Wednesday, December 14, 2005

US Energy Dependence on Russia?

Gazprom, the Russian state-owned natural gas monopoly has recently announced plans to begin major exports to the United States. The company’s goal is to capture a ten percent share of the US market by 2010, thereafter increasing to twenty percent. Many observers of Gazprom’s operations in Europe have long argued that the company is more motivated by state foreign policy goals than economic interests. Its modus operandi is to capture a significant share of the domestic energy market and then threaten to raise prices or cut supplies when the host country’s foreign policy angers Moscow.

Western Europe, particularly Germany, is already energy dependent on Russian energy supplies. Some argue that this may have as much to do with the French-German-Russian opposition to the US-led war in Iraq as the profits these countries received from the UN food-for-oil program.

Collusion between these three countries has angered more than the US. The agreement on the Northern European Gas Pipeline, signed by German Social-Democrat Gerhard Schroeder just prior to his election defeat, led to calls of foul play from the new EU and NATO members of East Central Europe. The pipeline essentially goes around them, guaranteeing continued gas supplies to the core EU states while leaving out those whose memory of Russian political and economic domination remains fresh.

It is possible to see in the Gazprom announcement a decision by Moscow to attempt to replace US foreign policy independence with energy dependence. Such dependence would serve the interests of Paris (and the Social-Democrats in German should they return to power in future) as well as Russia and China. Working in concert, a German-French-Russian-Chinese axis could potentially use US energy dependence to significantly reduce the country's ability to act unilaterally in foreign affairs. This would have the effect of deconstructing the largely uni-polar, US-dominated system of the present moment, moving it in the direction of a multi-polar, interdependent system dominated by the great powers of the northern hemisphere. In such a system, US foreign policy moves would be subject to a veto by Europe, Russia, and China. If US policy makers are concerned about similar implications of Chinese investment, they might be well advised to consider the potential consquences of growing domestic energy dependence on Russia as well.

No comments: