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The Afghanistan Command:
If Oil, Then US There to Stay
By Greg Moses
Posted Nov. 26, 2001
With thanks to George Snedeker for coaxing this essay into existence.
The following timeline indicates that several years prior to the Sept. 11
attacks on New York and Washington, US interests had been converging upon
Central Asia, motivated by the promise of oil fields around the Caspian Sea
and a desire to limit Russian influence in a post-Soviet era. The present
contour of interests that characterize the present US administration could
be seen in formation during the presidential primaries in the Spring of
2000, when the Center for Public Integrity offered profiles of campaign
contributors who spent time at George W. Bush's governor's mansion in Texas.
One of the visitors was Richard B. Cheney, who had served as Secretary of
Defense under Bush senior. CPI reported that the younger Bush claimed to
have great respect for Cheney, who had directed the Gulf War and the
military action that ousted Panama's Manuel Noriega. After serving for a
time at the American Enterprise Institute, Cheney joined the powerful
oil-servicing giant Halliburton as CEO in 1995. As head of Halliburton,
Cheney pursued interests in the emerging oil fields of the Caspian Sea
region, centered in the countries of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Along with
the heads of Chevron and Texaco Inc., CPI reported that Cheney sat on the
Kazakhstan Oil Advisory Board, serving as a sounding board for the country's
As reported by the petroleum watchdog group, Project Underground,
"Kazakhstan is one of the three key producers of oil in the Caspian sea
region together with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. This region, which
surrounds the world's largest inland sea, is estimated to contain as much as
200 billion barrels of oil alone plus another 100 billion barrels' worth of
gas under the Kara Kum Desert and other sites. At average price levels for
the 1990s, that adds up to a treasure chest of roughly US $5 trillion." (2)
In an event that helps illustrate the development of US interests in
Central Asia, on November 18, 1997, Texaco celebrated the signing of a
production sharing agreement for Kazakhstan's giant Karachaganak oil and gas
condensate field at a U.S. State Department ceremony attended by the
Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev and US Vice President Al Gore. In
a press release, Texaco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Peter Bijur
claimed that Texaco's 20 percent interest in the Karachaganak field,
"represents a key element of Texaco's wider expansion in the Caspian region,
which is an important feature of our strategic plan for expanding our
position in the global energy market." (3)
Soon after the Texaco deal was concluded, a blue ribbon National Defense
Panel (NDP) in December 1997 warned the US Secretary of Defense that, the
United States was enjoying a "secure interlude" in a world of growing risks.
Enemies had learned from the Gulf War that symmetrical, state-to-state,
challenges against US interests would provoke massive military attacks.
Future threats to the US would therefore more likely come from the use of
"nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons" in "asymmetrical responses to
our traditional strengths." (4) A new kind of war was coming, as part of a
new world of risk. Under such conditions, the panel advised that, "bringing
together all the elements of our national power will demand a highly
integrated and responsive national security community that actively plans
for the future-one that molds the international environment rather than
merely responds to it." (5) To help the US mold the international
environment in active fashion, the NDP argued, military planners should be
prepared to, "project military power and conduct combat operations into
areas where we may not have forward-deployed forces or forward bases. In
particular, we must have the ability to put capable, agile, and highly
effective shore-based land and air forces in place with a vastly decreased
logistics footprint." (6)
A fuller reading of the 1997 NDP report reveals the construction of a
logical model and use of language that anticipates the "new kind of war"
rhetoric that has characterized the US administration's discourse in the
aftermath of Sept. 11. As the panel argued, "Regular deployments to
far-flung areas of the globe, from open deserts to confining urban terrain,
therefore, are something we should expect. These deployments must not be
viewed as a detraction from our traditional missions, but as a central
element of the responsibilities of the future." Furthermore, the new kind
of war, with its new sense of responsibility, will require, "a much larger
role for homeland defense." (7)
In the NDPs anticipation of future military involvement, Asia figured
prominently, due to growing economies in China and India. Neither Eastern
Europe, Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, nor Latin America were neglected by
the NDP survey of regions to be considered as possible sites of involvement.
