Ainda a propósito da Guerra no Iraque e da possível intervenção no Irão, são elucidativos das motivações norte-americanas, não confessadas mas por demais evidentes, de manter o domínio daquela área do globo por razões estratégicas que se prendem com a sua própria sobrevivência, alguns artigos publicados nos últimos dias.
Numa altura em que o preço do petróleo cavalga de recorde em recorde, estando hoje a roçar o barril Brent os 74 dólares em Londres, são cada vez mais aqueles que alertam para a necessidade urgente de medidas que possam evitar o colapso das economias desenvolvidas e emergentes, e em particular a economia norte-americana, por insuficiência de recursos energéticos.
Geralmente, contudo, aqueles que fazem contas aos recursos energéticos disponíveis e à sua localização muito concentrada no Médio Oriente, não colocam uma possibilidade evidente: aquela que decorreria de uma atrofia das economias ocidentais por bloqueio político dos fornecimentos, ou de parte deles, a partir daquela área do globo. Dito de outro modo, a hipótese mais provável que justifica a intervenção norte-americana no Iraque, depois do reconhecimento de que o Presidente Bush estava informado da não existência de armas de destruição maciça, e mentiu, não é invocada. As contas que levam a um eventual colapso da economia norte-americana são efectuados na base no conhecimento actual dos recursos conhecidos e da extrapolação dos consumos actuais. Quase ninguém invoca, abertamente, que a “guerra do Iraque” já é “a guerra do petróleo”.
No entanto é fácil vislumbrar o que aconteceria se os movimentos políticos maioritariamente anti-americanos no Médio Oriente, e, provavelmente também maioritariamente contra Ocidente em geral, pudessem decidir livremente quanto ao fornecimento do petróleo que milhões de anos armazenaram debaixo do solo que eles habitam e que pode esgotar-se dentro de dezenas de anos, e onde o último barril já não terá valor algum.
E é fácil vislumbrar, se repararmos no crescimento, certamente irreversível, dos preços do crude nos últimos tempos, e do vigor que esse crescimento assumiu nos últimos dias após as declarações do presidente iraniano.
Que a presença militar norte-americana no Médio Oriente está, indubitavelmente, ligada à necessidade de domínio das principais fontes de fornecimento de petróleo lá existentes prova-o o facto dessa presença, de um modo ou de outro, se ter consumado desde a Segunda Guerra Mundial, tendo essa estratégia sido sempre reafirmada sem que qualquer dos partidos que dominam quase exclusivamente a vida política norte-americana a tenha posto minimamente em causa.
Ontem, em artigo publicado no Washington Post, e dando público testemunho do descontentamento de alguns generais retirados, o major general que comandou a Primeira Divisão de Infantaria no Iraque, John Batiste, insurgia-se contra a liderança, que consideram abusiva e arrogante do Secretário de Estado da Defesa, Donald Rumsfeld. Entretanto, Bush fez algumas alterações na sua equipa mas confirmou Rumsfeld.
“We went to war with the wrong war plan. Senior civilian leadership chose to radically alter the results of 12 years of deliberate and continuous war planning which was improved and approved, year after year, by previous secretaries of defense … The shortage of troops never allowed commanders on the ground to deal properly with the insurgence and the unexpected..”
Curiosamente o artigo titula-se: “A case of Accountability”
Os generais descontentes insurgem-se, afinal, contra o facto de Rumsfeld não lhes proporcionar os meios que eles têm vindo a reclamar, e, além disso, pelo facto de ele próprio definir acções que, no entender dos generais, sempre competiu aos militares definir. Trata-se, sobretudo, de uma questão que se prende com os custos de uma guerra que já excede largamente aqueles que estavam previstos à partida. E ainda que dessa guerra possam resultar alguns aspectos positivos para a animação da economia americana, e sobretudo grossos proveitos para as indústrias e serviços que vivem da guerra e para a guerra, os reflexos dos gastos incontrolados sobre essa mesma economia a médio prazo não podem deixar de confrontar-se com a indispensabilidade das fontes de petróleo que essa guerra pretende controlar. Todos os recursos são escassos: os petrolíferos, mas também os humanos e os financeiros. Os generais retirados não contestam a guerra, reclamam da falta de meios ao seu dispor para a vencer.
