23 February 2009

Back from Oslo: "The War on Truth" in The Independent, and elsewhere

It's just been a few hours since I arrived back from a conference in Oslo, "Deconstructing the War on Terror", where I was honoured to join a very distinguished panel of speakers addressing the need for a new discourse to make sense of current events.

I've just been told by the man who runs this website that I've been mentioned very favourably in today's edition of The Independent in an oped piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

"In his disturbing and clearly evidenced book, The War on Truth, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed traces the unholy games played with Islamicist terrorists by the US, and through acquiescence by the UK, flirting with them when it suited and then turning against them. Al-Qa'ida has been used as an instrument of western statecraft and for now is the enemy. Well, not quite. Pakistan's ISI is quite chummy with the Bin Laden groupies and, well, we have to keep Pakistan on side as they know so many of our secrets. So it goes on."

I also discovered in Oslo that The War on Truth has been reviewed in the Journal of Peace Research published by SAGE on behalf of the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO). I met with Dr Ola Tunander, who is a Research Professor at PRIO, and who wrote the review for the journal last year. It's a short, but very supportive review - here's the gist:

"In this volume, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has collected a large amount of material about the US grand design for a new American world order, and particularly about the role of Osama bin Laden, 11 September 2001, and the intelligence networks of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the West. This volume tries to understand 21st-century terrorism, not primarily as a replacement for the Cold War Soviet Union, but as a Western disinformation campaign to control raw materials and populations on a global scale. Ahmed documents the close ties between Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a number of intelligence services. He also documents policies for provoking terrorists into action to justify military responses. The frequent use of terrorism to alter the political agenda and to manipulate public opinion has seemingly created a ‘hyperreality’ that covers the true actors behind the scene. The ‘Global War on Terror’ is, to Ahmed, as much a‘war on truth’ as it is a war against any terrorists... his contribution is necessary for anyone who wants to write about the Global War on Terror and US preoccupation with terrorism in the 21st century. Thebook is also important for the understanding of the present war in Afghanistan."

The only caveat is that Professor Tunander describes me as "Director of Policy Research & Development at the University of Sussex" - a post which doesn't exist, and which is obviously a confusion of my affiliation to Sussex as a tutor and doctoral candidate, and my work with the IPRD.

Anyway, Tunander is a strong emerging voice in the emerging critical academic literature on terrorism. He has most recently contributed to the seminal academic anthology on 'deep politics', Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty by Dr Eric Wilson, Monash University and Dr Tim Lindsey, University of Melbourne.

On the subject of the conference, all the presentations were excellent, and really eye-opening. The opening speech was by Dr Erik Fosse, a senior medical doctor and Research Professor, and head of the Oslo-based medical aid agency, the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC). Dr. Fosse's presentation was truly shocking. He was one of the handful of Western experts and eyewitnesses who was still in Gaza during Israel's latest bombardment, and was a firsthand witness to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. He described how Israeli forces were literally bombing and specifically targeting civilian structures and installations, and recounted harrowing personal stories of the manner in which he and the Palestinian doctors at the Al-Shifa hospital were overwhelmed by incoming civilian casualties and lacking in sufficient medical supplies to treat them effectively due to the Israeli blockade. He also went into eyewitness evidence of new types of weapons being used by Israel. A gist of his talk can be gleaned from his interview on Al-Jazeerah.

Arzu Merali, Director of Research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in London, described the role of the media in the 'War on Terror' and its tendencies to de-humanize ethnic minority communities, in particular Muslims. She described the increasing prevalence of cartoons depicting Muslims as fanatics with long beards, using language such as "parasites" and similar rhetoric; and most disturbingly, compared them to cartoons that were used in Germany in the early 1930s to depict Jews, before the Holocaust. The similarities were actually very striking, and extremely disturbing. She notes that the problem is that the majority community largely has very little contact with minorities, and so their perceptions of minorities are actually informed almost wholly by these sorts of de-humanizing and over-simplifying media stereotypes. There is a need to acknowledge that minorities by way of being minorities, de facto don't have the kind of media access that the majority community takes for granted.

Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the IHRC, focused on statistical evidence of the futility of anti-terror operations, procedures and legislation, and showed how not only does the current anti-terror strategy effectively target overwhelmingly innocent people, it in particular targets members of black and ethnic minority groups, once again Muslims in particular. One example was really telling. Out of the over hundred thousand or so people stopped and searched, moreover, there has been not a single conviction for terrorist offences. The financial costs of stop and search, even having cut out some of the red tape permitting police to continue the practive with even more impunity than ever before, are in the millions of pounds - money down the drain, much like the bulk of the Government's Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) strategy which, it now seems, is hell-bent on criminalizing most of the 1.2 million British Muslim population. As Andrew Gilligan has pointed out, we need to address the structural and social causes underlying the vulnerability of our youth, Muslim and non-Muslim, to all kinds of criminal activity.

