As the United States rebalances in the Asia Pacific, cooperation around climate adaptation could be a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our relationships with existing and emerging partners in the region. In a post last week I noted a thoughtful piece by Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security that fleshes out how U.S. policymakers should think about integrating climate change into a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, including developing a “Climate Investment Plan” that would encourage the United States to make good on its commitment to help raise climate finance funds that would assist developing countries in adapting to the effects of climate change.
The Climate Investment Plan that Femia and Werrell describe would be an important element of a strategy for the Asia Pacific. But beyond helping raise the funds for these countries to pay for climate adaptation projects, what other opportunities should the United States consider as avenues for cooperation?
One area ripe for cooperation are more science and technology agreements that share lessons learned from U.S. projects that would help our partners navigate engineering challenges or other roadblocks to successfully implementing climate adaptation projects. One project that comes to mind is the New Orleans Storm Surge Barrier. The Science Channel has a great program called “Build it Bigger” that highlighted this project in a recent episode. The idea behind the storm surge wall is to protect the city of New Orleans from another Katrina-size hurricane that could potentially inundate the city again.
The disturbing report of a U.S. Army sergeant slaying at least 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday in southern Afghanistan is the most recent in a series of incidents exacerbating tensions between Afghans and Americans. Three weeks ago, the U.S. military accidentally burned copies of the Koran at Bagram Airbase that incited deadly anti-U.S. demonstrations across the country. These incidents are not only exacerbating tensions between U.S. military personnel and Afghans in the near term, but may also undermine the ability of U.S. aid and development personnel from establishing the presence and relationships they need with Afghans to complete development projects essential to the country’s long-term stability.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a report citing concerns that aid and development companies share about Afghanistan’s deteriorating security environment. The spate of demonstrations set off by the Koran burnings three weeks ago and added to by the U.S. Army sergeant’s killing of at least 16 civilians, coupled with the Karzai government’s plan to ban private security companies by the end of March, is worrying aid and development groups charged with carrying out projects in some of the most volatile regions of the country. According to The New York Times, the situation has “left the private groups that carry out most of the American-financed development work in Afghanistan scrambling to sort out their operations, imperiling billions of dollars in projects.” The prospect that these development projects could be left unfinished “threatens a vital part of the Obama administration’s plans for Afghanistan, which envision a continuing development mission after the end of the NATO combat mission in 2014,” The New York Times report added.
On Wednesday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus testified before the Senate Appropriations Sub-committee for Defense about the Navy’s fiscal year 2013 budget request. Discussing the Navy’s energy program, Secretary Mabus emphasized that “we'll maintain our efforts to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use energy more efficiently. These efforts have already made us better war fighters.” Secretary Mabus added that:
By deploying to Afghanistan with solar blankets to charge radios and other electrical items a Marine patrol dropped 700 pounds in batteries from their packs and decreased the need for risky resupply missions. Using less fuel in theaters can mean fewer fuel convoys which will save lives. For every 50 convoys we bring in, a Marine is killed or wounded. That is too high a price to pay. We already know the reality of a volatile global oil market. Every time the cost of barrel of oil goes up a dollar, it costs the Department of the Navy an additional $31 million in fuel cost. These price spikes have to be paid for out of our operational funds. That means that we sail less, we fly less, we train less. For these reasons, we have to be relentless in our pursuit of energy goals that will continue to make us a more effective fighting force in our military and our nation for energy independence.
Photo: On March 7, 2012, Secretary Mabus testified before the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee for Defense. Courtesy of Chief Mass Communication Specialist Sam Shavers and the U.S. Navy.
As the United States continues to draw down from its current conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia and rebalance in the Asia Pacific, U.S. policymakers must think creatively about how to integrate climate change into a U.S. strategy for the region. In many ways, engagement around climate change could be an opportunity for the United States to achieve some of its broader national security and foreign policy objectives in the region. Specifically, as the United States seeks to develop strategic partnerships with countries in East and Southeast Asia – from the Philippines to Vietnam – a serious commitment to helping those countries adapt to the pernicious effects of climate change could enhance our relationship with those countries and make them more comfortable with partnering with the United States on more traditional security missions, such as maritime security and nonproliferation.
