This week (and those ahead) we’ll be watching news from the NPT conference for discussions on the intersections of energy and nonproliferation. You may be asking, “What does this intersection look like?” David Sanger and William Broad in The New York Times set the scene beautifully this piece from yesterday:
. . .to many analysts, the growing interest among Persian Gulf nations for nuclear programs reflects a desire for a military edge.
Still, there is another motivating factor: the economics of oil. When prices are high, gulf countries would prefer to sell their oil at great profit rather than burn it for power. A study done by the International Atomic Energy Agency and a group of gulf states concluded that nuclear power made sense for the region when the price of oil exceeded $50 a barrel.
Today it is above $80, and with the world economy gradually recovering, many expect it to go higher.
Every country in the region except Lebanon is planning to build nuclear reactors or has declared an interest in doing so.
They will of course need to take water availability into account as they explore siting these Middle Eastern reactors as well, though I much appreciate the linkage to petroleum prices. Here’s my question though: will agreements on reprocessing and fuel enrichment indicate lack of military intent by countries newly seeking nuclear energy technology, as the first line above indicates? I don’t know how you can venture to answer this question without looking at conventional military capabilities in the region – in addition to oil prices and broader goals in the science and technology realm by these countries.
What do these countries have in common? For the purposes of this blog post, they were all featured in important natural security news over the weekend.
Let’s start with Friday: in The Washington Post Rajiv Chandrasekaran highlighted a rift between the civilian and military leadership on how to increase electricity in Kandahar as part of the hearts and minds campaign there. On one side are advocates for a major purchase of diesel generators and requisite fuel; on the other, a harder look at improving the city’s electrical systems and reducing inefficiencies (both human and electric) to increase energy supplies. He writes:
Military and civilian officials also remain divided over whether increasing electricity in Kandahar will have a substantial effect on the security situation there. Military officers in southern Afghanistan maintain that if residents' power supply increases, they will have a better opinion of their government and employment will increase, which will help to marginalize the Taliban…But embassy and USAID officials contend that Kandahar residents are more concerned about the lack of a credible justice system and the dearth of employment. Civilian officials say small generators could be used to reopen factories and run cold-storage facilities, but they worry that increasing electricity across the board will lead more people to buy air conditioners and refrigerators, resulting in a continued shortage.
Instead of buying fuel, Eikenberry and other embassy personnel want the electric utility in Kandahar to do a better job of collecting fees and to use the money to buy fuel for the generators it already has, which would increase supply but not eliminate the shortage. USAID is offering help through its Afghanistan Clean Energy Program, a $100 million effort to promote "green" power in the war zone. The agency plans to install solar-powered streetlights in the city this year. It is also paying for repairs to some of the existing generators, but it will not buy diesel for them.
We have been pumping hard on some writing deadlines last week and through the weekend, so this is going to be short and sweet. After laboring to wrap up our series on how climate change will affect the different services and combatant commands, it turned out The Onion beat us to the story anyway. Drat.
So just an FYI for your Monday morning: it appears that China has pledged another $20 billion to Hugo Chavez for infrastructure and other items that ensure that Venezuela’s oil keeps flowing. For reference, we know Venezuela has a ton of oil, but I looked to their R/P ratio (pdf) and BP clocks it at more than 100 years. The United States, for comparison, currently stands at 12.4.
More Venezuelan oil likely just means we’ll all have more stable oil prices, and Venezuela may get a little more cash. And we love more oil, right? And more cash for Chavez? I can promise you this: the next time someone tries to tell me that resources do not guide foreign policy, I am going to slam them with this gem.
With our lack of attention to the news this weekend, feel free to send us any good ones to share with the group. Luckily, there are a lot of events this week for you all, below. See you all tomorrow!
The Week Ahead
On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources will receive testimony over carbon capture and sequestration legislation, starting at 10:00 AM.
Early Wednesday evening, beginning at 4:00 PM, check out the World Resources Institute for an opportunity to hear from the Chief of Energy Branch in UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics, Mark Radka, at Finance for Climate Change: 2010 Opportunities in Developing Countries.
Thursday begins with a hearing at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard over The Environmental and Economic Impacts of Ocean Acidification, beginning at 10:00 AM. At the same time, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations & Oversight will discuss the Causes and Consequences of the Helium-3 Supply Crisis, over in Rayburn building. At 2:00 PM the Institute for Policy Studies is holding a panel discussion over the World Bank, Climate Change and Climate Finance. That evening, check out Climate Change and Competitiveness, featuring the Secretary-General Angel Gurría of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, hosted by SAIS, beginning at 5:00 PM.
Friday morning at 7:30 AM, the Elliot School over at George Washington University will be holding an event on Policy Comparisons and Business Perspectives: The Coal and Solar Sectors in China, U.S.A. and Germany. At noon, swing by the Center for National Policy for a discussion with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on Disasters and Resilience. SAIS will feature Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, at Food Security at the Tipping Point, beginning at 12:30 PM. Closing out the week, the World Resource Institute will hold an event to discuss The World Bank’s New Energy Strategy: Perspectives from Various Stakeholders.