Finally, Robin Yassin-Kassab, author of the novel The Road from Damascus, and a journalist who has travelled widely in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke in detail about the rationale behind, and devastating impact of, the war on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Robin discussed the role of the Trans-Afghan pipeline in motivating US hostilities toward Taliban, which despite being invited to Nebraska for talks with UNOCAL and American diplomats in the run-up to 9/11, basically told the US and Britain to shove their plans for Afghanistan up their behinds, following which US representatives promised them bombs. He also delves into detail about the war in Pakistan, and is at pains to emphasise that the fracturing of that country into de facto civil war is a direct consequence of the US trying to compel the ISI to ditch its unruly spawn, the Taliban. Robin blogs here, where you can also find the gist of this presentation in Oslo. Here's a sample from the blog:

"The terror threat to the West is real, but vastly exaggerated. In its name military budgets swell and potential dissenters are intimidated. There were 498 terrorist incidents in Europe in 2006, only one of which was attributed to Muslims, yet half of terrorism-related arrests were of Muslim suspects...

With the election of Obama, the most extreme rhetoric of GWOT seems to have had its day. (It may be to Israel’s long term cost that it used GWOT rhetoric to package the recent massacre in Gaza, just at the moment when GWOT had been discredited in the West.) But if fundamental pro-Zionist and imperialist policies did not in fact change during the Bush years, not much will change, practically, in the post-Bush years. The passing of the War on Terror is as illusory as its sudden birth after September 11th."

Oh, nearly forgot. My presentation was about Anglo-American hostilities with Iran in the context (primarily) of increasingly scarce hydrocarbon energy resources (i.e. peak oil), and the worrying prospects over the next 10 years. And you can get a more in-depth (pre-Obama) reading of this here.

20 February 2009

Obama: No Change

Just a round up of some useful info. Peter Phillips, Professor of Sociology and Director of Project Censored at Sonoma State University, has just put out a piece revealing the incestuous and systemic financial ties between public office and defence corporations in the US government, continuing under Obama.

Obama's stimulus package has been cautiously welcomed by sections of both the left and right of the political spectrum. While there are definitely some positive components, and surely a step-in-principle in the right direction - highlighing the idea of focusing on the real economy, creating new jobs, and rebuilding a cleaner and more energy efficient infrastructure - there remain serious questions about how far the stimulus as packaged will actually achieve these noble aims. The idea is great - money needs to be used not to bail out insolvent banks, but to revitalize production along sustainable and equitable lines. But the stimulus doesn't do this effectively.

Jesse Jenkins, the director of energy and climate policy at the Breakthrough Institute in Washington DC, provided a detailed deconstruction of the stimulus when its details first became known. His basic verdict it: "Underfunded or not, the series of clean energy investments included in this version of the stimulus reads like a laundry list of piecemeal tax breaks and incentives that simply do not cohere into any kind of unified plan. It seems that there is no coordination between the different intended energy expenditures and no central objective or strategy behind then, other than creating new jobs."

Even Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman was fairly scathing about the scope of the stimulus -

"We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support."

Not to mention the fact that Obama's actual plans for renewable energy investments read almost identical to Bush's plans - neither of which therefore offer any meaningful way of actually weaning the US off of its oil addiction, as the impact of peak oil closes over the next 5-10 years.

Meanwhile, no one in the mainstream media commentary circus bothers to ask the question as to the symbiotic relationship between massive, excessive US defence expenditures - which Obama has no intention of reducing - endemic US government and consumer indebtedness, and the current financial crisis. Instead, Obama is busily investing precious taxpayer funds in expanding the frontlines of war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to devastating effect.

9 February 2009

Torture, Rendition, Terror & Oil: A Primer on "Deep Politics"

Why is the Obama administration hell-bent on continuing rendition, and covering-up torture? Why are Western states complicit in these illegal activities? How can the systematic perpetuation of such criminal practices under the rubric of the 'War on Terror' be conducted by the very states who claim to be the guardians of 'international law' and 'human rights'?