Francisco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of The Center for Climate and Security have a thoughtful piece on how to think about climate change in the context of a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. “The U.S. requires the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for the Asia-Pacific to help countries address the climate challenge, and to complement its current military and economic engagement in the region,” they write. “It needs, in other words, a Climate Investment Plan.” According to Femia and Werrell, these investments – known in the international community as “climate finance” – are funds needed by developing countries to adapt to the “effects of climate change, protect their forests and other natural resources in a manner that still generates revenue, and develop renewable energy sectors that will both grow their economies, and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”
Femia and Werrell make a strong case for how climate finance could strengthen U.S. relations in the region. “These investments will help the United States build a strong coalition of allies in the region through: building resilience and goodwill; protecting commercial ties between the U.S. and the region, and; decreasing the likelihood of instability, disaster and conflict.” This last point about decreasing the likely of instability, disaster and conflict is particularly salient: in these fiscally austere times, the United States is looking for opportunities to build the capacity of its partners to provide for their own security. Climate finance could serve as a means to achieving that goal, specifically by building the capacity of our partner governments to respond to climate-related disasters that might otherwise overwhelm their response capabilities and require the U.S. Navy and Air Force to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This of course is not to suggest that the United States would not help its partners if they were overwhelmed; it is merely to suggest that the United States is better served if its partners have their own robust response capabilities.
While on a visit last week to the University of Louisville in Kentucky, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked by a reporter about his thoughts on the national security implications of climate change. Several themes came up, including the need for the intelligence community to track climate trends so that the national security community can understand the consequences of environmental and climate change. What is more, Secretary Panetta pointed specifically to emerging challenges in the Arctic, such as increased activity by countries seeking access to natural resources. Here is an excerpt from the transcript that is worth sharing in full:
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you all for speaking to me. A 2008 Department of Defense report noted how climate change will impact current and future U.S. national security. The Department of Defense has been progressive in transitioning bases around the world -- solar panels, et cetera -- but the noted climate patterns in Somalia have led to some difficulties with Al Shabaab there. And so first, I was wondering if you could comment kind of on the unusual topic of climate change with regard to the future of the Department of Defense.
And then second, if you could help Senator Mitch McConnell accept that science and stop blocking that legislation. Thank you. (Applause.)
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I learned a long time ago, don’t mess around with people -- (laughs) -- you know, state what you think is right and hope that others will follow and be able to incorporate those thoughts in whatever they do. And I have tremendous respect for Mitch McConnell and I think that -- I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to discuss with him, not only this issue, but other issues as well.
On Friday, BP announced a settlement with thousands of Gulf Coast individuals and businesses afflicted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, individuals and businesses will be able to submit two types of claims that will make up the estimated $7.8 billion settlement: economic-loss claims and medical claims. “The settlement doesn't cover claims against BP by the U.S. Department of Justice or other federal agencies for violations of the Clean Water Act or by states and local governments,” The Wall Street Journal reported. “BP has been in off-and-on discussions with the government over those issues in the past.”
Meanwhile, on Sunday The New York Times reported that deepwater oil drilling is ramping up again in the Gulf of Mexico, in large part as a response to the global demand for energy. “After a yearlong drilling moratorium, BP and other oil companies are intensifying their exploration and production in the gulf, which will soon surpass the levels attained before the accident,” the report said. “Drilling in the area is about to be expanded into Mexican and Cuban waters, beyond most American controls, even though any accident would almost inevitably affect the United States shoreline.”
According to The New York Times report, deepwater drilling continues to be relatively dangerous. “Exploration in deepwater fields remains dangerous because of high temperatures and high pressure when drilling 6,000 feet or more under the sea floor, and accidents continue to occur, most notably last year off the coasts of China and Brazil,” the report found. Nevertheless, the Obama administration continues to issue drilling permits in waters more than 500 feet deep. The New York Times reported that the administration had issued 61 permits between February 28, 2011 and February 27, 2012. Moreover, the administration recently reached an agreement with Mexico “to open a new tract to offshore drilling, some of it in water more than 6,000 feet deep, despite persistent questions about the strength of Mexican oil industry regulation.”