If you are in downtown Washington this morning, you have probably noticed the slight change in tempo as the heads of state and other representatives from 47 nations gather at President Obama’s two-day Nuclear Security Summit. With the issue of nuclear material security a centerpiece on the president’s foreign policy agenda and, at the same time, the prospects of nuclear energy being revisited as the U.S. Senate plans to take up clean energy and climate legislation when it returns to session, it seems only natural to discuss the two together at this week’s summit. But will they be? (You may recall a post I wrote last year where nonproliferation concerns were conspicuously skirted in a hearing that included nuclear energy as a solution to mitigating climate change).
Over the weekend, several news reports addressed nuclear proliferation and nuclear energy together. A fascinating report from National Public Radio (NPR) discussed the prospects of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel for further energy generation while alleviating some the angst associated with the long-term radioactivity. “Back in the 1940s, scientists here were reprocessing the waste to get at the plutonium, to use it for nuclear weapons research,” wrote Richard Harris. “These days, technologists like [Sherrell Greene at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee] would like to extract that plutonium, and related elements, from spent fuel. But they want to use it as a nuclear fuel. In the process, that would also keep those long-lasting radioactive materials out of nuclear waste dumps.” According to Greene, Harris continues, “if waste weren't such a hot-button issue, nuclear power would actually look pretty attractive. One person's lifetime nuclear waste would fit in a Coke can — which is tiny, compared with the many tons of carbon dioxide the average American dumps into the atmosphere each and every year.”
Given the benefits to reprocessing spent fuel, why all the hubbub? Well, as Harris reports, in part, reprocessing spent fuel is extremely expensive, and the price of uranium ore would have to increase 10 fold in order for it to be economically sensible. But the other overarching concern is nuclear proliferation. According to Princeton’s Frank von Hippel, “[reprocessing] technology can promote the spread of nuclear weapons. In fact, India used the reprocessing technology we gave it in the 1970s to make a nuclear explosive. And that changed our attitude toward reprocessing.”
Water provided the biggest natural security headline of the weekend, as Ban Ki-moon flew over the Aral Sea – now 90% sea-less – and declared it “clearly one of the worst disasters, environmental disasters of the world.”
A whole lot of degradation went into the loss of the Aral Sea, but one water and energy equation seems to continue to affect water issues in the region: Tajikistan wants energy for its economic growth and is looking to hydro power; Uzbekistan wants the same water to continue to flow for its own uses. This same equation plays out all over the world, and it’s a tradeoff we need to think about for places like Pakistan that get a lot of their energy from hydropower in waterways that run through other countries first. Huffington Post reported the Aral Sea case thusly:
Once the world's fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region. The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea's evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.
By now you may be asking: What is the security angle in this? Reporting on what has actually happened on the security side is still lacking as far as I’ve found. Huff Post, noting that “Cooperation [has been] hampered by disagreements over who has rights to scarce water and how it should be used,” suggests that these are some possible effects:
Competition for water could become increasingly heated as global warming and rising populations further reduce the amount of water available per capita. Water problems also could brew further dissatisfaction among civilians already troubled by poverty and repressive governments; some observers fear that could feed growing Islamist sentiment in the region.
I’m not feeling very argumentative today, so I’m going to just ignore that last sentence rather than rant about it for now. But I think there is an interesting case here. What percentage of the population has migrated from this area? What have been the effects on the economies of this region? If people left because their water resources vanished, where did they go? Michael Hancock at Registan provides a great overview that sheds some light on the matter, including:
What, then, was lost with the Aral Sea? For beginners, a thriving fishing industry and two major port towns left without their businesses – Moynoq in the south and Aralsk in the north. Today they are in two different countries, but when the Aral Sea still reached their shores, they were both important towns in the Soviet Union. They are now broken ghost towns in the independent Republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, respectively.
Over the past week I've also been reading National Geographic's special issue on water, and later this week I’ll give you my highlights from that. This is shaping up to be a water-centric week here at the blog, but we’ll try to avoid overkill. For now I’ll leave you with the best comic/political cartoon of the week, which sort of has to do with water as well: The Oregonian's Jack Ohlman had this funny take on Obama's energy announcement.
On Saturday night, national, state, and local governments, major cities, businesses, households and international monuments all turned their lights out for Earth Hour (some great before-and-after photos here) in recognition of the challenge of global climate change. The World Wildlife Fund has organized the effort the last several years, with 126 nations participating this year, up from last year’s 88 participating states.
Coincidentally, The New York Times reported on Saturday that the Senate is likely to take up climate change legislation in April. However, that legislation will likely look markedly different from the House version of the bill, skirting any mention of a “cap and trade” provision. In fact, according to The New York Times, “cap and trade” is no longer the energy policy of choice: indeed, the president dropped “cap and trade” from his current budget and Senate proponents have pronounced the measure dead.