The practice of rendition, linked inextricably to the facilitation of torture, is an integral part of the conduct of the western ‘War on Terror’, initiated after 9/11. It therefore needs to be understood in the context of western geopolitical, strategic and economic strategies, and their connection to national security policies. Only by grasping this wider context can rendition be understood in terms of its relationship to the logic of current western strategies, which are themselves rooted in longstanding social, political, ideological and economic processes tied to the protection of powerful vested interests. The movement against rendition will be ineffective if it fails to understand and confront precisely these underlying strategies, processes and interests in the context of which rendition is being practiced and facilitated by western states.


Torture and Rendition: Preliminary Definitions

It's important to start by being absolutely clear what we mean by these terms. Confusion about the inextricable linkage between kidnapping and human trafficking, rendition, and torture has led even groups like Human Rights Watch to come out and suggested there is a "legitimate place" for the "limited" practice of rendition.

Rendition is the process of transporting detainees from one jurisdiction to another without any due process. The practice of rendition by the United States government in alliance with the British and some European governments is generally linked to torture, as detainees are often sent to countries known to practice torture.

At every stage of its execution, rendition overrides due process and lacks legal justification:

1. Rendition begins with the identification of individuals as “terrorist suspects”. New anti-terrorism laws across the US, UK and Europe are designed to grant states the widest possible scope in ascribing this label to individuals in the absence of specific evidence. As such, individuals can be identified as “terrorist suspects” by the state without justification. It is no surprise then that the vast majority of individuals detained as “terrorist suspects” under new anti-terrorism legislation are never charged with any crime.

2. After being identified as a “terrorist suspect”, an individual is detained indefinitely without charge. For all intents and purposes, then, the label of “terrorist suspect” in itself fails to elicit any sort of criminal implications. In the absence of criminal charges, “terrorist suspects” are not “suspects” in any meaningful legal sense – they are merely detainees who remain innocent until proven guilty.

3. The “terrorist suspect” is subsequently transferred to another jurisdiction, often across other jurisdictions, where the presiding state routinely practices torture against detainees, and where due process and legal accountability are lacking. In this climate, the detainee is liable to be subject to torture. Information thereby obtained might be used as a basis to identify other “terrorist suspects”, or in relation to other security policies implemented as part of the “War on Terror”.

4. The “terrorist suspect” is at no time inserted into an accountable or objective legal process, and in fact is prevented from a process of prosecution and trial that might attempt to test the state’s actions toward them.

One will note the obvious fact that at every stage, rendition is devoid of legal justification. It violates the individual’s most basic human rights to due process, in particular the elementary notion of habeas corpus. The western state practice of rendition, in other words, although it portrays itself as an extension of the state’s law-enforcement powers pursued to protect national security, is on the contrary an entirely criminal act that violates the most basic security of the person.


"Deep Politics" and the Criminalization of the State

Rendition, however, is only one criminal practice among numerous others implemented in the context of the ‘War on Terror’. Iraq provides an obvious example, including issues such as the illegal commencement and conduct of the war on Iraq; the fabrication of intelligence on WMD; the systematic use of torture in Iraqi prisons; among many other policies. It is absolutely essential, therefore, that rendition be seen as integrally conjoined to other criminal practices by western states.

This demonstrates that rendition manifests a much deeper phenomenon in the development of western state policies: the increasing criminalization of the state. What is driving this process of criminalization? In the service of what powerful vested interests are states acting in this increasingly criminal manner?

The analysis of these issues is known as “deep politics”, a term coined by the Canadian political scientist Peter Dale Scott, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to Scott, a deep political system or process is one in which institutional, non-institutional and para-political bodies, criminal syndicates, politicians, judges, media, corporations and leading government employees, resort to

“... decision-making and enforcement procedures outside as well as inside those sanctioned by law and society. What makes these supplementary procedures ‘deep’ is the fact that they are covert or suppressed, outside public awareness as well as outside sanctioned political processes.” [1]

Deep political analysis is concerned with revealing the tendency of the state, which is the locus of law, to enter into criminal activity that conventionally would be viewed as anathema to the state’s professed laws. As Scott observes, from the viewpoint of conventional political science, law enforcement and the criminal underworld are opposed to each other, the former struggling to gain control of the latter. However:

“A deep political analysis notes that in practice these efforts at control lead to the use of criminal informants; and this practice, continued over a long period of time, turns informants into double agents with status within the police as well as the mob. The protection of informants and their crimes encourages favors, payoffs, and eventually systemic corruption. The phenomenon of ‘organized crime’ arises: entire criminal structures that come to be tolerated by the police because of their usefulness in informing on lesser criminals.” [2]

In time, this can lead to a form of police-crime symbiosis, where the defining parameters of which side controls the other are no longer clear. The present condition of western state practices in relation to the ‘War on Terror’ suggests that we are facing a serious state-crisis, challenging the legitimacy of the state as the harbinger of law, order and security. The comprehensive nature of the criminalization of the state, its penetration of both domestic and foreign arenas of policy, can only be explained in the context of the state’s increasing subservience to powerful vested interests that are unlikely to meet public approval, and that therefore must be secured without public consent. So what are these interests?


