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tv   Great Decisions in Foreign Policy  PBS  January 24, 2018 6:30pm-7:01pm PST

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(xylophone music) - [narrator] after decades of relative stability the us energy revolution is beginning to shift the geopolitical dynamic. where once it was dependent on the middle east for much of its energy, the us is now producing more of its own, allowing it to potentially forge a new foreign policy. a geopolitics of oil. next, on great decisions. (trumpeting music) - [narrator] great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association in association with thomson reuters. funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhouse coopers, llp. - [narrator] nations have always been in competition with each other. often, it's in the search for natural resources like oil and gas. a steady supply of energy is needed
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to fuel the country's economy and military. - [sachs] typically, american foreign policy like british imperial foreign policy before it, paid a tremendous amount of attention to securing oil for the economy. that includes who we have befriended, but it has also included us launching wars; stationing military bases; engaging in coups and orienting a massive amount of our foreign policy around oil. - [mcnally] by world war one, oil was transitioning to becoming the lifeblood of modern civilization. if electricity is literally the circuitry, without which modern life is impossible, oil is the lifeblood. - [jacobs] it's both vital to our economy and it's vital to our military. and that became true once we switched to an oil based military.
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- [narrator] in recent years, the us energy revolution has shifted the geopolitical balance. - [gordon] this is a new state of affairs. this was not happening a decade ago, but today 80 percent of the oil in america is sourced from north america; from the continent. the vast majority from us itself, and then about 20 percent of oil comes from canada, and the other 15 or so percent comes from mexico. - you inject, at very high pressure, water underground, into the rock; into shale. and that fractures it. in that water, you have sand, and a little bit of chemicals in that sand; props open those cracks, and then suddenly you're able to pump that gas. but the next part of the revolution, the one that's really shaken geopolitics; that's shaken up everything and the thing that we're watching right now, that's when the oil drillers figure out how to take the next step
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and extract these much larger molecules; the oil out of the shale. - it's really changed the nature of the us relationship with many oil producing states. if you look at the libya conflict. the us doesn't have as much of a direct interest in that anymore because we're not importing oil from libya. so, it's given the us maybe a little more freedom in our foreign policy. - [narrator] for decades, the organization of the petroleum exporting countries, opec has dominated the oil market. - [jacobs] opec forms first in 1960 when the arab producers of oil are trying to figure out how can they get more for the oil that's being pumped out if their ground. - [cooper] opec is seen as a bad actor and has a bad reputation in the united states and in western countries in general because of the 1973 oil embargo and the oil shock that flowed through the 1970's. the entire world economy was destabilized. and, for the first time,
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oil was used a weapon by the producers against consumers. - [narrator] saudi arabia is a swing producer of oil. having the excess capacity to balance the market, or manipulate price by increasing or decreasing production. - [chanis] saudi arabia is by far the single most important factor in the oil market over any period of time. their policies today, and how much they invest, will be the single most important factor determining the price of oil in five or ten years. - [spindle] it's not only the biggest producer within opec by quite a ways, but it is the one country within opec that's consistently been willing to hold back some ability to produce; it's what it's called its spare capacity. - [cooper] they've been able to come in at pivotal moments to either drain or flood the system at will. that has given them enormous power over all of us; over the world economy.
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and in fact, when they're able to flood the system, as they have done on several occasions over the past forty years; often there's a geopolitical calculation involved. - [colgan] opec is very often seen as an economic cartel that controls the price of oil around the world. that's actually mistaken; it's a myth. opec has not been effective at cooperating within its own membership. - [narrator] global economic growth has slowed along with world wide demand for oil. and the world's biggest importer, the united states is importing much less. - [moniz] we have produced up to five million barrels a day more oil in recent years because of the technologies we described earlier. - [levine] we thought that the shale revolution was going to bring kumbaya. the united states was going to put a stop to the narrative of american decline and china's ascendance
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all through this oil. our answered prayers were much more than we had bargained for. and so if we're creating, not just a short term, but a long term destabilized middle east, a destabilized russia; that's not something we necessarily want. (chanting protest) - [chanis] when oil prices get very low, it tends to set off huge instability in many parts of the world which, arguably, we're seeing today in venezuela or in nigeria. low oil prices put a lot of governments in a very difficult position because the nature of many of these regimes is such that they use the oil price to essentially placate or almost buy off their populations. and if the price gets too low, then they can't generate the revenue necessary to keep domestic stability. - [spindle] all of the gulf countries now have,
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since 2014 prices have really crashed. their revenues have crashed. they've got a kind of subsidy and welfare state. they simply can't get the same sort of cradle to grave subsidies and support that their parents did. - [narrator] traditional oil exporters are in a bind. if they increase production, the price of oil drops further. if they cut production they lose market share. - so now the saudis say: "well, we're really competing with non-opec countries. "and frankly, "these other opec countries are not a threat to us anymore." - [levine] opec, november 2014, held a bi-annual meeting in vienna and announced as a group: "we are changing our policy. "we're no longer going to try to "control supply and demand. "instead, we're going for market share." basically, it's each man for himself. but, that is a lot of words of saying: we're going to war with the united states.
