at large.
"In the grand scheme of things,"
said Captain Kurt Tidd of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in July, "there
may be no other place where our armed forces are deployed that
has a greater strategic importance."
Today, the Carter Doctrine stretches far
beyond the Persian Gulf. It is the blueprint for the extension
of U.S. military power to the world's other oil-producing regions.
Just as existing U.S. policy calls for the use of military force
to protect the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, an extended
Carter Doctrine now justifies similar action in the Caspian Sea
region, Latin America, and the west coast of Africa. Slowly but
surely, the U.S. military is being converted into a global oil-protection
This process began in 1980, when, in seeking
to implement his doctrine, Carter established the Rapid Deployment
Joint Task Force and established a web of U.S. basing arrangements
in the greater Gulf region. The process was accelerated in 1983,
when Reagan transformed the joint task force into the U.S. Central
Command (Centcom), giving it the status of a major unified combat
force like the U.S. European Command, the Pacific Command, and
the Southern Command. Centcom's principal mission is to protect
the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the United States and
American allies around the world.
This mission is given blunt expression
in the testimony given each year by Centcom's top commander to
members of Congress. "America's vital interests in the [Gulf]
region are longstanding," General J. H. Binford Peay declared
in 1997. "With over 65 percent of the world's oil reserves
located in the Gulf states of the region-from which the United
States imports nearly 20 percent of its needs; Western Europe,
43 percent; and Japan, 68 percent-the international community
must have free and unfettered access to the region's resources."
The Carter Doctrine now covers much of
the planet. In addition to protecting the oil of the Gulf, Centcom
forces have also assumed responsibility for the protection of
energy supplies in Central Asia and the Caspian region. At the
same time, forces from the European Command are helping to protect
oil pipelines in the Republic of Georgia and oil-rich waters off
the coast of Africa. Forces from the Pacific Command guard the
oil lanes of the South China Sea. And troops from the Southern
Command are helping to protect pipelines in Colombia.
The globalization of the Carter Doctrine
began in the mid-1990s, when the Clinton Administration determined
that the Caspian Sea basin-until 1992 under the effective control
of the Soviet Union-could become a major source of oil for the
United States and its allies, thereby helping to lessen U.S. dependence
on the ever-turbulent Persian Gulf. The newly independent states
of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were eager to sell their petroleum
wealth to the West, but they lacked a conduit for exports. At
that time, all existing pipelines from the (landlocked) Caspian
passed through Russia and also faced serious challenges from ethnic
minorities and internal opposition movements. To safeguard the
future flow of Caspian oil, Clinton agreed to assist in the construction
of a new oil pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia
to Ceyhan in Turkey (thus bypassing Russia) and to help these
states enhance their military capacity. American military aid
began flowing to these states by 1997, and U.S. troops initiated
a series of annual joint military exercises with their forces.
"In a world of growing energy demand,"
Clinton declared during a 1997 White House meeting with Heydar
Aliyev, the president (and virtual dictator) of Azerbaijan, "our
nation cannot afford to rely on any single region for our energy
supplies." By facilitating Azerbaijan's oil exports, "we
not only help Azerbaijan to prosper, we also help diversify our
energy supply and strengthen our nation's security"
Clinton also extended this formula to
Kazakhstan, another promising source of petroleum, and to Georgia,
a major way-station on the proposed pipeline from Baku to Turkey.
Clinton authorized military-to-military ties between the Pentagon
and these countries' armed forces, and sent U.S. troops on familiarization
visits to bases in the region. Although modest in comparison to
the military buildup long under way in the Persian Gulf area,
these moves established a significant U.S. presence in the Caspian
basin. These ties were later utilized by President Bush to facilitate
U.S. intervention in Afghanistan following 9/11, but it is important
to note that their establishment was originally motivated by a
concern over the safety of energy supplies, not the threat posed
President Bush has made the globalization
of the Carter Doctrine a central objective of American foreign
policy. His National Energy Policy, widely known as the Cheney
Report, came out on May 17, 2001, and called for a substantial
increase in U.S. oil imports in order to satisfy soaring demand
for basic energy. The National Energy Policy affirms that because
domestic U.S. oil production faces long-term decline, the pursuit
of additional foreign supplies must be made "a priority of
our trade and foreign policy." In particular, this means
obtaining more oil from the Persian Gulf. "Middle East oil
production will remain central to world oil security," the
report notes, and so "the Gulf will be a primary focus of
U.S. international energy policy." But the National Energy
Policy also acknowledges the risks entailed in overreliance on
the Gulf, and so calls for "greater diversity of oil production."
The Cheney Report identifies many areas
as possible sources of non-Gulf oil, but focuses in particular
on three key areas: the Andean region of South America (notably
Colombia and Venezuela), the west coast of Africa (Angola, Equatorial
Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria), and the Caspian Sea basin (Azerbaijan
and Kazakhstan). "Growing levels of production and exports
[from these regions] are important factors that can lessen the
impact of a supply disruption [in the Gulf] on the U.S. and world
economies," the National Energy Policy declares.
So far, so good. But what the report fails
to mention is that these areas are no less prone to turbulence
and conflict than the Persian Gulf. Indeed, the current instability
in Colombia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and other non-Gulf producing
areas is one big reason behind the worldwide shortage of petroleum
and the resulting high gasoline prices. There is, in fact, no
real escape from the turmoil associated with oil production in
the developing world.
Increased U.S. reliance on oil from Africa,
Latin America, and the Caspian region is certain to entail the
same sort of geopolitical risks as have long been evident in the
Persian Gulf area. That's why Bush has established U.S. bases
in the Caspian region (at present, in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan)
and has deployed a permanent American military presence there.
