The Department of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the world's leading
consumer of petroleum.
The Pentagon as Global Gas-Guzzler
Michael T. Klare
Today, Michael Klare, expert on war and energy, and author of the
indispensable book, Blood and Oil, gives us an unprecedented sense of
what it means when the Pentagon fills its own tank (as well as its
tanks). It is, after all, the Hummer of Defense Departments, the
planet's gas-guzzler par excellence.
On the other hand, in the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration
turns out to be unable to find a local gas station still in operation.
As you all undoubtedly remember, before its invasion in March 2003,
the administration was quite convinced that Iraqi oil would quickly
pay for any future occupation, reconstruction, and -- though this was
never said -- permanent American presence. Then-Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz classically pointed out back in 2003 that Iraq
"floats on a sea of oil" and told a Congressional panel, "The oil
revenue of [Iraq] could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over
the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a
country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and
Over four years later, however, Iraq, under threat of an oil workers'
strike, seems to be pumping only 1.6 million barrels of oil a day --
almost a million barrels below the worst days of the
sanctions-strapped regime of Saddam Hussein. In addition, an oil law,
essentially prepared in Washington and aimed at opening Iraqi oil to
multinational (read: American) oil companies, that has been declared
by Washington's Democrats and Republicans as the crucial "benchmark"
of Iraqi progress, seems dead in the water -- or is it a pool of oil?
Given the "daily petroleum tab" in the Middle Eastern war zone that
Klare cites for the Pentagon, you could, in a sense, say that the Bush
administration is "running on empty" and that the Bush Doctrine, as
Klare makes clear, gives the term "oil wars" new meaning. We may,
someday, be fighting our "oil wars" just to preserve that very
American right -- to run our war machines on petroleum products. Tom
The Pentagon v. Peak Oil: How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to
Run the Machines That Fight Them
By Michael T. Klare
Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier
in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly,
through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or
indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000
soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding
region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf)
and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily
petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.
Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the
estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in
Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of
Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross
underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.
Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling
expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every
soldier stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in
training, or otherwise in line for eventual deployment to the war zone
-- soldiers who also consume enormous amounts of oil, even if less
than their compatriots overseas. Moreover, to sustain an
"expeditionary" army located halfway around the world, the Department
of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food, fuel,
and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional
tanker-loads of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's
war-related oil budget jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we
have no real way of knowing.
And foreign wars, sad to say, account for but a small fraction of the
Pentagon's total petroleum consumption. Possessing the world's largest
fleet of modern aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles,
and support systems -- virtually all powered by oil -- the Department
of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the world's leading consumer of
petroleum. It can be difficult to obtain precise details on the DoD's
daily oil hit, but an April 2007 report by a defense contractor, LMI
Government Consulting, suggests that the Pentagon might consume as
much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is
greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.
Not "Guns v. Butter," but "Guns v. Oil"
For anyone who drives a motor vehicle these days, this has ominous
implications. With the price of gasoline now 75 cents to a dollar more
than it was just six months ago, it's obvious that the Pentagon is
facing a potentially serious budgetary crunch. Just like any ordinary
American family, the DoD has to make some hard choices: It can use its
normal amount of petroleum and pay more at the Pentagon's equivalent
of the pump, while cutting back on other basic expenses; or it can cut
back on its gas use in order to protect favored weapons systems under
development. Of course, the DoD has a third option: It can go before
Congress and plead for yet another supplemental budget hike, but this
is sure to provoke renewed calls for a timetable for an American troop
withdrawal from Iraq, and so is an unlikely prospect at this time.
Nor is this destined to prove a temporary issue. As recently as two
years ago, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) was confidently
predicting that the price of crude oil would hover in the $30 per
barrel range for another quarter century or so, leading to gasoline
prices of about $2 per gallon. But then came Hurricane Katrina, the
crisis in Iran, the insurgency in southern Nigeria, and a host of
other problems that tightened the oil market, prompting the DoE to
raise its long-range price projection into the $50 per barrel range.