On February 20, 2012, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa signed the U.S.-Mexico Agreement Concerning Transboundary Hydrocarbon Reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico. As I noted in a post last week, it will be interesting to see how much production Mexico is able to safely develop now, and what effects this could have across the rest of Mexico, considering that oil revenues account for roughly 40 percent of the government’s budget.
Moreover, one wonders if there are any lessons that can be gleaned from this agreement with respect to Cuban offshore oil drilling, considering that today there is very little the United States can do to support Cuba in the event of an offshore oil accident akin to Deepwater Horizon. As The Washington Post reported yesterday, “Drawing up contingency plans to confront a possible spill is much more difficult because of the economic embargo against Cuba. U.S. law bars most American companies — including oil services and spill containment contractors — from conducting business with the communist island.” This may end up being a case of comparing apples to oranges given the fundamental differences in our relationship with each country, but we should consider the lessons learned from the experience of stewarding through the U.S.-Mexico agreement and whether those lessons could generate some avenue for a U.S. response to a Cuban oil spill, especially considering that the U.S. coastline is extremely vulnerable to such an event.
Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department.
Worsening tensions with Iran in recent weeks are in part to blame for higher oil and gas prices. In response to these higher prices, there has been a lot of discussion about how to reduce our demand for oil, including with the use of more renewable and alternative energy for electricity generation. And while I certainly support the use of more diverse energy technologies to meet our electricity needs, it is worth remembering that liquid fuels are the real albatross when it comes to moving away from our outsized dependence on oil. Addressing that challenge requires a serious reduction in gas consumption in the near term, through conservation and efficiency practices, and a chemical replacement in the long term.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, about two-thirds of oil is consumed by the transportation sector in the United States. This includes gasoline for vehicles, as well as diesel, jet and residual fuels. As we think about how to reduce our demand for oil, diversifying our liquid fuel sources will be crucial. There are a lot of challenges of course with developing a liquid fuel replacement. The fuels must be cleaner than conventional fossil fuels so that we are making progress toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to global climate change. The fuels must be chemically equivalent to fossil fuel so that they are capable of being dropped in to existing vehicles. This is extremely important and has implications both for vehicle performance and the longevity of our existing infrastructure that transports fuel around the country (i.e., pipelines).
The U.S. military is giving serious thought about its dependence on oil, in part as a response to higher oil and gas prices, as well as concerns with assured access to fuel in the future. Indeed, oil and gas prices take a toll on the Department of Defense and have implications for policy, especially in this austere budget environment. Every $10 increase in a barrel of oil adds about $1.3 billion to the department’s gasoline bill. Of course, many of the efforts the department is currently leading to develop alternative fuels are generating fuels that are still today relatively more expensive than conventional gasoline. But as experts correctly note, these fuels are still in the research and development phase. As the companies producing these alternative fuels move toward commercial deployment they will become cost competitive with oil – some of them within the next decade or so.
The Philippines is pushing for private, foreign investment as opposed to joint development of the Spratly Islands. On Monday, the Philippines rejected a suggestion from China that the two South China Sea claimants consider joint development of the contested Spratly Islands. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said that joint development of those blocs that “are clearly ours it not a viable solution.” Instead, del Rosario said that the Philippines would discuss inviting Chinese investors in lieu of joint development, with oil and natural exploration governed by Filipino law.
According to reports, del Rosario also proposed that the Philippines and China avail themselves of the dispute settlement mechanism under the Law of the Sea Convention. According to del Rosario, Manila is “endeavoring to look at all means to arrive at a peaceful solution of the disputes in the West Philippine Sea in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines has invited foreign investors to explore for oil and natural gas deposits in areas that China claims as part of the contested Spratly Islands. According to one report, “[Philippine] Energy Secretary Jose Almendras said Monday the areas northwest of Palawan were in Philippine territory and were two of 15 areas nationwide being offered to foreign investors for oil and gas exploration.” The report notes that each of the two areas is estimated to have approximately 440 million barrels of oil and 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Iran may be attempting to breed uncertainty in the global oil market in an effort to drive up prices and insulate itself from tightening economic sanctions, including those against Iran’s Central Bank.
