Mullen & Hannah Offer Insight on Geopolitics & Energy Security

A transportation sector powered by multiple, diverse energy sources enables the United States to protect itself from an often-volatile oil market, while freeing foreign policy from reliance on a resource with important implications for the United States’ national and economic security. Yesterday on Capitol Hill, key policymakers and national security leaders confronted the question of our nation’s overreliance on oil at a luncheon discussion entitled “Geopolitical Flashpoints in Oil Producing Countries: Implications for U.S. National and Energy Security.” The event, hosted by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) and the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), focused on geopolitical “flashpoints:” oil rich countries in which political or economic instability has the potential to cause widespread economic and national security implications. Today, with oil markets incredibly tight, events in Russia and Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Nigeria—just to name a few—have the potential to cause price spikes with economically damaging consequences. While increased domestic oil supply has helped the United States reduce the ripple effect from recent global events, yesterday’s panelists, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and former National Security Advisor to the Vice President, Mr. John Hannah, urged for a more comprehensive energy security strategy, one that ultimately employs a variety of sources to fuel America’s transportation sector to offset oil’s monopoly. Following an introduction by FPI Director of Government Relations Caitlin Poling, Colorado Congressman Cory Gardner (CO-4) welcomed the packed room, stressing the importance of developing domestic energy resources as part of an effort to protect U.S. soldiers abroad. “When we produce energy here, we protect our men and women overseas,” Gardner concluded. The Congressman’s remarks touched on a critical facet of the initiative to diversify the United States’ available energy sources: reduced oil dependence allows American foreign policy to work more effectively. Immediately following Congressman Gardner, Congressman Gene Green (TX-29) celebrated the bipartisan nature of the energy security debate, underscoring the central importance of the issue and the how growing U.S. oil and gas development is strengthening our nation’s economy. Following opening remarks by the congressmen, SAFE Executive Vice President Sam Ori introduced the second portion of the event, an expert panel comprised of Admiral Michael Mullen (Ret.) and Mr. John Hannah in a moderated conversation with the Washington Post’s lead energy reporter, Steve Mufson. Steve’s first question got straight to the point—can American energy abundance be used as a foreign policy tool, or in the case of our adversaries, a foreign policy weapon? Echoing Rep. Gardner’s remarks, Admiral Mullen used the example of U.S. involvement in the Middle East to illustrate the complex relationship between oil and foreign policy. “The United States’ interests there are tied directly to energy security in that part of the world,” Mullen said. “That’s why we’ve been there, it’s why we’ll be there, and we’re going to be there, I think, for some time.” John Hannah reinforced the relationship further, adding, “There is a good part of world history that can be written as a function of energy and the search for secure energy.” By lessening U.S. dependence on oil, which is sold and priced on a global oil market, foreign policy leaders are less bound to the restraints of reliance on a single resource, greatly enhancing their ability to achieve U.S. policy objectives abroad. Admiral Mullen and Mr. Hannah, members of SAFE’s Commission on Energy and Geopolitics, both frequently referred to the Commission’s latest report, “Oil Security 2025: U.S. National Security Policy in an Era of Domestic Abundance,” which outlines a series of foreign and domestic policy recommendations to make the world oil market more secure and more resilient to supply disruptions.

More specifically, the report recognizes that as one of the largest consumers and producers of oil, the United States can encourage better coordinated international action to toughen oil production and transport systems to take swift and effective action to deal with supply shortages. For long-term improvement, the United States should share mechanical fracturing technology to increase total oil supplies and should help build more resilient and stable political conditions in producing countries.

Specifically regarding the Middle East, “Oil Security 2025 urges policymakers to concentrate on rebuilding a diplomacy-centered approach to the region, employing an overall political strategy that includes diplomatic and defense elements. Additionally, the U.S. should support evolutionary reform in Middle Eastern oil-producing countries that encourages more stable, eventually more democratic societies. In terms of growing oil demand, China will account for almost half of the increased oil consumption over the next twenty years. According to the Commission, the United States needs to involve China in plans to deal with supply interruptions and price spikes, and include it in international maritime security operations to protect oil shipping. “My entire adult life,” said Mullen, “I have believed that we need a cogent and strong energy security strategy.” Most importantly, Mullen and Hannah emphasized, the United States must diversify the energy sources that fuel its cars, ships, trucks, and aircraft. “We have an opportunity to be smart and try to create a comprehensive solution,” said Mullen, "one that will contribute to a more stable, robust energy and national security environment."