This is the amount that figures in many current governmental budgetary
forecasts -- including, presumably, those of the Department of
Defense. But just how realistic is this? The price of a barrel of
crude oil today is hovering in the $66 range. Many energy analysts now
say that a price range of $70-$80 per barrel (or possibly even
significantly more) is far more likely to be our fate for the
A price rise of this magnitude, when translated into the cost of
gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, home-heating oil, and
petrochemicals will play havoc with the budgets of families, farms,
businesses, and local governments. Sooner or later, it will force
people to make profound changes in their daily lives -- as benign as
purchasing a hybrid vehicle in place of an SUV or as painful as
cutting back on home heating or health care simply to make an
unavoidable drive to work. It will have an equally severe affect on
the Pentagon budget. As the world's number one consumer of petroleum
products, the DoD will obviously be disproportionately affected by a
doubling in the price of crude oil. If it can't turn to Congress for
redress, it will have to reduce its profligate consumption of oil
and/or cut back on other expenses, including weapons purchases.
The rising price of oil is producing what Pentagon contractor LMI
calls a "fiscal disconnect" between the military's long-range
objectives and the realities of the energy marketplace. "The need to
recapitalize obsolete and damaged equipment [from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan] and to develop high-technology systems to implement
future operational concepts is growing," it explained in an April 2007
report. However, an inability "to control increased energy costs from
fuel and supporting infrastructure diverts resources that would
otherwise be available to procure new capabilities."
And this is likely to be the least of the Pentagon's worries. The
Department of Defense is, after all, the world's richest military
organization, and so can be expected to tap into hidden accounts of
one sort or another in order to pay its oil bills and finance its many
pet weapons projects. However, this assumes that sufficient petroleum
will be available on world markets to meet the Pentagon's ever-growing
needs -- by no means a foregone conclusion. Like every other large
consumer, the DoD must now confront the looming -- but hard to assess
-- reality of "Peak Oil"; the very real possibility that global oil
production is at or near its maximum sustainable ("peak") output and
will soon commence an irreversible decline.
That global oil output will eventually reach a peak and then decline
is no longer a matter of debate; all major energy organizations have
now embraced this view. What remains open for argument is precisely
when this moment will arrive. Some experts place it comfortably in the
future -- meaning two or three decades down the pike -- while others
put it in this very decade. If there is a consensus emerging, it is
that peak-oil output will occur somewhere around 2015. Whatever the
timing of this momentous event, it is apparent that the world faces a
profound shift in the global availability of energy, as we move from a
situation of relative abundance to one of relative scarcity. It should
be noted, moreover, that this shift will apply, above all, to the form
of energy most in demand by the Pentagon: the petroleum liquids used
to power planes, ships, and armored vehicles.
The Bush Doctrine Faces Peak Oil
Peak oil is not one of the global threats the Department of Defense
has ever had to face before; and, like other U.S. government agencies,
it tended to avoid the issue, viewing it until recently as a
peripheral matter. As intimations of peak oil's imminent arrival
increased, however, it has been forced to sit up and take notice.
Spurred perhaps by rising fuel prices, or by the growing attention
being devoted to "energy security" by academic strategists, the DoD
has suddenly taken an interest in the problem. To guide its
exploration of the issue, the Office of Force Transformation within
the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy commissioned
LMI to conduct a study on the implications of future energy scarcity
for Pentagon strategic planning.
The resulting study, "Transforming the Way the DoD Looks at Energy,"
was a bombshell. Determining that the Pentagon's favored strategy of
global military engagement is incompatible with a world of declining
oil output, LMI concluded that "current planning presents a situation
in which the aggregate operational capability of the force may be
unsustainable in the long term."