Afinal a defesa desse recurso imprescindível, o petróleo, tem custos, não só humanos e políticos mas também económicos tão elevados, que mais tarde ou mais cedo terão efeitos negativos sobre a economia norte-americana e colaterais sobre a economia mundial. De uma forma ou de outra, a factura que está a ser paga pelos norte-americanos, pagamentos esses suportados pelos fluxos financeiros que os procuram, será apresentada, mais tarde ou mais cedo, ao resto do mundo.
Incluindo os chineses, que estão contribuindo fortemente para o financiamento do esforço americano, por um lado, e a contrariá-lo pelo outro.
Um artigo publicado, também, no Washington Post, é muito esclarecedor quanto às contradições subjacentes às relações entre as duas maiores economias mundiais.
As China, U.S. Vie for More Oil, Diplomatic Friction May Follow
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff WriterSaturday, April 15, 2006; Page D01
Think of next week's meeting between President Bush and China's President Hu Jintao as a summit of the planet's most voracious energy user and the planet's fastest-growing energy user. In a world of limited oil resources, that could strain U.S.-China relations as much as any issue.
China's oil industry has wooed countries that the United States has tried to isolate for political reasons -- such as Sudan, Iran and Burma -- potentially undermining the isolation efforts. Three of China's major oil companies have been aggressively pursuing long-term supply arrangements in such places as Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola.
Even Saudi Arabia, despite its long-standing tight relationship with U.S. oil companies, is turning toward China and is today its largest oil supplier. In 2004, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., also known as Sinopec, became one of just five companies to win the right to explore for natural gas in the uninviting desert known as the Empty Quarter, edging out U.S. companies interested in the area. The kingdom has invested in Chinese refinery projects, and in January, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz visited Hu in Beijing.
"Saudi Arabia is taking a Chinese wife," said Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who has extensive diplomatic experience in China. "The Saudis are not divorcing us. In Islam you can have more than one wife and they can manage that."
But can the United States? Many U.S. policymakers are nervous about China's quest for energy supplies around the world.
"I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more as secretary of state than the way that the politics of energy is -- I will use the word 'warping' -- diplomacy around the world," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 5. "It is sending some states that are growing very rapidly in an all-out search for energy -- states like China, states like India -- that is, really sending them into parts of the world where they've not been seen before, and challenging, I think, for our diplomacy."
And China is nervous about the United States, too. The vociferous opposition in Congress last summer to the China National Offshore Oil Co.'s bid to buy Unocal Corp. has left sore feelings in China, according to Xiao Lian, director of the Center for American Economic Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Xiao said Chinese military strategists also worry that the United States might try to block oil supplies in a dust-up over Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims is part of China.
According to Jiang Wenran, a professor at the University of Alberta, a popular Chinese online book, "The Battle in Protecting Key Oil Routes," imagines a sea engagement near the Strait of Malacca linking the Indian and Pacific oceans, in which the Chinese navy destroys an entire U.S. Pacific carrier group.
"The risk is that energy issues become not a source of constructive cooperation but rather a deepening source of competition, misperceptions and excuses for obstructing one another's interests," says a paper by Mikkal Herberg, an energy security expert at the National Bureau of Asian Research, and Kenneth Lieberthal, who served as the senior director for Asia on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council.
Next week's talks between Bush and Hu should provide an opportunity to see whether it will be cooperation or not when the two discuss Sudan and Iran. In conversations with the Chinese, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick has tried to use China's interest in energy to win its support for tougher action on Iran's nuclear program, according to a senior administration official. Zoellick has made the case to the Chinese that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it would be destabilizing in the region that is the source of much of China's oil -- and thus it was in their interest to prevent that from happening.
The dynamics are sobering. Over the next 15 years, the number of automobiles in China is expected to increase fivefold, helping to double China's overall demand for oil, which has already passed Japan's to become the second-largest in the world. By 2020, China is expected to import 70 percent of its oil needs, compared with 40 percent today.