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- [el-badri] why you people are concerned about our production? why you are concerned? doesn't that will; if the price will come down, doesn't that will help you to fill your car? - [jacobs] their choice is to allow prices to fall. and that's deliberate, because the idea is they're going to try to undercut american production that's resulted from fracking in an effort to try to regain market share that they've lost to american production. - [narrator] some oil producing nations suffer from the resource curse; or the paradox of plenty. - [colgan] countries that discover oil don't necessarily get rich from them. they have more corruption. they have higher levels of inequality. and they have political problems. they're less likely to democratize, and they're more likely to have civil wars. the united states and norway were lucky in that we had an established democracy
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and some strong political institutions before the oil was discovered. and that has meant that we've had not only oil development, but also a large diversified economy and the kind of political mechanisms that can withstand some of the bad incentives that come with oil. - [levine] nigeria is a poster child for the resource curse. it's brought nothing but misery to the country. the folks in power have taken all of the money, but left two-thirds of this oil rich country without electricity. - [roth] most governments that have large amounts of oil neglect their people. in a place like venezuela, where there is significant regional pressure to maintain at least the facade of a democracy; it maintains the facade, but undermines the reality. in a place like saudi arabia, where that regional pressure to even maintain the democratic facade isn't there, you have a straight forward dictatorship. you have a monarchy which leaves very little room
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for any independent civil society; any independent press; and simply rules by fiat because it can. (mob yelling) (gun shot) - [narrator] low oil prices have created volatility in venezuela. - [levine] venezuela, not saudi arabia, has the largest reserves of oil in the world. it doesn't tap those. it doesn't tap because it doesn't know how. and it doesn't have the resources to. it's... instead treated pdvsa like a piggy bank. it's used it to subsidize the price of everything in the country. - [roth] there are horrible shortages in venezuela. the economy has been so mismanaged that you can't even get basic necessities in the grocery store. people have to search to get their day's meals. the old american adage: no taxation without representation,
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works in reverse as well. if a government doesn't have to appeal and service its people in order to receive taxes; if it can gain its revenue by just pumping oil out of the ground, it starts ignoring the people. - [narrator] analysts suggest the blow to russia's oil industry may be encouraging vladimir putin to distract russians from their economic woes with a more aggressive foreign policy. - [johnston] russian foreign policy and the oil prices; there is a view that their may be connection there in the sense that, if putin sees the economic picture being bleak for russia, his popularity in large part is being based on strong individual; asserting russian interest in their near abroad, and some would argue that he would be more likely to do that in the context if oil prices were to preserve his popularity. - [cooper] in the fall of 2014 when oil prices began to slide, at that critical point the saudis decided to actually increase production.
