While the day-to-day focus of US military planning remains Iraq and Afghanistan, American strategists are increasingly looking beyond these two conflicts to envision the global combat environment of the emerging period–and the world they see is one where the struggle over vital resources, rather than ideology or balance-of-power politics, dominates the martial landscape. Believing that the United States must reconfigure its doctrines and forces in order to prevail in such an environment, senior officials have taken steps to enhance strategic planning and combat capabilities. Although little of this has reached the public domain, there have been a number of key indicators.
Since 2006 the Defense Department, in its annual report Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, has equated competition over resources with conflict over Taiwan as a potential spark for a US war with China. Preparation for a clash over Taiwan remains “an important driver” of China’s military modernization, the 2008 edition noted, but “analysis of China’s military acquisitions and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as conflict over resources.” The report went on to suggest that the Chinese are planning to enhance their capacity for “power projection” in areas that provide them with critical raw materials, especially fossil fuels, and that such efforts would pose a significant threat to America’s security interests.
The Pentagon is also requesting funds this year for the establishment of the Africa Command (Africom), the first overseas joint command to be formed since 1983, when President Reagan created the Central Command (Centcom) to guard Persian Gulf oil. Supposedly, the new organization will focus its efforts on humanitarian aid and the “war on terror.” But in a presentation delivered at the National Defense University in February, Africom’s deputy commander, Vice Adm. Robert Moeller, said, “Africa holds growing geostrategic importance” to the United States–with oil a key factor in this equation–and that among the key challenges to US strategic interests in the region is China’s “Growing Influence in Africa.”
Russia, too, is being viewed through the lens of global resource competition. Although Russia, unlike the United States and China, does not need to import oil and natural gas to satisfy its domestic requirements, it seeks to dominate the transportation of energy, especially to Europe. This has alarmed senior White House officials, who resent restoration of Russia’s great-power status and fear that its growing control over the distribution of oil and gas in Eurasia will undercut America’s influence in the region. In response to the Russian energy drive, the Bush Administration is undertaking countermoves. “I do intend to appoint…a special energy coordinator who could especially spend time on the Central Asian and Caspian region,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February. “It is a really important part of diplomacy.” A key job of the coordinator, she suggested, would be to encourage the establishment of oil and gas pipelines that bypass Russia, thereby diminishing its control over the regional flow of energy.
Taken together, these and like moves suggest that a momentous shift has occurred. At a time when world supplies of oil, natural gas, uranium and key industrial minerals like copper and cobalt are beginning to shrink and the demand for them is exploding, the major industrial powers are becoming more desperate in their drive to gain control over what remains of the planet’s untapped reserves [for more evidence of major shortages in fossil fuels, see Klare, “Beyond the Age of Petroleum,” November 12, 2007, and Mark Hertsgaard, “Running on Empty,” May 12]. These efforts typically entail intense bidding wars for supplies on international markets–hence the record high prices for all these commodities. But they also take military form, as arms transfers and the deployment of overseas missions and bases. It is to bolster America’s advantage–and to counter similar moves by China and other resource competitors–that the Pentagon has placed resource competition at the center of its strategic planning.