Instead, according to The New York Times:
[The Senate] plan, still being written, will include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions only for utilities, at least at first, with other industries phased in perhaps years later. It is also said to include a modest tax on gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation fuel, accompanied by new incentives for oil and gas drilling, nuclear power plant construction, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
If you’ll permit me to diverge a tad into a topic that may not seem totally security-related, the big news for me this weekend was the passing away of Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and champion of national parks. I wasn’t alive when he served in government, so my admiration of his work is based on reading his writings from decades past. Researching natural resources issues naturally brought me to many of his articles.
We’ll have a new report out soon which explains a bit more deeply how we see conservation and better ecosystem management as important security tools. In the meantime, Udall’s death reminded me of the hopeful story last year of Band-e Amir becoming Afghanistan’s first national park. Obviously the war there continues regardless of the establishment of this park. But for the longer-term picture in Afghanistan, remember that USAID estimates that roughly 70% of its population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods – and promoting stable livelihoods is obviously important for our long-term goals in that country. Without protecting the ecosystems that support that agriculture, we’re looking at either a pretty dire long-term outlook for Afghanistan, or a dramatic need to ensure that it creates a high-tech or service economy to bring in money.
Esteemed colleague CDR Herb Carmen also Tweeted a good link yesterday to Udall’s 1972 Atlantic article, “The Last Traffic Jam,” on the growing U.S. demand for cars and their use and therefore oil. The article is well worth a read, but my favorite thing about this might be that to the right of the article (at the time I viewed it Sunday) the most prominent ad is for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Nice contrast to Udall’s warning that it was unsound policy for the United States to rely on increasing oil importation and long-term development of new domestic oil resources to fulfill our own growing demand, and “the oil needs of the other industrialized countries [which] are growing faster than ours.”
This weekend’s natural security news seems to have been lighter than it has been in recent weeks. However, one common report appearing in The New York Times and Scientific American on the Interior Department’s recently released study, The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, is worth mentioning.
As Scientific American reports, “climate changes will have ‘an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats.’ Oceanic migratory species and birds living in Hawaii will face the greatest threats, according to the report [The State of the Birds].”
Some of you may be wondering how this relates to U.S. national security. I think Kenneth Rosenberg, Director of Conservation Science at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, captures the connection well: “Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change,” he told The New York Times. “Many species of conservation concern will face heightened threats, giving us an increased sense of urgency to protect and conserve vital bird habitat.”
We have reported before on the link between biodiversity and national security in our work here. Indeed, “Biodiversity loss is likely to be highly destabilizing, in that it will constrain access to a full range of natural resources, including food and potable water. Some of the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as poverty and poor governance, can also be drivers of instability, conflict, and insurgencies.” And when it comes to the impacts of climate change on birds, the classic canary in the coal mine comes to mind.
This Week’s Events
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science & Technology Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight will be holding a hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry at 2:00 p.m. On Wednesday, CATO will be holding an event on how Russia’s energy resources have shaped its social order beginning at 4:00 p.m. Finally, the Wilson Center will be holding an event Thursday on Building a Smarter Grid: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States and Canada starting at 9:00 a.m.
Big, big natural security news from The New York Times this weekend. You know how we’ve been sanctioning Iran and discouraging U.S. investment in its energy sector? Well – prepare to be shocked – it turns out that the U.S. government “has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran.” Wowzers.
The full article is a must-read. And not just the article – I’d say its supplemental materials are worth a glance as well. The Times provides a list of the companies it identified. In addition to most of the big financial and energy institutions one could think of, it includes many auto makers, airlines, and electronics makers and service providers (cameras, cell phones, etc.). I think looking through the activities companies engaged in since 2000 beyond energy development gives the Iran debate good context. At the bottom of the same link as that list, the Times provides its methodology.
To wrap up the coverage in that paper, see Jad Mouawad’s related piece framing various energy and geopolitical issues that will affect whether or not Iran’s energy resources provide it with an upper hand in the face of sterner sanctions. For a good contrast, then jump to Haaretz, which reported statements Sunday by an official of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company that despite having reduced subsidies, Iran’s oil and gas demand has not dropped. The article implies that this could make sanctions on Iran’s energy sectors more potent, though I’m not so sure given the China factor and the myriad other pieces of the picture involved with that. Meanwhile, Iran continues to work toward its nuclear program, which I hear tell is aimed mainly at increasing the country’s energy security.
The Week Ahead
At noon Monday the Wilson Center hosts "Warning of Global Warming? Politics, Economics and Ecological Change in Siberia's Far East" based on in-country research. Wednesday at 6:00pm, check out CFR’s discussion on "Developing an International Framework for Geoengineering." (I wish I could attend this one – if anyone takes good notes and is in a sharing mood, shoot me an email.) The National Building Council holds “For the Greener Good: Greening the Supply Chain” at 6:30pm on Thursday. At 11:00am Friday AAAS convenes think tank and government experts for "Climate Policy: Public Perception, Science, and the Political Landscape."
I’m going to reach back into last week on this one, as President Obama teed up the topic last Tuesday with his announcement of over $8 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. Perhaps the best back-and-forth outlining the pluses and minuses of guaranteeing loans for new nuclear plants was in an exchange between Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Christine Todd Whitman on CNN last Wednesday.