The Carter Doctrine Goes Global

[Persian Gulf oil policy]

by Michael T. Kiare

The Progressive magazine, December 2004


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 service.

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 by terrorism.

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."

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