The Deep Politics of Terror in Algeria: A Case Study

The case of Algeria provides a powerful example of the overlap of these criminal western state practices which converge on a very precise set of strategic and economic interests:


1. Individuals identified as “terrorist suspects” have been transferred to, among many other states, Algeria. Algeria is a regime with a notorious record of human rights abuses including the systematic practice of torture which was detailed by the British Home Office in an April 2004 report prepared by the Country Information and Policy Unit used in assessing asylum claims. After its visit to Algeria in June 2005, Human Rights Watch concluded that the regime continues to practice torture, especially during interrogation of security suspects.

The interrogation of “suspects” using torture was responsible for the production of the false ricin-plot narrative. Algerian security services alerted the British in January 2003 to the plot after interrogating and torturing a “terrorist suspect” and former British resident Mohammed Meguerba. We now know there was no plot. Four of the defendants were acquitted of terrorism and four others had the cases against them abandoned. Only Kamal Bourgass was convicted after he murdered Special Branch Detective Constable Stephen Oake during a raid. Rendition attempts to institutionalize and legitimize torture as a means of the production of fundamentally compromised information used by western states to manipulate domestic public opinion. [3]

2. Algeria plays a crucial role in relation to the west’s ‘War on Terror’, and cooperates closely with the US, UK and France in particular on regional anti-terrorist initiatives. US and Algerian joint operations in the last few years for instance have involved the construction of a ‘terror zone’ across southern Algeria, northern Nigeria, Mauritania, Northern Mali, Northern Niger and Chad. In July 2003, under US auspices, Algeria, Chad, Niger and Nigeria ‘signed a cooperation agreement on counter-terrorism that effectively joined the two oil-rich sides of the Sahara together in a complex of security arrangements whose architecture is American.’ [4]

The agreement was quickly followed up with what has become the principal vehicle of American involvement, the Pan-Sahel Initiative, a $7.75 million military programme providing training and equipment to Algeria, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania to ‘improve their border security and deny the use of their sovereign territory to terrorists and criminals.’ [5] One thousand US Special forces, marines and contractors were sent to these countries in January 2004 to supply extensive military counter-terrorist assistance and coordination. The US is expanding the programme to include Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia, with a new budget of $500 million for the period until 2011, now with a new name, the ‘Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative’.[6] A major US military base operates from Tamanrasset in the south of Algeria, with 400 Special Forces. Algeria is viewed as pivotal to US plans for future military deployment in the region.[7]

3. Thirdly, Algeria is complicit in the facilitation of radical Islamist terrorist activity - with Western knowledge and support. Former Algerian government and security officials have independently confirmed that Algerian military-intelligence services had infiltrated and controlled almost all radical Islamist terrorist groups in the country, including the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). [8]

Foreign Office documents released to the Honourable Court in 2000 relating to the trial of three alleged Algerian terrorists, who were all acquitted, revealed extensive evidence to this effect. Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee cited evidence of Algerian ‘government manipulation or involvement in [Islamist] terrorist violence’. One document stated, ‘Sources had privately said some of the killings of civilians [blamed on Islamist terrorist groups] were the responsibility of the Algerian security services’. Multiple documents ‘referred to the ‘manipulation’ of the GIA [the Armed Islamic Group, one of the principal Islamist terrorist groups in Algeria] being used as a cover to carry out their own operations’. A US intelligence report confirmed that ‘there was no evidence to link 1995 Paris bombings to Algerian militants’. On the contrary, ‘one killing at the time could have been ordered by the Algerian government.’ [9]

According to social anthropologist Jeremy Keenan - Senior Research Fellow and Director of Sahara Studies at the University of East Anglia - ‘contradictory Algerian intelligence reports and eyewitness testimonies suggest collusion between agents of Algeria’s military intelligence services and the Salafist Group.’ Not surprisingly, the State Department has ‘declined to comment on the matter.’ Indeed, the United States needs the GSPC terrorist threat to justify the extension of US hegemony to northwest Africa. ‘Without the GSPC,’ observes Keenan, ‘the US has no legitimacy for its presence in the region.’[10]

