What do American Sniper, Chris Kyle and the Keystone XL pipeline have in common? Most Americans would probably say “nothing.” Unless that changes soon, U.S. President Barack Obama and the Democratic minority in Congress will succeed in sustaining the veto over Keystone that Obama exercised last week.
If the Republicans want to win this battle, they have to change their message. The Keystone pipeline is not about creating more jobs over the next three years, but about saving more lives over the next three decades – lives of young Americans being sent to the Middle East to defend America’s security of supply of imported OPEC oil.
The recent collapse of oil prices and availability of cheap gasoline have made it easy for Americans to forget how dependent on Middle East/Arab oil the U.S. and its allies still are. Thanks to the shale revolution of the past decade, U.S. oil production has risen three-million barrels per day (b/d) to 8.5-million b/d. But American consumption of oil is still double this amount, so the Americans are still importing 7.6-million b/d. While more and more of this is now coming from Canada – over three-million b/d – most of it still comes from the Middle East.
U.S. shale oil is not going to change this. Contrary to what most Americans may assume, OPEC’s share of global oil production has actually risen since 1985 from 30% to 39%. And OPEC’s share of global production is projected to continue to increase to 49% by 2040. To understand the implications of this, we need to understand what the world’s oil future looks like. Listed to the right are the top 14 nations in the world in proven oil reserves. Also noted is each nation’s rating in Freedom House’s 2015 Global Report on respect for political and civil rights.
Going forward, this is not a pretty picture. By way of summary, the U.S. has 1.5% of global reserves. Canada has 12.5%. We are the only two oil-rich nations to be rated “free.” Countries rated “not free” control 78%, while Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa control 62%. America’s “friends” in this region – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi/UAE and Qatar – are all rated as “not free.” So, too, are Egypt and Jordan, which don’t figure in global oil reserves, but are currently allies in fighting ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups.
All of these “friends” are highly inegalitarian, authoritarian regimes and are friendly mainly at the elite levels. As the aftermath of the so-called “Arab Spring” in Egypt and Libya has shown, at the street level, Al-Qaeda and now perhaps ISIS attract more affection than the United States. Remember, prior to 1979, Iran was America’s strongest ally in the region. In short, America’s “friends” in this oil-rich region are far from stable and are at risk of becoming a lot less friendly over the next few decades.
Note also that Russia and China rank high in oil and low on freedom. Neither of these countries will ever be reliable global citizens, much less allies of the U.S. Each has its own agenda to counter U.S. influence in their respective regions. Russia will continue to use its quasi-monopoly over regional oil and gas markets to blackmail European nations. The Chinese leadership aspires to regional hegemony in Asia, and now competes with the U.S. as the second largest importer of oil from the Middle East. To this end, China has doubled its military spending in recent years, with a focus on building submarines. China has also undermined the NATO/EU embargo on Iranian oil imports by being a willing buyer. This kind of behaviour can be counted on to continue.
If the Republicans are to win the battle over Keystone, Americans’ decision about the pipeline needs to be placed in this context. Over 7,000 young American men and women have died fighting in the Middle East since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. Whatever other reasons American politicians may have used to justify military interventions since then – aiding allies, building democracy, homeland security – energy security has never been far below the surface.
Today’s global economy, of which the U.S. and its allies are the largest beneficiaries, runs on oil, and most of this oil comes from the Middle East. OPEC figured this out in the 1960s. Now the Islamic terrorists have, too. In a worst-case scenario – war – the military implications of this imbalance are harsh. As Germany and Japan learned at the end of the Second World War, you cannot win a war if your tanks and planes run out of fuel (see http://www.keystonetoamericanprosperity.com/).
Intuitively, Americans sense this connection. Since 9/11, the threat of Islamic terrorism at home and the loss of American lives abroad has permeated Americans’ day-to-day lives. They see it all around them: on the evening news, security checks at airports, sporting events and the movie theatres – Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and now American Sniper. Even the neighbourhood garbage truck is emblazoned with the red, white and blue “United We Stand” logo. The Republicans just have to connect the dots. The message can be simple. As former governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, famously said: “You don’t have to send the National Guard into Alberta.”
Complete the Keystone pipeline – and the 830,000 b/d that it will bring from Canada to the United States – and the odds of Chris Kyle’s children having to do what their father did go way down.
Ted Morton is a senior fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy and the Manning Foundation for Building Democracy. He previously served as the minister of energy and minister of finance in the government of Alberta.