Former head of U.S. Central Command: Energy use, foreign policy closely tied
The launch of an Iranian missile doesn't threaten the United States nearly as much as the energy Americans waste at home each day, according to the man who used to oversee U.S military operations in that part of the world.
Retired Adm. William Fallon warned Monday that energy - its production and its use - underpins most of today's major challenges and opportunities in world security. The University of Montana president's lecturer said reducing the United States' own energy consumption would help its international relations while boosting its domestic economic health.
Fallon led the U.S. Central Command during 2007-08, directing all U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa, focusing on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He retired last year amid controversy that developed over his criticism of American policies and attitudes regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.
He is now a distinguished senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research and development center serving the Navy and other defense agencies.
"He has demonstrated expertise in how power is organized, particularly soft and hard power," former UM President James Koch said in introducing Fallon. That also extended to the ideas of power as military force, political control and energy resources, Koch said.
All three must come together to get a better understanding of world affairs today, Fallon argued. For instance, Russia has found its natural gas wealth a more effective negotiating tool than its military strength, having captured much of the energy market for Western Europe and its former satellite nations.
That, in turn, has inclined Russia's leaders to push for "our way or no way" relationships with its energy-dependent neighbors. While this doesn't directly affect U.S. security, Fallon said, it does make Russia less willing to help U.S. efforts in places where it has influence, like Iran.
Misunderstandings about energy can also have global impacts. Fallon said this played out in the Strait of Malacca, between Indonesia and Malaysia. Several years ago, this major shipping route became infamous for high levels of piracy. Even though oil tankers were virtually never pirate targets there, the insurance companies that covered the ships increased their rates enough to affect energy prices worldwide.
The United States proposed increased military patrols in the area, but Fallon said local governments did not welcome the idea. Instead, they devised a local response to the pirates, which essentially eliminated the threat to shipping.
Empowering and assisting such local responses plays into the United States' long-term interest, Fallon said. Places like Afghanistan and Pakistan have the potential to become successful trading partners with the growing economies of India and China. But the region clings to a habit of assuming big decisions are made elsewhere, in places like Moscow or Washington, D.C. Fostering more trade security and opportunity could reduce the need for military presence, he said.
We must look in the mirror for some energy solutions, however, he said. As the world's biggest energy consumer per person, the United States has a heavy responsibility to cut back its consumption or innovate in alternative energy sources. Doing so, Fallon said, would both increase our own economic security (by lowering dependence on foreign energy suppliers) and divert the rest of the developing world from multiplying past pollution and consumption mistakes.
"This is really a pretty good investment for government," Fallon said of alternative energy development. While renewable energy systems still don't make economic sense, the long-term payoff for both people and the planet are unmistakable.
A year and a half ago, it was hard for U.S. solar energy companies to get attention, Fallon said. That's changed dramatically as individual state governments have gotten involved with incentive programs and research opportunities. Much of that stemmed from the energy shock of the last couple of years.
"The politics of the energy embargo of 1973 was our first real wake-up call, but we didn't wake up very long," Fallon said. "A lot of that same kind of politics is at play today."
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted in News on Monday, September 28, 2009