In several extraordinary analyses published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Review of African Political Economy, Keenan documents ‘an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that the alleged spread of terrorist activities across much of the Sahelian Sahara, has indeed been an elaborate deception on the part of US and Algerian military intelligence services.’ Keenan thus finds that the expansion of the GSPC presence in the Sahara was jointly facilitated by US and Algerian security services.[11]

4. Algeria is the subject of crucial strategic and economic interests on the part of the US, UK and several EU states, especially with regard to its oil and natural gas reserves. Northwest African oil reserves currently meet 17 per cent of US needs. An Algerian company, Sonatrach, plays a major role in US oil exploration as the largest company in Africa, with an estimated turnover of $32 billion in 2004.[12] Experts agree that by 2015, ‘Africa will become the US’s second-most important supplier of oil, and possibly natural gas, after the Middle East.’[13]

US commercial involvement in Algeria began in 1991, after the military coup that cancelled national elections. At the end of that year, the regime ‘opened the energy sector on liberal terms to foreign investors and operators.’ The main US firms include ‘Arco, Exxon, Oryx, Anadarko, Mobil and Sun Oil.’[14] According to European intelligence sources, CIA meetings with Algerian Islamist leaders from 1993 to 1995 are responsible for the lack of terrorist attacks on US oil and agribusiness installations in Algeria.[15] Approximately 90 per cent of Algeria’s crude oil exports go to western Europe, including Britain, where BP has a 31.8 billion pounds contract with the regime.[16]


Conclusions

The case of Algeria demonstrates that CIA-MI6 sponsored rendition and torture in Algeria cannot be understood in isolation from the dynamics of Algeria’s deep political relations with Western states, which can be explained by the economic and strategic interests that appear to inextricably bind the West and Algeria. Similar configurations of mutual interests explain the trajectories of Western security policies, including torture and rendition, in many other strategic regions in relation to the ‘War on Terror’. One of the most disturbing elements of these deep political ties is their implication for western policies toward ‘international terrorism’. The case of Algeria highlights how:

1. Western states use rendition and torture to manufacture intelligence to magnify the threat of terrorism in support of domestic and foreign security policies.

2. Western states are indirectly complicit in disturbing policies of cohabitation with radical Islamist networks, which appears to have selectively facilitated their activities.

3. This in turn has legitimized the expansion and consolidation of military-strategic control of regions considered crucial to western interests, particularly with regard to access to energy reserves and raw materials.

These three strands of policy cannot be separated, and to be challenged effectively they must be analyzed and deconstructed holistically. They are integral to a sophisticated international security system, geared to the protection of specific strategic and economic interests, that has been constructed by the US in cooperation with the UK and some EU states after 9/11, but many of whose principles were already in place well before those terrorist attacks.

This system has accelerated the criminalization of the state, resulting in a veritable crisis of corruption. In order to launch an effective and lasting challenge to western state criminal practices such as rendition, therefore, the security system itself - its structure, the key players responsible for its operation, and the corrupt interests it is designed to meet - needs to be understood, exposed and undermined.

--------------------
NOTES

[1] Scott, Peter Dale, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (California: University of California Press, 1996) p. 8.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Neil MacKay, ‘The new boom industry: Torture with CIA ‘extraordinary rendition’’, Sunday Herald (4 December 2005)
[4] Jeremy Keenan, ‘Terror in the Sahara: the Implications of US Imperialism for North & West Africa’, Review of African Political Economy (September 2004, 31 (101): 475–486), p. 491.
[5] Ambassador Cofer Black, ‘The Prevention and Combating of Terrorism in Africa’, Remarks at the Second Intergovernmental High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism In Africa, Algiers (Washington DC: US Department of State, 13 October 2004)
[6] Jason Motlag, ‘US takes terror fight to Africa’s “Wild West”’, San Francisco Chronicle (27 December 2005)