Meanwhile, the growth in U.S. oil consumption, starting from a higher base, rivals China's growth when measured in barrels a day instead of percentages. From 1995 to 2004, U.S. oil imports grew by 3.9 million barrels a day while China's grew by 2.8 million barrels a day, thus "making the United States much more of a rogue element than China in the world oil market over the past decade," Herberg and Lieberthal wrote.
As China, U.S. Vie for More Oil, Diplomatic Friction May Follow
During 15 years, China's coal demand could also double. China, which has nine nuclear plants running now, will build more plants (30 according to Freeman) than any other nation over that time period. And it has drawn up plans for giant hydropower dams. "The trajectory they're on is not sustainable," said Herberg, former director of strategic planning at the Atlantic Richfield Co.
China has been taking several steps to bolster its energy security. It has imposed measures to dampen demand, including higher gasoline prices and surcharges on cars with big engines (which could hurt U.S. automakers with plants in China). It has established a state energy office, which reports to a new energy "leading group" headed by Premier Wen Jiabao and has set a goal of reducing the energy used per unit of GDP by 20 percent by 2010.
Leaders in Beijing also want to boost the country's strategic petroleum reserves, which would last just seven days, compared with the 90-day minimum for members of the International Energy Agency. If war, weather or terrorism disrupted supplies, China would soon be forced onto world oil markets. Herberg said that China bought extra oil before the Iraq war in anticipation of a supply disruption, thus contributing to the oil price spike at that time. Given current high prices, though, China is unlikely to step up purchases for its reserve at this time.
Xiao said that Beijing wants to diversify its sources by increasing imports from Russia, Central Asia and Latin America. China and Russia are in talks to build a $10 billion pipeline to deliver natural gas from Siberia to northern China.
China's major oil companies -- CNOOC, China National Petroleum Corp. and Sinopec -- have sought to lock in long-term supplies by buying stakes in operations abroad, which are still modest compared with major Western oil firms. CNPC, the largest state company that operates like a ministry, has a stake in Sudan's oil fields, giving it around 150,000 barrels a day in equity oil. It also has a 60 percent stake in a Kazakh oil firm that will deliver about 200,000 barrels a day to western China via a new pipeline. Sinopec landed a contract for the development of Iran's Yadavaran oil field, which may eventually produce 300,000 barrels per day. Sinopec has also acquired a 40 percent stake in Canada's Northern Lights oil sands project, which is expected to produce about 100,000 barrels a day by 2010.
China has also opened its doors to Middle East investment, broadening its relationship with that oil-rich region. A $3.5 billion refinery expansion underway in Fujian province, financed by Sinopec, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Saudi Aramco), is seen as part of the effort to cement relations with Saudi Arabia. "What are the chances of cutting off oil to your own refinery?" Herberg said. "That's the nature of international oil security, not by going out and turning a country into your own private filling station."
While these moves make sense for China and help put more oil on world markets, they worry many diplomats and policymakers in Washington. Will China's oil relationship with Iran prevent it from joining other major powers at the United Nations in pressuring Iran to open up its nuclear plants to international inspection? Is China's willingness to buy oil from Sudan contributing to Khartoum's determination to resist U.S. and European pressure to stop raids on people living in the Darfur region? Will the dispute between China and Japan over rights to a large natural gas field in the East China Sea lead to wider conflict? (Lieberthal said both sides have been flying military planes over each other's claims -- perfectly legal, but worrisome.) And will China's growing presence in world oil markets drive up the price of crude oil?
Policy analysts have been recommending a variety of steps to ease U.S.-China tensions over energy: making it a partner, if not a member, of the IEA; creating a northeast Asia energy cooperation group to work out disputes and deals on natural gas reserves in Russia and the seas between China, South Korea and Japan; and inviting China to a Group of Eight meeting to discuss energy.
Freeman warns against blaming China for rising oil prices. He notes that U.S. imports have increased more than China's in recent years. "It's a wonderful issue," he said. "We get to blame the Chinese, the enemy of choice at the Pentagon. And then we get to blame the Arabs, perfect villains upon whom to heap blame."
Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.