Most interesting, in light of subsequent developments, was the NDP's
recommendation that the US would also have to keep watch over "regions that
control scarce natural resources." In this regard, the NDP singled out "the
Middle East and the emerging Caspian Sea areas for oil, as we try to hedge
our own and our allies' resource dependencies." (8) In the NDP's 1997
assessment, the need to access Caspian sea oil was judged "critical to
global economic stability." (9) For that reason, the NDP recommended the
reorganization of the Pentagon's Central Command to focus on the oil
resources of the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea. (10)
Meanwhile, in the Spring of 1998, Chevron reported five years of successful
operations at Kazakhstan's giant Tengiz oil field. Along with its
consortium partners (the Republic of Kazakhstan, 25 percent; Chevron, 45
percent; Mobil, 25 percent; and LukArco, 5 percent) Chevron celebrated
production that had risen every year, from approximately 20,000 barrels per
day in 1993 to 140,000 barrels per day in 1997. 1998 peak production had
reached 190,000 barrels per day. "An investment of more than $1 billion is
planned over the next three years to increase production capacity to 11
million metric tons per year (240,000 barrels per day) by mid-2000." (11)
In October 1999 the Department of Defense reorganized its "command authority
over American forces in Central Asia from the Pacific Command to the Central
Command," reports Michael Klare. (12) Meanwhile, according to Jane's editor
Charles Heyman, as quoted in the New York Times, the Pentagon had been
exchanging military advisors with Uzbekistan and holding joint military
exercises there. The NYT report goes on to say that, while exchange
programs with Uzbekistan may have begun as early as 1995, and joint
exercises as early as 1996, "engagement efforts and Special Forces missions
took much of their current shape in 1999." (13)
In July 2000 a Commission on America's National Interest released its
findings. The commission included Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice, and
former National Security Advisor to the elder Bush, Brent Scowcroft. The
report's introduction worries that, "after five decades of extraordinary
exertion, the US is in danger of losing its way. The fatigue of many, and
distraction of some with special interests, leave American foreign policy
hostage to television images and the momentary passions of domestic
politics. Lacking basic coordinates and a clear sense of priorities,
American foreign policy becomes reactive and impulsive in a fast-changing
and uncertain world." (14) In its review of US interests related to Russia,
the commission argues that the US has a major interest in preventing major
conflicts between Russia and the newly independent states of Central Asia.
"Moreover, as essential choices such as those surrounding pipeline routes
from the Caspian Basin are made, it is important for the US that they be
taken without undue Russian pressure." (15)
What choices of pipeline routes from the Caspian Basin would the US want to
consider? According to a Department of Energy report, "Afghanistan's
significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position
as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central
Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed
multi-billion-dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan,
although these plans have now been thrown into serious question . . ." (16)
As the DOE explains in further detail, the Taliban had signed an agreement
in 1998 that would have allowed construction of a natural gas pipeline from
Turkmenistan to Pakistan, but by year's end, Unocal, a major partner of the
pipeline consortium announced that the project was too risky. "Unocal had
previously stressed that the Centgas pipeline project would not proceed
until an internationally recognized government was in place in Afghanistan."
Soon after the horrific destruction of the World Trade Center on September
11, the US administration began aggressive pursuit of a goal to institute an
internationally recognized government in Afghanistan. As the above timeline
of developing interests shows, the US for several years had been organizing
the will and resources for such a campaign, consistent with a strategy aimed at energy development and geo-political influence in the Central Asian sphere. While the official text of US military action in Afghanistan may be articulated as a discourse of war against terrorism, there are good reasons to believe that a pre-text may be working to define terms of engagement that will secure US interests in Central Asian oil. The oil motive may be one reason why the US administration quickly defined the Sept. 11 provocation as "war" rather than "crime against humanity" and then pursued a military strategy directed more toward the re-conquest of Afghanistan than incisive strikes against alleged co-conspirators. The model of an oil framework also suggests that US attacks will be followed by attempts to secure permanent bases in the region in support of long-lasting petro-political policies.
1. Heller, Nathaniel. "Overnight Guests at Governor's Mansion Added $2.2
Million to Bush Campaign." Center for Public Integrity. March 15, 2000.
2. Project Underground. "Kazakhstan."
3. Texaco Press Release. "Production Agreement Concluded for Giant
Karachaganak Oil and Gas Field," Nov. 18, 1997.
4. Odeen, Philip A., Richard L. Armitage, etal. National Defense Panel.
Report to Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. December 1997. Executive
Summary, p. i.
5. Odeen, Armitage, etal., cover letter.
6. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. ii.
7. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. ii.
8. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. 6.
9. Odeen, Armitage, etal. p. 7.
10. Odeen, Armitage, etal., p. 73.
11. Chevron Press Release. "TengizChevronOil Completes Five Years of
Operations at the Tengiz Oil Field in Kazakhstan." April 6, 1998.
12. Klare, Michael T. "The New Geography of Conflict," May/June 2001.
Quoted from the web site at:
13. Chivers, C.J. "Long Before War, Green Berets Built Military Ties to
Uzbekistan," New York Times, Oct. 25, 2001.
14. Allison, Graham T., etal. "America's National Interests: A Report from
the Commission on America's National Interests." July, 2000.
15. Allison, etal. "America's National Interests, " p. 29.
16. Energy Information Administration. US Department of Energy.
17. EIA. "Afghanistan"
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