[7] Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, ‘Who Staged the Tourist Kidnappings? El Para, the Maghreb’s Bin Laden’, Le Monde Diplomatique (February 2005)
[8] For an extensive review of sources see my The War on Truth: 9/11 Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism (London: Interlink, 2005)
[9] Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘Terrorist case collapses after three years’, Guardian (21 March 2000).
[10] Jason Motlag, ‘US takes terror fight to Africa’s “Wild West”,’ op. cit.
[11] Jeremy Keenan, ‘Terror in the Sahara', op. cit. Keenan reviews a wealth of evidence in excruciating detail. Also see his two other briefings which contain more extensive background analysis demonstrating a US-Algerian intelligence deception in relation to the GSPC: Keenan, ‘Americans & ‘Bad People’ in the Sahara-Sahel’, Review of African Political Economy (March 2004, 31 (99): 130–9); ‘Political Destablisation and ‘Blowback’ in the Sahel’, Review of African Political Economy (December 2004, 31(102): 691–703). Look out for Keenan's forthcoming book,
The Dark Sahara (London: Pluto, 2009)
[12] Salima Mellah and Jean-Baptiste Rivoire, ‘Who Staged the Tourist Kidnappings?’ op. cit.
[13] Pierre Abramovici, ‘United States: the new scramble for Africa’, Le Monde (July 2004)
[14] John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, (Pluto Press: London, 1998, pp. 205–6).
[15] Richard Labévière, Dollars for Terror: The US and Islam (New York: Algora, 2000), pp. 182–9.
[16] ‘Algeria’, United States Energy Information Administration (February 1999)

6 February 2009

EU-Ukraine-Russian Gas Crisis in Retrospective: It's Just the Beginning

Last month, a price dispute between Russia and Ukraine triggered the shutting of the transit route through which Europe receives about a fifth of all its natural gas. The gas crisis was largely interpreted as resulting from a breakdown in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine over how much the latter would pay for its own gas supplies, as well as questions about who would provide the technical gas to operate Ukraininian compressor stations.

Yet under the surface of the unprecedented dispute is a looming energy crisis. Russia produces about 22 percent of world gas supply, and is believed to hold 30 percent of the world’s remaining gas reserves. In a prescient analysis in late 2008, Dr. Pierre Noel, Acting Director of the Electricity Policy Forum at the University of Cambridge, warned that: “Over the next 15-20 years, Gazprom faces serious supply challenges, and the international gas market is likely to experience considerable tightening.” He noted that the coming decades could see Europe facing “a gas supply crunch, leading to stagnant or even declining consumption.” Although the Russian Gazprom controls “the world’s largest gas reserves, Gazprom will find it difficult to maintain its current supply levels.” Noel reports that production from the “super-giant” west Siberian gas fields, accounting for most of Gazprom’s production, “is now in steep decline.” Maintaining production depends on the development of new fields on the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia, which are set to come online in 2010. Yet most of the European gas industry argue “this is highly unlikely”, putting 2015 as a more realistic date. But the problem goes deeper than this:

“In fact, Gazprom’s production is already insufficient to meet all the company’s commitments. It depends on two other sources of gas – ‘independent’ Russian producers and imports from Central Asia, especially Turkmenistan – to make up the shortfall. This ‘bridge’ is supposed to supply Gazprom’s needs until the Yamal fields come online. But there is uncertainty over whether Gazprom will be able to source sufficient volumes from Turkmenistan, while independent Russian producers have little incentive to increase their production in the absence of access to Gazprom’s transmission network, which would enable them to reach consumers directly. Moreover, domestic gas consumption in Russia is growing, driven by economic expansion and a gas-intensive electricity mix. So there is at least a risk that Gazprom’s ‘bridge’ to Yamal could collapse. Industry assessments vary from a tight but manageable supply situation to an impending crisis.”

This background places in sharp focus the EU-Ukraine-Russia gas crisis. Indeed, just before the gas crisis Ukraine had signed a strategic accord with the US in December 2008, calling for the establishment of a US diplomatic post in Crimea where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based, as well as for “enhanced cooperation” in defence, security, trade and "energy security."

The incident must be understood as signifying the eruption of a major fault-line in future EU-US-Russian geopolitical contestation in the region for claims over access to increasingly scarce hydrocarbon resources. An analysis of data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2008 by the open source intelligence firm Sanders Research Associates, found that Russian natural gas could well have already peaked in 2006, suggesting that the prolongation of delays in bringing online the new Russian gas fields could imply an EU gas supply crunch as early as 2015.

The gas crisis should be understood as a sign of things to come if Europe doesn't act to overcome its over-dependence on hydrocarbon energy sources. Instead we have deeply misinformed and speculative ventures to focus on nuclear power. Even Sweden, which had once declared its intent to become the world's first oil-free economy, is now scrapping its plans to invest in renewable energy technologies to build costly nuclear plants. The combination of continued fossil-fuel dependence mingled with the nuclearization of Western societies doesn't bode well, neither for global warming, long-term energy security, nor for public safety and issues of proliferation.

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