On Sunday, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency apparently reported that Tehran suspended a 500,000 barrel oil shipment to Greece. Reuters reported the story, citing that Iran’s Fars new agency stated, “Oil tankers that had come to transfer 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil to a refinery in Greece had to go back empty-handed after Iran refused to give the shipment.” However, as Reuters reported, Fars did not give a source for its report, and a statement from the Greek refiner Hellenic Petroleum, which was reportedly the intended recipient of the oil shipment, denied that Iran had suspended any oil delivery. “That has nothing to do with us ... all supplies from Iran have been processed normally,” a refinery spokesperson told Reuters.
The report follows a string of recent incidents that should raise concerns that Iran may be attempting to sow uncertainty into the global oil market in an effort to rebuff attempts to coerce Tehran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program. Last week, Iran made headlines after suspending oil shipments to Great Britain and France, which analysts say contributed in part to the highest oil prices in nine months. Yet, as reports noted, Iran’s suspension of oil shipments to Great Britain and France would have little effect on supply because Britain had not imported oil from Iran in six months and France only imports approximately 3 percent of its oil from the Islamic republic. Nevertheless, oil prices increased, in part as a “reflection of concerns about the further escalation in tensions between Iran and the West,” says one commodities expert, adding that "Banning the tiny quantities of exports to the U.K. and France involves very little risk for Iran – indeed quite the opposite, it catches the headlines and leads to a higher global oil price, which is something Iran is very keen to encourage."
Last week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Washington where he met with U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. According to the Department of Defense, the two discussed ways to enhance communication between China and the United States. Vice President Xi is expected to become president next year.
One underexplored opportunity for enhancing U.S-Chinese military communication is military-to-military engagement that uses environmental cooperation as a means for developing stronger relations, communication and interoperability. In 2009, Geoff Dabelko of the Wilson Center and Kent Hughes Butts of the U.S. Army War College wrote a piece in The Christian Science Monitor arguing this point, writing that “Environmental security issues – and climate change in particular – could be among the most productive avenues for US-China military cooperation.” There have not been any developments on this front – to my knowledge – but the opportunity exists.
Photo: Courtesy of Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo and the Department of Defense
The United States and Mexico have come to an agreement that would allow both countries to drill for oil and natural gas along their maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a U.S. Department of Interior press release, the Transboundary Agreement “removes uncertainties regarding development of transboundary resources in the resource-rich Gulf of Mexico” and opens up approximately 1.5 million acres of the U.S. outer continental shelf to exploit the estimated 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas. “This agreement makes available promising areas in the resource-rich Gulf of Mexico and establishes a clear process by which both governments can provide the necessary oversight to ensure exploration and development activities are conducted safely,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said.
The U.S.-Mexico agreement was penned a week after Mexican oil regulators cautioned that Petroleos Mexicanos – or PEMEX, the national oil company – is ill prepared to manage a serious offshore oil spill. According to a February 15, 2012 report from The Wall Street Journal:
The regulator's chief, Juan Carlos Zepeda, said Petróleos Mexicanos has relatively little experience with deep-water drilling, much less with the ultra-deep wells—those at depths exceeding 6,000 feet—that it could tackle as soon as next month. Pemex plans to drill as many as six deep-water wells this year, including the two ultra-deep wells, more than at any time in its history.
The U.S.-Mexico agreement provides a framework for both countries to conduct joint inspection of the others’ oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, in part intended to ensure safety standards are met. The agreement also allows U.S. companies and PEMEX to jointly develop oil and natural gas reserves in the transboundary region, which could provide an opportunity for U.S. companies with a long history of offshore oil drilling to cooperate and share lessons learned with PEMEX. “Coordination and sharing communications, training, personnel, equipment and technology are essential for safe and productive drilling,” said Jorge Piñon, a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and a current research fellow at the University of Texas, in an interview with The New York Times on Monday.
U.S. security officials have expressed concern about the vulnerability of the electric grid to cyber attacks by non-state actors. Most experts agree that today the greatest cyber threats to the electric grid stem from state actors like Russia and China. Indeed, there is already some evidence that these states have infiltrated computer systems that control the electric grid. However, security officials warn that the threat is evolving, with non-state actors becoming more sophisticated users of cyber tools.
