Zone of International Interest

Author: Gary Hart

Helicopeters hovering over navy shipFor many years the United States has been the de facto guarantor of world oil supplies.  We maintain one and more recently two aircraft carrier task groups in the Indian Ocean and near the Persian Gulf.  They are there not only to support our forces in Iraq and throughout the region.  They are there, and will remain there, so long as the region produces a substantial portion of the consuming world’s oil supplies.

Someone has to do it, you might say, and that is true.  But does that “someone” always have to be the United States? 

First of all, it is possible for us to reduce our dependence on Persian Gulf oil, roughly 20 to 25 percent of our imports which themselves represent almost 70 percent of our total consumption.  Suppliers such as Canada and Mexico, among others, are reliable.  The Persian Gulf is not.  We can choose to continue to depend on unreliable Persian Gulf oil, but we will do so at the cost of thousands if not tens of thousands of American lives in future Persian Gulf wars and tens if not hundreds of billions of tax dollars in maintaining a third to a half of all our military forces in the greater region permanently.

Instead, a new sense of international responsibility would organize a consortium of oil consuming nations, including much of Europe, that would assume collective responsibility for policing the Persian Gulf oil export routes and sea lanes.  Other nations have navies and they can increase them if we convince them that, free of our dependence, we will no longer underwrite theirs.

To make matters even clearer, a zone comprising much of the Persian Gulf oil production region could be designated something like a Zone of International Interest by the United Nations which would empower the international community to guarantee the continued production and exportation of oil supplies regardless of regional political upheavals.  Even if we are free of our dependence on that region, much of the world’s economy will continue to require its oil.  All the more reason to make the greater Persian Gulf a specially-designated area of international responsibility.

All that is lacking is imagination and leadership.

8 Responses to “Zone of International Interest”

  1. Sam Scinta Says:

    An excellent and provocative post, right in line with your earlier piece on networking governments. It is unfortunate (though not surprising) that so many nations partake as “free-riders” and allow the US to foot the bill in the Persian Gulf. This issue seems especially relevant in light of not only decreasing demand from the US (as well as availability of alternative sources, as you point out) but of increased Chinese and Indian demand from the region over the past decade (I assume they too would be integral, at least financially, to the creation of such a consortium). Of course, it would be very fun to watch how those who attack the current administration as “fascist” and “socialist” (without appreciating the irony) would take to the US moving toward greater international cooperation and creation of such an institution!

  2. LG Rooney Says:

    If an issue like this is to find its wings, we need to be able to attach a dollar figure to it that people can understand, and with appropriate rhetoric. My first thought is to call it a hidden tax on oil. Spread out the costs of this protection per barrel and figure out the true cost of a barrel. Or, how much of this oil makes its way through the refining process to become gasoline, tires, pavement, diapers & other plastics, etc.? What is the hidden cost on these items? How much of this protection extends to supplies to other countries? What is the tab for this additional foreign aid? It is our taxes that pay for this via DOD, what are the savings in taxes a/o interest in removing this expense? Calling it a tax is crucial – it is factual and it is a word that is tantamount to a public evil in today’s lexicon and thus will garner attention.

  3. Amanda Says:

    A thought-provoking post but the post assumes that the dominance of the US in securing free-flow of oil from the Gulf is solely or primarily about securing ample supply for ourselves/our close allies. While that is no doubt a big part of why we’re there, one could also look at the situation through an alternate lens — i.e. another major reason we are there is to ensure that no other nation can either be the policer of the situation and thus the Unites States defacto controls who can become a superpower by having the needed resources to gain that status and/or grow economically. If this is part of the reason we are there, then transferring to clean energy won’t get us out of the Gulf. And it seriously undermines the thesis of the USA sharing policing duties in the Gulf. I tend to think that securing resources for ourselves and maintaining our role as superpower/controlling power of other nations are all reasons we are there. But I also think that maintaining our global power/control — ie maintaining our imperial ambitions — is a major reason and the powers that be in our government/industry won’t relenquish our dominance in the Gulf even if the Europeans/China others offered to help. Would be interested in your thoughts on this angle, Senator Hart.

  4. C. Kasey Kitterman Says:

    What is important to the U.S. is the very fragility of the oil supplies. The quality of oil from the other regions, differs from the Middle-East crude. True we do not welcome the rise of competitor states, true we want to call the shots on a vital commodity. All this can happen while we sit at the Straits, ready to pounce. Almost any action affects the region, whether the U.S. bluffs, calls or folds. Just being there gives the U.S. leverage over all nations. This would appear to be a very enviable position. The problem is those pesky fanatics, don’t get the importance of petro-politics.

  5. Michael Says:

    Apart from protecting oil supplies, wouldn’t the US still have to keep its sizable fleet in the Gulf in order to react to any military action Iran might take in the region i.e. in Iraq? Thanks to Dick “Einstein” Cheney, Iran is now the regional power. It may be a zone of international interest, but a consortium of oil consumers would not want to get involved in cleaning up the mess we made there.

  6. C. Kasey Kitterman Says:

    Is there anything really stopping other nations, from patrolling the same waters, right now? I suspect our client states and competitors are there and always have been. We are willingly there in greater force,conducting business as the point of the spear, for the West’s “burden”.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    Belated response to these last comments: As to Kasey’s strategic point, the question is whether we should be allocating several hundred billion dollars, not to say also two Gulf wars in 15 years, to protecting everyone else’s oil supplies when they are happy to have us as the oil cops. It may be enviable, but it is also costly and unnecessary given other alternatives. And, yes, Michael, we probably do want to have a naval presence in the region for the contingency you mention. But wouldn’t it be better if it were an INTERNATIONAL military presence? Nothing is stopping other nations from patrolling the region except costs. While we pay for everyone else’s protection, other importing nations can put their tax dollars into health care and better social services.

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