Ex-CIA chief James Woolsey 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
One of the most crucial problems facing the United States is whether it will be
able to maintain its strategic interests in the Middle East. It is expected that
US defense expenditures will drastically decrease in the coming six years –
official estimates are as high as eight percent, roughly $477 billion, a
significant sum when it comes to defense. It is also projected that the US will
not have the financial means at its disposal to bolster its allies,
marginalizing the potential for Marshall-Plan type subsidies (which totaled $13
billion at the time).
Since the Second World War, military might and
financially aiding its allies in the Middle East have been two of the major
methods used by the US to protect its interests. The reality dictated by the
today’s situation is ingenuity: the US will have to be resourceful in projecting
(at least the perception of) its power, and find new ways of supporting its
allies. But even that will not be enough. To mitigate the problem to a
manageable level the US must reduce its dependence on oil.
important to clarify what the expected reduction in US military spending means
for US military capabilities.
The US is currently the strongest military
in the world; its capabilities are exponentially greater than those of any other
military in the world. That reality is unlikely to change in the near future,
even with the proposed spending cuts.
US military spending accounts for
over 43% of global military expenditures. The magnitude of that sum becomes
realizable when compared to China, which ranks second with 7.3%, and Russia,
which ranks third with 3.6%. US military superiority is also evident in the
amount of military equipment at its disposal. The US currently possesses 11
aircraft carriers, whereas the rest of the world only has eight (China is
building one, but it is not expected to be completed until 2015).
the spending cuts will do, however, is limit the ability of the US to achieve
its objectives in the Middle East; the manpower and machinery to conduct such
operations will no longer be available. For instance, even if the US maintains
the largest air force in the world, it will not have the manpower to conduct the
number of operations that it did in the past.
In recent years, the US has
implemented defense policies aimed at countering the problem, including greater
focus on intelligence, special forces units and network-centric warfare. These
options are less costly than all-out war; however, they are not able to fully
substitute for conventional standing forces.
An additional factor is that
while aircraft carriers and a well-trained army require time, expertise and
capital to develop, and spy rings and anti-missile technology are less costly,
it is therefore easier for the US’s adversaries to counter these measures with
their own spy rings and anti-missile defense technology.
It is well known
that the reason the Middle East is of particular importance to the US is oil. The US consumes about 25% of all of the crude oil produced in the world, while producing less than 9%. A large percentage of US imports comes from Middle
Eastern countries, not to mention the fact that 60% of the world’s known oil
resources are in the Middle East. Oil may be only a commodity, but it is the
commodity that fuels US society, from transporting foods and manufactured goods
across the country to powering industries to transporting civilians to
At the recent Herzliya Conference former CIA director James Woolsey
advocated decreased dependency on oil. That can be achieved by the use of
alternative fuels, including natural gas. For example, today in Brazil, cars are
fueled by ethanol fuel produced from sugarcane. The view that the US should
decrease its reliance on foreign oil is not a new one but given the economic
downturn it is of even more importance.
America’s policies in the Middle
East in the last half century have often been skewed by the fact that it is
beholden to the oil producing regimes. Through incremental decreases in foreign
aid and defense spending, coupled with investment in alternative energy
technology the US can reach a point where it need no longer rely on some of
these local regimes and where it can pursue its true self interest and
The money saved on US defense expenditures in the region could
be put toward placing its military in other regions. For instances, the US plans
to expand its operations in Asia. This will be very difficult to achieve given
the defense cuts and its many commitments around the world.
It would also
deliver a blow to the oil producing regimes that supply the US, and which are
also among the greatest violators of human rights and sponsors of terrorism.
Without money coming from oil producing countries, Islamist terrorists will
suffer a major setback.
As an additional benefit, some of the money saved
can go towards strengthening manufacturing and US industry. With government
support, as well as a large domestic market, the alternative energy industry can
become a booming industry in the US – helping to strengthen its economy. By
decreasing dependency on the oil producing regimes in the Middle East the US
will be freer to focus on other core strategic issues, such as increased Iranian
influence, democratization and maintaining security and stability in the
The US faces a problem of defense cuts and maintaining its
interests. Alternative fuels are ready to be utilized. The defense spending
problem can be eliminated.
Americans should ask themselves why these
solutions are not being implemented.The writer conducted his graduate
studies at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. He served in the office of
the Critic of International Cooperation in the Canadian House of Commons, where
he conducted foreign policy analyses.He is currently the president of
the strategic consulting firm Samuel Sussman Strategic Consulting Group. His
forthcoming book is entitled,
Multiple Modernities in the Contemporary Scene.
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