The U.S. intelligence community is giving this evolving threat greater attention. In January, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that “the growing role that nonstate actors are playing in cyberspace is a great example of the easy access to potentially disruptive and even lethal technology and know-how by such groups.” General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, recently warned that the hacker group Anonymous could poses the capability to perpetrate a cyber attack against the electric grid in just a few years.
To date, security officials have said that there is little incentive for countries like China and Russia to perpetrate a cyber attack against critical U.S. infrastructure like the electric grid, in part because the attack could be traced (at least to an extent). But non-state actors are by their very nature anonymous, making pinpointing the origins of an attack more difficult. As a result, they are not bound by the same deterrent threat (or threat of retaliation) as state actors might be. So although non-state groups like Anonymous do not have the ability to perpetrate an attack on the electric grid, cyber security experts caution that should these groups develop the capability (or acquire it from a state entity), there is a greater risk for an attack against critical infrastructure like the electric grid.
There is a lot of chatter this morning about the potential for gas prices to hit $4 or $5 a gallon by Memorial Day, which could undermine stronger U.S. economic growth. Here are a few stories from the weekend that provide some of the geopolitical back story about why oil and gas prices are climbing.
Perhaps the big story over the weekend was Iran’s announcement on Sunday that it will suspend oil shipments to Britain and France in response to their embargo against Iranian oil, which – along with the rest of the European Union (EU) – is set to take effect in July. The announcement was seen as more symbolic than significant, given that Britain and France are not nearly as dependent on Iranian oil as other European countries are. According to The Huffington Post, “Analysts said Iran's announcement would likely have minimal impact on supplies, because only about 3 percent of France's oil consumption is from Iranian sources, while Britain had not imported oil from the Islamic republic in six months.”
It is unclear to what extent Iran would continue to restrict exports to Europe in advance of the July embargo, when existing contracts with the EU are set to expire. The New York Times reported that, “Iran may also be reluctant, when its economy has been damaged by existing sanctions, to deprive itself of revenues from its larger European customers.” What is more, Reuters announced on Monday that China’s Unipec – one of two major buyers of Iranian oil – is expected to purchase less oil from Iran in 2012; how much less oil is not clear from the initial report. That announcement could have an impact on Iran’s strategic calculus.
The announcement from Tehran on Sunday contributed to higher oil prices on Monday, pushing the cost of a barrel of oil to a nine-month high. On Monday, The Huffington Post reported that, “By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark March crude was up $1.91 to $105.15 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier in the day, it rose to $105.21, the highest since May. The contract rose 93 cents to settle at $103.24 per barrel in New York on Friday.”
On Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden provided an overview briefing on NASA's fiscal year 2013 budget. As I noted earlier this week, NASA’s budget request includes $1.8 billion for the Earth sciences program, which includes crucial satellite systems that measure environmental and climate change. “With this budget we continue to refine and demonstrate technologies that will increase our nation's capabilities,” Administrator Bolden said. The budget request supports more than 80 science missions, he added, including those “that cover the vital data we need to understand our own planet.”
As I highlighted in my post on Wednesday, NASA’s budget overview states that of the 11 operating missions under the Earth Systematic Missions program, 10 systems are beyond their design life. While NASA’s budget request ensures funding to extend many of these missions, policymakers need to be prepared to make investments in next generation Earth monitoring systems that will continue to provide the United States with the information needed to understand the pace and manifestation of long-term environmental and climate change.
Photo: Courtesy of Bill Ingalls and NASA.
Funding requests for energy and energy-related programs are prominent in President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget. Here’s a quick breakdown of the requests that jumped out to me:
The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) budget request includes funding for clean energy programs that are intended to foster American competitiveness, which has been a focus of the administration in recent years. According to the budget overview, the administration is requesting an additional $14 million for research into future clean energy technologies, including solar power and energy efficiency technologies, bringing the total funding for that research effort to $355 million. What is notable is the NSF’s research approach would be interdisciplinary by nature, breaking down stovepipes between energy, climate and economic research communities to provide “an integrated approach to increasing U.S. energy independence, enhancing environmental stewardship, reducing energy and carbon intensity, and generating sustainable economic growth.”
