Geopolitics and Energy: The 'Great Game'

Underlying the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the confrontation with Iran and third-power interest in the insurgency in Pakistan, is a much broader shift in the tectonics of geopolitical influence among the great powers, China, Russia, the US and the emerging European state.  And as usual it is founded on resources, trade and, consequently, the distribution of wealth and power among nations.

It is all about control of the world's dwindling energy resources and their chains of distribution and it is focused on the Middle East and Central Asia.  The world's remaining abundant petroleum resources are localised in the Middle East and while the traditional maritime distribution model places the supply of these resources largely in the Persian Gulf, with the guarantor of delivery the US Navy, this model is slowly changing.  As described by former Turkish Minister of State, Hikmet Uluğbay, we are now entering the final phase of this competition:

The discovery of oil, the popularization of the automotive industry and the introduction of motor vehicles to the army has led industrialized countries, which lacked oil to back the process of industrialization, including Britain, Germany and France, to enter a race for control over oil fields. Considering that its own oil resources may be exhausted, the US also joined the race after the end of World War I. This started the first battle of apportionment over oil resources. Currently, the final fight is taking place to have control over oil and natural gas resources, as well as over routes to deliver these resources. Scholarly studies show that global oil production will peak in the short run, after which oil production will enter a decline. According to the research, during the 2019-2030 period natural gas production will peak. The increase in oil prices to $150 per barrel was a harbinger of this. The current decline in oil prices should not mislead us. This temporary development is a product of expectations that the world economy will soon suffer from stagnation.

Fatih Uğur - World is Witnessing Final Fight For Oil Zaman 5 Oct 08

Partly due to the shift towards reliance on natural gas, pipeline distribution overland to Europe has become a highly competitive undertaking.  Europe is already dependent on Russian natural gas travelling overland from the Caspian region, a situation not lost on US policymakers:

Unfortunately, Russia has shown itself increasingly willing to use energy as a tool of foreign policy, posing a threat to EU energy security. Meanwhile, the fourth largest proven natural gas reserves in the world sit in the Caspian region - including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan - effectively locked away from a natural market in western Europe by Russia's stranglehold over Europe's natural gas pipeline system.

Robert F Winchester - European Energy Security: Wrestling with the Russian Bear for Caspian Natural Gas US Army War College 30 June 2007

And Europe is seeking to establish it's own alternate routes to the Caspian Basin, the Middle East and Iran:

The aftermath of the January energy crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which resulted in the interruption of the natural gas supply to some European countries, has once again made relevant the establishment of alternative energy routes from Russia to supply natural gas to Europe. Additionally, alternatives are also needed to Ukraine, through which Russia transported about 80% of Europe's gas. In this case, the actual construction of the natural gas pipelines `North Stream` and `South Stream` again rise. Both projects will guarantee the unimpeded transit of natural gas through pipelines which will be laid on the seabed (of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea). But these pipelines do not provide an alternative to Russian gas, and so a possible alternative for Central and Eastern European countries could be the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which plans to export gas from the Caspian Sea basin states and perhaps from Iran, Iraq and Egypt in the future.

Rovshan Ibrahimov - Nabucco Pipeline - I Turkish Weekly 19 Feb 09

Small wonder the US is having trouble getting European partners in it's effort to impose economic sanctions on Iran.  But it is not just a reality affecting our inability to impose sanction on Iran, this competition for energy resources is global, strongly affecting US policy on Gulf and regional alliances, not to mention the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the security crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflicts usually portrayed in terms of threats to our physical security and ideology.  This reality informs the foreign policy of every major power, not to mention the geopolitical motivations of the US in the Middle East and South Asia, now and in the past, for both 'realists' and neoconservatives.

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