- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The lack of a consistent, sustained policy on energy, especially oil, has undercut both U.S. foreign policy and national security, according to a report from the Council on Foreign Relations.

“America’s dependence on imported energy increases its strategic vulnerability and constrains its ability to pursue foreign policy and national security,” said James R. Schlesinger, who co-chaired the task force study released last week by the New York-based council.

Mr. Schlesinger, who has served as both secretary of defense and energy, said the task force concluded that some of the world’s leading energy suppliers — including Russia, Iran and Venezuela — are able to use their energy resources as leverage to pursue their strategic and political objectives.

The report, “National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency,” also found that many energy-rich countries fail to exploit their resources in a way that promotes balanced growth and good government at home. But the intense competition with other large importers such as China and India limits U.S. leverage to press for reforms.

“When markets are tight, large oil consumers have tended to become especially focused on securing supply and to ignore the effects of their investments on corruption and mismanagement,” the report’s authors concluded.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States imports about 60 percent of its oil needs, a percentage expected to rise during the coming decades.

“A significant interruption in oil supply will have adverse political and economic consequences in the United States and in other importing countries,” according to the report. “When such a disruption occurs, it upends all ongoing policy activity in a frantic effort to return to normal conditions.”

Given current supply-and-demand patterns, it is unlikely that the United States will be able to make major progress in cutting its dependence on foreign energy sources during the next two decades, the task force said.

“The challenge over the next several decades is to manage the consequences of unavoidable dependence on oil and gas that is traded in the world markets and to begin the transition to an economy that relies less on petroleum,” Mr. Schlesinger said.

Booming demand predicted for the coming decades also will underscore the Middle East’s central role in global energy markets, posing additional problems for U.S. foreign and energy policy.

“Oil supply is expected to continue to concentrate in Persian Gulf, which holds the world’s largest geologically attractive reserves, and is a region that has been unstable and includes countries that have periodically used their oil exports for political purposes unfriendly to the United States,” the report said.

The dependence on Middle East oil will only grow as domestic U.S. and Western European energy sources are depleted in the coming decades.

“Energy independence is not going to happen,” Mr. Schlesinger said, and the U.S. government must do a better job of coordinating energy and security policy.

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