The Department of Defense (DOD) budget request naturally includes funding for energy conservation and renewable energy programs given that the department is the single largest consumer of energy in the federal government. According to the DOD overview, the budget includes about $1 billion in requests for energy conservation programs (up from $400 million in 2010). This request includes $32 million for the Installation Energy Test Bed Program, which demonstrates how well new energy technologies would integrate into DOD’s infrastructure of 300,000 buildings. Meanwhile, funding for Operational Energy Capability Improvements would increase from about $20 million in FY 2012 to just over $26 million in FY 2013. (DOD just announced this year’s recipients of Operational Energy Capabilities Improvement funding.)
The U.S. government’s fleet of Earth monitoring satellite systems is something that is near and dear to our hearts here in the natural security program. President Obama’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request to Congress seems to reflect the continued interest in Earth observation satellite systems, which we have argued are crucial for U.S. national security planners trying to understand the pace and manifestation of environmental and climate change.
The president’s FY 2013 NASA budget includes a $24.3 million dollar increase in Earth sciences over the FY 2012 estimate, totaling about $1.8 billion. The NASA justification notes why the Earth sciences program is important, explaining that “From space, NASA satellites can view Earth as a planet and enable its study as a complex, dynamic system with diverse components: the oceans, atmosphere, continents, ice sheets, and life itself.” Among the systems expected to be funded include the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which will see an additional $36.7 million in funding, totaling $157.2 million. ICESat is particularly useful for taking measurements of ice sheet mass, including of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
The Obama administration has requested funds to support the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, which is slated to continue the Landsat program that has for four decades provided information on topics from land use change to urbanization used by planners from USAID to the Defense Department. Although the Landsat Data Continuity Mission reflects a decrease in funding between FY 2012 and FY 2013, from $159.3 million to $54.7 million, the reduced funding I suspect reflects the launch of the satellite system into orbit in January 2013, with smaller operational costs thereafter.
Yesterday President Obama delivered his Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 budget request to Congress. We’ll spend the next few days digging through the relevant agencies to highlight some of the requests related to programs that touch on our natural security work.
I thought we’d kick off the week by looking at cyber security, given that it is an issue that touches on our energy work, specifically with respect to smart and micro grid technologies. We have been quiet on the cyber security front in recent months, but our interest has not abated. Nor has the Obama administration’s, which will continue pushing cyber security spending in the president’s FY 2013 budget.
Let’s begin with the Department of Defense (DOD). Like last year, DOD announced that one of its strategic goals is to reduce its vulnerability with respect to the electric grid. According to the DOD overview, the department strives to “Protect critical DoD infrastructure and partner with other critical infrastructure owners in government and the private sector to increase mission assurance.” To accomplish this, the department has set a priority goal that “By September 30, 2013, the DoD will attain a passing score on a comprehensive cybersecurity inspection that assesses compliance with technical, operational, and physical security standards, on an overwhelming majority of inspected military cyberspace organizations resulting in improved hardening and cyber defense.” Meeting this goal would presumably reduce DOD’s vulnerability to the electric grid, which has been a particular concern for defense experts in recent years.
DOD’s budget includes a ton of funding for cyber security broadly, which may include electric grid-related activities. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy provides an overview with a little more nuance about how that DOD funding may break down with respect to cyber security and energy efficiency programs, like smart and micro grid technologies: “The 2013 Budget sustains DOD’s basic research (“6.1”) with a record commitment of $2.1 billion for research in high-priority areas such as cybersecurity, robotics, advanced learning, information access, cleaner and more efficient energy, and biodefense.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III sees stronger U.S. –Philippine ties as an opportunity to amicably settle ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In an interview President Aquino acknowledged the need to continue the Philippines’ good relationship with China while at the same timing looking at a developing U.S. role in the region as an opportunity to resolve longstanding disputes over the South China Sea, noting that “the territorial disputes in the South China Sea can only be solved if all the claimants to the area, which also include Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam and Malaysia, can agree to a lasting multiparty deal to begin exploiting the energy resources believed to lie below the seabed.”
President Aquino remarked that “Having America's involvement, having other countries talk about it more, might bring us closer to a situation that redounds to everybody's benefit," according to The Wall Street Journal.