LMI arrived at this conclusion from a careful analysis of current U.S.
military doctrine. At the heart of the national military strategy
imposed by the Bush administration -- the Bush Doctrine -- are two
core principles: transformation, or the conversion of America's
stodgy, tank-heavy Cold War military apparatus into an agile,
continent-hopping high-tech, futuristic war machine; and pre-emption,
or the initiation of hostilities against "rogue states" like Iraq and
Iran, thought to be pursuing weapons of mass destruction. What both
principles entail is a substantial increase in the Pentagon's
consumption of petroleum products -- either because such plans rely,
to an increased extent, on air and sea-power or because they imply an
accelerated tempo of military operations.
As summarized by LMI, implementation of the Bush Doctrine requires
that "our forces must expand geographically and be more mobile and
expeditionary so that they can be engaged in more theaters and
prepared for expedient deployment anywhere in the world"; at the same
time, they "must transition from a reactive to a proactive force
posture to deter enemy forces from organizing for and conducting
potentially catastrophic attacks." It follows that, "to carry out
these activities, the U.S. military will have to be even more energy
intense.... Considering the trend in operational fuel consumption and
future capability needs, this `new' force employment construct will
likely demand more energy/fuel in the deployed setting."
The resulting increase in petroleum consumption is likely to prove
dramatic. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the average American
soldier consumed only four gallons of oil per day; as a result of
George W. Bush's initiatives, a U.S. soldier in Iraq is now using four
times as much. If this rate of increase continues unabated, the next
major war could entail an expenditure of 64 gallons per soldier per day.
It was the unassailable logic of this situation that led LMI to
conclude that there is a severe "operational disconnect" between the
Bush administration's principles for future war-fighting and the
global energy situation. The administration has, the company notes,
"tethered operational capability to high-technology solutions that
require continued growth in energy sources" -- and done so at the
worst possible moment historically. After all, the likelihood is that
the global energy supply is about to begin diminishing rather than
expanding. Clearly, writes LMI in its April 2007 report, "it may not
be possible to execute operational concepts and capabilities to
achieve our security strategy if the energy implications are not
considered." And when those energy implications are considered, the
strategy appears "unsustainable."
The Pentagon as a Global Oil-Protection Service
How will the military respond to this unexpected challenge? One
approach, favored by some within the DoD, is to go "green" -- that is,
to emphasize the accelerated development and acquisition of
fuel-efficient weapons systems so that the Pentagon can retain its
commitment to the Bush Doctrine, but consume less oil while doing so.
This approach, if feasible, would have the obvious attraction of
allowing the Pentagon to assume an environmentally-friendly facade
while maintaining and developing its existing, interventionist force
But there is also a more sinister approach that may be far more highly
favored by senior officials: To ensure itself a "reliable" source of
oil in perpetuity, the Pentagon will increase its efforts to maintain
control over foreign sources of supply, notably oil fields and
refineries in the Persian Gulf region, especially in Iraq, Kuwait,
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This would help
explain the recent talk of U.S. plans to retain "enduring" bases in
Iraq, along with its already impressive and elaborate basing
infrastructure in these other countries.
The U.S. military first began procuring petroleum products from
Persian Gulf suppliers to sustain combat operations in the Middle East
and Asia during World War II, and has been doing so ever since. It
was, in part, to protect this vital source of petroleum for military
purposes that, in 1945, President Roosevelt first proposed the
deployment of an American military presence in the Persian Gulf
region. Later, the protection of Persian Gulf oil became more
important for the economic well-being of the United States, as
articulated in President Jimmy Carter's "Carter Doctrine" speech of
January 23, 1980 as well as in President George H. W. Bush's August
1990 decision to stop Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, which led
to the first Gulf War -- and, many would argue, the decision of the
younger Bush to invade Iraq over a decade later.
Along the way, the American military has been transformed into a
"global oil-protection service" for the benefit of U.S. corporations
and consumers, fighting overseas battles and establishing its bases to
ensure that we get our daily fuel fix. It would be both sad and
ironic, if the military now began fighting wars mainly so that it
could be guaranteed the fuel to run its own planes, ships, and tanks
-- consuming hundreds of billions of dollars a year that could instead
be spent on the development of petroleum alternatives.
Michael T. Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at
Hampshire College, is the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and
Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum
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