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they put their foot to the floor, and they ramped up production and they flooded the market. they talked about the benefits of crashing oil prices as a way of depriving russia and iran of critical oil revenues to lubricate their adventurous foreign policies. - [narrator] in saudi arabia, oil represents 80 percent of revenue. low oil prices are applying renewed pressure on the kingdom to diversify their economy. - [colgan] but the truth is that saudi arabia has tried before, notably in the late 1990's, to shift its economy away from oil. and it turns out that this is a really hard thing to do. this is a generational kind of project. it's not gonna happen just over a few years. it also means changing the mindset of a lot of people in saudi arabia who are not used to working and having to work. - [cooper] we can say that they have accepted
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that the age of oil is coming to an end down the road, and that they have to prepare their economy and society. now, some would say they've left it too late. others would say, well at least they're making a start on it. but this is really at the outer region now, in terms of preparing for the end of the age of oil. - [narrator] heavily import dependent nations are reaping benefits from low energy prices, and paying close attention to their energy security as the landscape shifts. - [colgan] consuming countries have always been concerned in maintaining the naval shipping lanes and the pipelines that provide oil. and so we see some of those tensions happening now in the south china sea which is of course a huge conduit for middle east oil flowing to china; south korea; japan and other customers as well. - [kaplan] the best way to start a discussion with energy
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is about china; not the middle east. china has a malacca dilemma. despite all the improvements in technology over hundreds and hundreds of years, the strait of malacca is no wider now than it was in antiquity. so china has been involved, in one way or another, in port building projects all along the indian ocean. in sri lanka; in myanmar; in bangladesh; in djibouti; in pakistan; in tanzania. and what this is all about is getting oil and gas, from the greater middle east, and transporting it to china via the indian ocean, north through pipelines into china, in order to avoid the strait of malacca. - china will be tempted to pay more attention to the persian gulf region, and possibly start deploy military assets into that area if the united states draws down and pulls out. and there's a lot of speculation going on right now
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that the united states is going to use american energy independence as a way of, sort of separating itself from the volatility of the region. - [narrator] in the united states, the low cost of oil is a mixed blessing. it means cheaper fuel and goods, but can increase consumption and hurt america's oil and gas sector. - [colgan] on the aggregate, low oil prices are a boon to the us economy. they're great for consumers; great for industry all around, except of course, for the oil producing sector. - [gerrard] i think low oil prices move jobs around. low oil prices mean that there is less oil production. there's certainly been a decline in oil field jobs in the united states since the decline in oil. it leads to lower gasoline prices which has the unfortunate effect of inducing people
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to buy larger cars and to drive more. - [narrator] at the geopolitical level, increased american production makes the us less reliant on imports. - [colgan] some people talk about energy independence, and that's a goal that doesn't necessarily make sense for the united states because it actually helps us to be globally integrated into oil markets. - the bill i sign today takes a significant step. it will help us diversify our energy supplies and reduce our dependence on oil. - [mcnally] when i was working in the white house and we would have to read the president's speeches for president bush; george w. bush; and i would read, in a speech where he would call for energy independence and getting off of oil, which has been enormously popular since president nixon said it; i would always cross it out and say: "this is neither a practical "nor even a desirable goal for policy." i was usually overruled and i won't say by who,
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but they went back in, he said it, and it was the loudest applause line. so, there's no escaping what we're really most terrified of, and that is gasoline price spikes, by becoming self-sufficient. - what's been important about oil policy is control over oil, not access to it. when the us invaded iraq, speaking of brzezinski pointed out that if the us can control global oil supplies it will have greater influence over its allies. - [narrator] for decades, the us has been dependent on politically unstable governments; or what some describe as unsavory regimes. activist charge that energy dependency makes washington look the other way when it comes to issues of human rights. - [roth] the united states doesn't ignore all human rights abuses by oil rich nations,
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it just ignores the human rights abuses by oil rich nations that are its allies. (scuffle in foreign language) - [roth] if the abuse is by saudi arabia or by the united arab emirates; or bahrain; or kuwait; don't expect a lot of protests out of washington. on the other hand, if it's iran or venezuela, the united states will be quite outspoken. - [cooper] saudi arabia is the quintessential case study for a country that has an abysmal human rights record and no one likes to talk about it because they are the big oil producer. but that's changing. saudi arabia had a free ride for along time but it's coming to an end. and i think that has created real tension in the relationship. it is the cause of some disorientation in riyadh because it's happening very quickly. - [narrator] cheap oil reduces incentives to invest
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in increased efficiency and alternative technology while boosting the consumption of oil and gas. - [bordoff] we're driving more, and we're using more oil, and we're buying bigger cars 'cause we have short memories and forget gasoline prices might go up again. and that makes the economics of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle or an alternative worse. - [moniz] we are, with low oil prices, bluntly; we are more challenged in terms of getting cost competitiveness of advanced biofuels and clearly there's an impact in terms of the electric vehicle penetration. we're making great progress; and battery costs for example for vehicles have come down 60, 70 percent in the last five or six years. but there's no doubt that the low oil prices and low fuel prices impact that. - [browner] we don't have a system in the united states where we really price in the externalities of burning fossil fuels into the price
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that we sell the fossil fuels at. we sort of deal with those complications on the back end; those consequences on the back end. - [bordoff] us carbon emissions are now at the same point they were in 1992. they're down about 10 or 12 percent from where they were a decade ago, so that's headed in the right direction. but if you think about what it would mean to actually stabilize global warming at around two degrees celsius, we need to reduce emissions not just 10 or 20 percent, but 70, 80, 90 percent; deeply decarbonize the world. - [narrator] fracking's geopolitical impact is profound. in 2016, congress lifted a 40 year ban on the export of us oil. with its own energy security more assured, some analysts believe the us could become a swing producer. - [spindle] increasingly people are looking at the fracking industry and the us portion of it
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as a kind of swing producer in the sense that the process is quite different. it's not like saudi arabia. you can't turn it on and turn it off within days or weeks. - [mcnally] many people thought that once it became clear to most people at the end of 2014 that saudi arabia was really going to abdicate the role of swing producer; and you have to remember this is hard for people to accept and believe. but once they did, hopes then shifted to shale oil doing it. shale oil companies are not going to replace opec; and they really couldn't. because remember; shale oil is produced by hundreds of companies who, even if they could agree to cooperate to restrain supply to hold up price, that would be illegal. they would be taken into court. so, it's very different than saudi arabia where the energy minister picks up a phone and gives an order to the state oil company aramco.