President Aquino’s statement comes just weeks after China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times published an article advocating the Beijing cool economic ties with the Philippines as a rebuke of the Philippines strengthening its relationship with the United States.
In recent months, the United States and the Philippines have grown closer. In January, the United States announced that its annual exercise with the Philippine marines will be conducted off of Palawan island instead of the main island Luzon in what may be a subtle gesture to China to respect the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone rights. (Increased Chinese oil and natural gas exploration 50 miles off the island of Palawan has exacerbated tensions between the Philippines and China in recent months.) Meanwhile on Friday Congress “approved the transfer of a second Coast Guard cutter to the Philippines as part of a broader effort to build up the county's historically weak navy,” The Wall Street Journal reported, augmenting the other U.S. Coast Guard Cutter transferred to the Philippines last year.
Earlier this week, NASA announced the findings of a University of Colorado-Boulder study that used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite to measure the ice loss of Earth’s land ice (glaciers and ice caps) between 2003 and 2010. According to a NASA news release, “One unexpected study result from GRACE was the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually.” The report added that “Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.” The results from the study point to the importance of Earth monitoring satellite systems for understanding environmental and climate change, particularly for national security planners trying to determine the pace of change and its sociopolitical and security implications.
Learn more about our work on Earth monitoring systems and national security planning here.
Photo: Rendering of measurements taken from NASA’s GRACE satellite system (excluding Greenland and Antarctica). Blue indicates ice mass loss, while red indicates a gain. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado.
In January, CNAS published a study on the South China Sea with a chapter examining the geopolitical role of natural resources and how those resources affect state behavior across the region. One of my goals in contributing a chapter to the study was to challenge the assumption that some of these resources are as strategic as countries perceive them to be, especially with respect to the potential oil and natural gas reserves that could be beneath the seabed. For example, the discrepancy between U.S. and Chinese estimates of oil in the region (28 billion barrels vs. 200 billion barrels) influences the strategic calculus for states in the region, at a time when the global economy is beginning to recover, generating a greater demand for oil.
Until we have a better idea of what the region holds it is difficult to assess, on balance, the value of some of the more aggressive claims to the region’s fossil fuel resources. Nevertheless, I concede that the perception that these resources are strategic (whether or not they are) influences states’ behavior in the region. But if states take a step back and try to look at resources in the broader context, perhaps their perception can change and serve to dampen down the saber-rattling over resources that may actually not be as significant anyway; a pathway to cooperation or benign competition, rather than conflict?
In a piece published last Friday in The Diplomat, I directly call into question Beijing’s bet that the South China Sea’s fossil fuel resources are as strategic as it perceives them to be, and, in fact, that its aggressive behavior serves no purpose but to compromise its claim to a peaceful rise. Here’s how I see their wager:
Beijing seems to be doubling down in the South China Sea. Why? In large part it’s to secure access to potential deep sea hydrocarbons like oil and natural gas – many describe the South China Sea as the next Persian Gulf, given the possible richness of resources that supposedly lay beneath the seabed. And while there are significant differences between the two regions that complicate such a comparison – including the ease of access to fossil fuel resources and the cost of developing them – it’s a useful analogue for understanding why China views the region as critical to its core interests.
But Beijing may in fact be overestimating the strategic significance of the region’s oil and natural gas – and taking unnecessary risks that could undermine its peaceful rise.
For those of you who have not been following the national security or defense journals recently, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings published in its February 2012 edition a great article by U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. on the Arctic, paving the way – I hope – for a national level discussion on U.S. interests and goals in the High North.
“The Arctic region—the Barents, Beaufort, and Chukchi seas and the Arctic Ocean—is the emerging maritime frontier, vital to our national interests, economy and security,” Admiral Papp writes. “The difference [between the Arctic and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans] is that in the rest of the maritime domain, we have an established presence of shore-based forces, small boats, cutters, and aircraft supported by permanent infrastructure and significant operating experience. Although the Coast Guard has operated in southern Alaska, the Gulf of Alaska, and Bering Sea for much of our history, in the higher latitudes we have little infrastructure and limited operating experience, other than icebreaking.”
