Calum and Klare Notes for November 6

Calum’s question

Calum asked Michael Klare (roughly) if other countries would fill the vaccuum created by a US withdrawal from the oil regions. The upshot is that a withdrawal wouldn’t necessarily make the world more peaceful or stable. It could have the opposite effect.

Klare responded that he didn’t think there was any country prepared to do that.

Later, someone else asked a series of questions about China that seemed relevant to Calum’s question. As memory serves, Klare said basically three things.

First, China has no interest in filling the role played by the US. Second, it has no capability. Third, China and the US are currently engaged in an arms race.

I wasn’t able to follow up these questions, but it seems to me that the second and third are in some tension with one another. And if China is incapable, what about Russia?

The answer to the first point is that cheap oil provides all the incentive in the world. I know that Klare suggested that new technologies for burning coal while reducing greenhouse gas emissions would bring the US and China together. I guess the idea is that the US would offer this technology in exchange for better relations. But I can’t help wondering what China would do if it could choose between cheap petroleum and expensive technology for coal. Why take the latter?

More broadly, I don’t see why only great powers would be relevant to Calum’s question. Iraq was never a great power, defined as a country that can use military force on a global scale and dominates countries that cannot do so. But when it had the opportunity to control a significant portion of the world’s oil, it invaded Kuwait. There could be lots of smaller powers looking to move up once the US is out of the way.

Now, maybe this is less of a problem if the great powers aren’t fighting for oil. And the incentive to control oil is much lower if the US doesn’t consume so much. And you might think that the US should wash its hands of this dirty business. If someone else does it, that’s their problem. Our primary concern should be that our country does the right thing. But until we understand how the transition is supposed to work, I think Calum’s question is a live one.

This page was written by Michael Green for The Election, ID-1, Fall 2008. It was posted November 8, 2008.
Name of website