American military spending and oil dependency

For decades, people have been well aware of the necessity for the United States to decrease its dependency on oil. But now, such a reduction would reduce the stresses imposed on a weakened America.

Ex-CIA chief James Woolsey 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
It is 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).
What 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 work.
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 policies.
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 region.
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.