Admiral Papp describes the U.S. Coast Guard’s responsibilities in the Arctic and, by doing so, lays out how the Coast Guard should be prepared to lead. “Our first challenge is simply to better understand the Arctic operating environment and its risks, including knowing which Coast Guard capabilities and operations will be needed to meet our mission requirements,” Admiral Papp states. This includes addressing the lack of USCG infrastructure that can support shore-based operations, as well as “ensuring that Coast Guard men and women have the policy, doctrine, and training to operate safely and effectively in the northern Arctic region.” In addition, the Coast Guard is “working closely with other key federal partners to lead the interagency effort in the Arctic,” leveraging its experience with “speaking the interagency language” and success with engaging the range of public and private stakeholders active in the Arctic, from local tribes to corporate adventurers.
Chatham House published a new study last week examining the implications of maritime choke points for the global energy market. The study, Maritime Choke Points and the Global Energy System: Charting a Way Forward, is timely considering tensions in the Persian Gulf where Iran has hinted at the possibility of closing the Strait of Hormuz in response to recent threats (economic and military) against its nuclear program.
The study generally provides a great overview of the challenges associated with seaborne oil transportation through several vulnerable straits and canals. For those interested in understanding the nature of China’s Strait of Malacca Dilemma, the international waterway through which it receives approximately 65 percent of its oil imports, the report offers some useful insights. In particular, the authors make an important distinction between the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, noting that, “Whereas there are no alternative maritime routes to the Strait of Hormuz for oil exports from the Persian Gulf, shipments through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore could be re-routed, though at additional cost, through other waterways such as the Lombok Strait.” Such a distinction may seem insignificant, but it could have an effect on China’s strategic calculus over what role it might decide to play in helping keep the Strait of Hormuz open in case of a closure, including, perhaps, by supporting UN Security Council resolutions or other policies that may seem anathema to Beijing.
The report also reinforces the national security rationale behind ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). According to the authors, “The UNCLOS bargain accepted twelve nautical miles as the maximum extent of a state’s territorial sea but, in order to ensure freedom of navigation through key international straits, UNCLOS established a regime of ‘transit passage’ applicable to ‘straits used for international navigation’.” What is more, the authors note that “In signing UNCLOS in December 1982, Iran claimed that the benefits of UNCLOS, such as ‘transit passage’, did not apply to non-signatory states.”
There are several trends that are worth watching as they develop because they could affect the price of oil.
Friday’s U.S. jobs report contributed to higher oil prices, in part due to predictions that demand for energy will continue to rise as the U.S. economy recovers. “U.S. benchmark crude increased by $1.48 on Friday to end the week at $97.84 per barrel,” CBS News reported. “It was the first time since Jan. 26 that the price of crude ended the day higher. Brent, used to price international varieties of crude, rose by $2.51 to finish at $114.58 per barrel.” The report added:
Prices rose after the government reported that the U.S. economy added 243,000 jobs in January. That was the biggest increase since April of last year, when 251,000 jobs were created. The unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent — the lowest in three years. The positive U.S. jobs data added to evidence that the world's largest economy — and biggest user of gasoline — is growing stronger.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, militants with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for an attack against an Eni SpA oil pipeline. “A Rome-based spokesman for Eni, speaking on condition of anonymity per company policy, acknowledged that either a fire or attack had happened on the pipeline, cutting about 4,000 barrels of crude oil production a day,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. Nigeria, it is worth noting, is America’s fifth largest oil supplier.
On Wednesday, John Nagl stepped down as President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Since joining CNAS, John has been an avid supporter of our natural security work, often remarking that while ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most pressing challenges America faces, the long-term challenges to U.S. security will come from natural resource competition and climate change.
John’s service to the nation as an Army officer and his ability to articulate the importance of non-traditional security challenges in shaping the global security environment has helped put this work on the map for many national security practitioners who may not have been convinced of its importance to U.S. national security policy. We’re indebted to John for his enduring support, from his work on Fueling the Future Force to his impressing the importance of climate change to a room full of flag officers. I could wax poetic, but I won’t (my colleague Andrew Exum has a nice post about John already). I’ll simply say this: thanks boss. We wouldn’t be where we are without you.