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- [narrator] increased carbon emissions, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels have long term geopolitical repercussions of their own in the form of climate change. - [gerrard] all of those effects will have a crippling effect on many of the economies of the world unless it's seriously addressed. - [inhoff] you know what this is? it's a snowball. and, that's just, from outside here. so it's very, very cold out. very unseasonable. so, here mr. president; catch this. - [schott] the congress, as it is currently constituted will not do anything on climate change. indeed it has prevented us officials from negotiating any provisions on green house gas emissions in any trade agreement. - [sachs] the world has agreed in paris to stay, as the agreement puts it, well below two degrees celsius in warming.
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but, it requires politicians that understand the truth and tell the truth. that already excludes half of american politicians because they're either creeps, crooks or too lazy to study the basic facts. so it requires a change of the politics. our militarized foreign policy is also no friend; no help to us; because it's given us, somehow this crazy idea that war and the military are gonna solve our big problems; whereas what we really need is diplomacy and good engineering. - [narrator] how washington should go about securing america's long-term energy needs is by no means clear. - [mcnally] the most important challenges are resisting delusion. resisting the idea that because our oil production is now
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closer to nine million barrels a day than five; because our imports are closer to one-third than two-thirds of our supply; because we have a shale oil boom; that we can forget about the middle east; we can forget about the rest of the world; that we have no reason to engage. - [bordoff] first to defend the gains that have been made over the last eight years. the clean power plan is being challenged in the courts. the fuel economy standards are now coming up for a mid-term review. and in a time of very low gasoline prices, you hear many in the auto industry saying: "well, the consumers don't want fuel efficient cars "'cause gasoline is so cheap. "we can't meet these targets." - [levine] the most compelling forecast that i've seen is that peak demand is going to come before peak oil. when you look at that scenario, you understand more why saudi arabia; why prince mohammed has made this very big announcement: "we're shifting away from oil."
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- [narrator] to many, improving alternative energy development is vital to long term global stability. but oil is likely to continue to play a leading role on the geopolitical stage for the foreseeable future. - [narrator] great decisions is america's largest discussion program on global affairs. discussion groups meet in community centers; libraries; places of worship and homes across the country to discuss global issues with their community. participants read the eight topic briefing book, meet to discuss each topic, and complete a ballot which shares their views with congress. to start or join a discussion group in your community, visit or call 1-800-477-5836 great decisions is produced by the foreign policy association, in association with thomson reuters.
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funding for great decisions is provided by pricewaterhouse coopers, llp. - [narrator] next time on great decisions: once known for economic and political turmoil, the majority of nations in latin america are now constitutional democracies. latin americans are combining left-leaning social agendas with more pragmatic governance. many also want to forge new relationships with the us and china. latin america. next time, on great decisions. (soft guitar music)
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welcome back to nhk "newsline." it's noon on thursday in tokyo. i'm miki yamamoto. the american president is urging his turkish counterpart to limit his military actions in syria. turkey's armed forces are in the middle of attacks on a kurdish pa li militia which washington supports and ankara considers a terror group. donald trump asks erdogan to exercise caution.


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