The Administration has also examined other sites in the region
as possible locations for U.S. military bases.
In announcing these moves, the White House
has repeatedly stated that such action is needed to fight Al Qaeda
and to support ongoing U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.
But a careful reading of Pentagon and State Department documents
suggests that the protection of oil is of paramount concern. Thus,
in requesting $51.2 million in economic assistance to Azerbaijan
for fiscal year 2005, the Administration affirmed that "U.S.
national interests in Azerbaijan center on the strong bilateral
security and counterterrorism cooperation" as well as "the
advancement of U.S. energy security." It further noted that
"the involvement of U.S. firms in the development and export
of Azerbaijani oil is key to our objective of diversifying world
oil supplies." In line with this reasoning, the Department
of Defense is helping Azerbaijan to develop and deploy a small
navy in its Caspian Sea enclave and is considering the establishment
of a U.S. basing facility there.
The integration of the Administration's
anti-terrorism and oil-protection policies is also evident in
Georgia, the leading recipient of U.S. aid in the region. According
to the Department of State, this aid is intended to help Georgia
protect its borders and to safeguard the Baku-to-Turkey pipeline-now
under construction against sabotage and insurgent attack. At the
heart of this effort is a $64 million "train and equip"
program designed to enhance the counterinsurgency capabilities
of the Georgian army and its capacity to protect the pipeline
route. Some 150 U.S. Special Operations instructors have been
deployed in Georgia for this purpose.
Elsewhere in the region, the United States
is helping to refurbish an old Soviet air base at Atyrau in Kazakhstan,
overlooking the giant Kashagan oil field-partly owned by Exxon
Mobil, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch/Shell-in the northeast
corner of the Caspian Sea. This base will be used to house a Kazakh
"rapid reaction brigade" whose task, according to the
Department of State, will be to "enhance Kazakhstan's capability
to respond to major terrorist threats to oil platforms or borders."
It is likely, moreover, that American forces will also use this
base when deploying in the region.
A similar pattern is now evident in Colombia,
where U.S. Special Forces instructors from Fort Bragg, North Carolina,
are assisting Bogota's military. They are protecting the vital
Caño Limon pipeline-which stretches 480 miles from Occidental
Petroleum's oil fields in the northeast to refineries and export
facilities on the coast-against recurring attacks by Marxist guerrillas.
Here, too, counterterrorism is given as the primary justification
for U.S. involvement, but, again, it is the safe delivery of oil
that is clearly of concern to Washington. "Lost revenue from
guerrilla attacks has severely hampered the GOC's [Government
of Colombia's] ability to meet the country's social, political,
and security needs," the State Department reported in 2002.
By improving pipeline security, the United States will "enhance
the GOC's ability to protect a vital part of its energy infrastructure."
In October, moreover, Juan Forero of The
New York Times reported that U.S. military specialists are advising
the Colombian troops assigned to the protection of oil-exploration
operations in southern Colombia, long a haven for rebel forces.
The United States is becoming part of a major counterinsurgency
campaign in Colombia, with all the earmarks of a protracted struggle.
In October, Congress approved doubling the number of U.S. advisers
there from 400 to 800.
American military involvement in sub-Saharan
Africa is at a less advanced stage, but here, too, concern over
oil supplies is spurring a major increase in U.S. entanglement.
"African oil is of national strategic interest to us,"
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner
declared in 2002, "and it will increase and become more important
as we go forward."
The opening wedge of U.S. involvement
in Africa is military assistance and training-an approach that
facilitates the establishment of close ties with the region's
often dominant military elites. The Department of Defense has
sharply increased its aid to the two leading African oil producers-Angola
and Nigeria-and further increases are likely in the future. Most
of this aid-approximately $300 million in fiscal years 2002-4-is
being funneled through the Foreign Military Sales credit program,
the Excess Defense Articles surplus-arms giveaway, and the International
Military Education and Training program. Other oil producers in
Africa, including Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Mali, are also
being awarded such assistance.
But just as U.S. aid to the Caspian states
was followed by the insertion of a permanent American military
presence in the region, the Department of Defense is beginning
to search for permanent bases in Africa. In 2003, the head of
the European Command declared that the aircraft carrier battle
groups under his command would shorten their visits to the Mediterranean
and "spend half their time going down the west coast of Africa"-the
location of its most promising offshore oil fields.
In anticipation that American combat troops
will at some point be deployed on the ground in Africa, the Department
of Defense is looking for potential basing locations in and around
the major oil zones. According to recent media reports, the Pentagon
is seeking "barebones facilities" essentially, airstrips
with modest logistical capabilities-in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Senegal,
and Uganda. And, while military officials tend to emphasize the
threat of terrorism when discussing the need for such facilities,
they have told The Wall Street Journal that "a key mission
for U.S. forces [in Africa] would be to ensure that Nigeria's
oil fields, which in the future could account for as much as 25
percent of U.S. oil imports, are secure."
But ensuring the security of Nigeria's
oil fields-or those of other developing countries-would be no
easy task. In fact, it is a recipe for more quagmires like Iraq.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq should be viewed
as not the first-and certainly not the last-of a long series of
wars over the control of foreign oil. These wars are certain to
claim an increasing toll in human life and will impose a severe
and growing strain on the federal treasury. Members of the Armed
Forces face years of dangerous and ignoble work as protectors
of pipelines and refineries.
No amount of cheap oil can justify a sacrifice
this great. It is time to repudiate the Carter Doctrine and the
Bush-Cheney energy plan and begin the necessary-and inevitable-transition
to a post-petroleum economy.
Michael T Kiare is a professor of peace
and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts,
and the author of "Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences
of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency."