The clash for energy

The clash for energy


31 | 01 | 2022


The way the global map is being continuously shaped by substantial shifts in geopolitics and energy

En la imagen

Cover of the book by Daniel Yergin ‘The New Map. Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations’ (New York: Penguin Press, 2020), 544 pages

While reality discernibly presents itself as a convoluted notion, its essential characteristics, attributable to its present incarnation, may be accurately summarized through a single word: interconnectedness. While international cooperation and disarray are not novel concepts, the degree to which world markets integrate with diplomacy has exponentially increased ever since WWI revealed the efficiency of oil as a tool for foreign policy. As a result, Daniel Yergin’s dexterous book ‘The New Map’ expounds the fashion in which the global map is being continuously shaped by substantial shifts in geopolitics and energy.

The Pulitzer Prize winner expertly conveys, via historical and present-day case studies, how nation-states have instrumentalized their domestic natural resources as a way to achieve their geostrategic aspirations. Mainly, the book expertly described the dynamic reality of the transnational chess board, as alliances and tactical positions constantly change when confronted with new occurrences. However, while different incidents may be subjectivized through the practical lens of each state, one fact remains undeniable: energy depends on politics and politics hangs on energy. 

The global necessity for new energy resources is manifested by the geopolitical power and material wealth of states which boast of bountiful energy resources: especially oil and natural gas. Within this day and age, possessing and, more importantly, actively controlling energy resources automatically transfigures a state into a key strategic player within the international arena. This prevalent position, however, may either be geared towards the socio-political advantage of the state, or transform the nation into a political battleground in which foreign players quarrel over the spoils of war. Cleverly, Yergin explores both scenarios in detailed manner by debriefing the effect of America’s shale revolution and exposing the curse oil reserves have represented for the Middle East. In the case of the United States the discovery of natural gas in SH Griffin #4 and the ability to extract shale oil revolutionized America's energy policy.

The Permian Basin, which sprawled across 75,000 square miles in West Texas until New Mexico, granted a much-needed energy security for the United States, which was the world’s largest oil importer, and hence vulnerable to the policies of its suppliers. As a result of shale revolution, the United States is now the number one producer of both oil and gas, a title which it has instrumentalized within its foreign policy. For example, the 2015 Nuclear Agreement with Tehran heavily relied on the success of the 2012 sanctions placed by the United States against Iran. Such sanctions were only successful due to the fact that the US oil production was able to offset the reduction in Iranian exports. Hence by re-shaping their energy supply towards their international aims, Washington was able to oblige Iran into backhanded negotiations regarding nuclear weaponry. 

On the other hand, the Middle East provides a grim socio-economic scenario attributable to the mismanagement and political instability of the region. The lack of consistent administration over the precious oil reserves due to continuous political turbulence and systematic violence has transformed natural resources from a blessing into a hazardous curse. Yergin masterfully recounts how the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 (which served as a base for the delimitation of ‘Mesopotamia’ and ‘Persia’) failed to draw boundaries along ethnic lines, which resulted in the resurgence of disorganized regimes. This historical intrusion by Western powers has created a disorganized zone, in which the balance of power relies on the animosity between two regional players: Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The friction generated as a result of both religious and economic discord between the two nations has remodeled the entire region as a political playground, in which only one commodity matters: oil. While this valuable energy source has brought incalculable wealth to nations such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (and Qatar in the case of natural gas), it has also been the catalyst and economic cushion of terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Consequently, Yergin is able to demonstrate how being in possession of an energy commodity does not automatically translate into prosperity. Extracting the raw materials constitutes a mere entry fee into a world in which geopolitical positioning, strategy and international markets pave the destiny for players of this intricate transnational game board. 

Maintaining his original thesis regarding interconnectedness, Yergin accurately explores how individual and divergent political agendas affect energy development and its posterior integration to the world economy. The Russian Federation clearly exemplifies how the possession of energy resources can act as a potential device for intimidation, bargaining and coercion. Due to the fact that Russia’s supply of natural gas to Europe accounts for about 35% of Europe’s total gas consumption, it's no surprise that Moscow uses gas as a pivotal instrument of power politics. As a result of Europe’s substantial dependency on Russian natural gas, and its constant fears of energy shortage, Putin turns Russia’s possession of natural gas into a tool for conducting a version of authoritative diplomacy.

The current tension revolving around Ukraine reflects Putin’s geopolitical ambitions, as Ukraine is a vital interest spot for Russia, holding strategically located pipelines which transport 80% of its gas exports to Europe. Therefore, the most flammable current development within the international community, as volatile, sporadic and impetus as it may seem, can be narrowed down to Daniel Yergin’s thesis in which politics is a mere reflection of the energy necessities of intrinsically interconnected nations.

Finally, ‘The New Map’ considers not only historical developments but ponders about the future of energy and its effects on the global socio-political landscape. A once oligarchical system, dominated by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations, has evolved into a new international order for petroleum shaped by the ‘big three’: the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Parallelly, domestic and international markets must now adapt to ‘cleaner’ sources of energy which are manifesting their consolidating character via electric cars, renewable energies, and the mobility revolution. As a result, Daniel Yergin’s book succeeds in synthesizing, whilst precisely explaining the methods, in which energy translated from being a commodity into an instrument for diplomatic warfare.