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57 the national bureau of asian research nbr special report #41 | september 2012 MIKKAL E. HERBERG is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California–San Diego and Research Director of NBR’s Energy Security Program. He can be reached at . The Geopolitics of Asia’s Rising Oil and Gas Demand: Conclusions and Implications for the United States Mikkal E. Herberg 59 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR THE UNITED STATES u HERBERG T he essays, discussions, and analysis from this year’s Energy Security Program offer a wide range of perspectives on Asia’s booming oil and gas demand, as well as on the effect of the region’s inevitably growing role in global energy geopolitics. The choices that Asian stakeholders make about how to manage their energy needs will have vital implications both for U.S. energy security and for broader U.S. strategic power and posture in the Middle East. Additionally, the essays and discussions cast new light on emerging and growing concerns about supply availability and pricing in the Asian markets for liquefied natural gas (LNG), particularly in the wake of Japan’s nuclear energy crisis and the “shale gale” of booming natural gas production in the United States. At the center of the 2012 research program are the changing geographic patterns in oil and gas demand and the implications for U.S. and Asian engagement in the Middle East. A key component of U.S. interests in the Middle East—and in particular, the U.S. commitment to the maintenance of a post–World War II “Pax Americana”—has centered on the country’s use of strategic power to ensure the access of Western industrial countries to Persian Gulf oil. Yet both North America’s and Europe’s need for Middle East oil is declining rapidly as U.S. oil production rises with the deployment of new technologies, other Western Hemisphere producers boost their output and exports, and Russia grows as a supplier to Western Europe. In the place of the United States and the European Union, Asia is now overwhelmingly the predominant buyer of Persian Gulf oil, driven by strong demand growth from China and India. Consequently, one of the foundations of U.S. interests in the gulf is weakening as global oil flows shift dramatically toward Asia. Ultimately, do these shifts suggest fundamental changes in the United States’ commitment to the Middle East? Program discussions generated more questions than answers. Central to this debate are issues that go beyond the scope of energy geopolitics and that concern the extent to which the United States is willing and able to continue an overarching strategic commitment in light of deepening fiscal woes, a war-weary public, and broader rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific. However, as John V. Mitchell and others aptly highlighted, even if the United States does not directly receive any oil from the Middle East, the stability of global oil markets remains in the vital interest of the United States. Today’s oil markets are deeply integrated, and any disruption of Middle East supplies would severely undermine world and U.S. economic growth. Yet no Asian state has demonstrated the strategic power or inclination to exercise a stronger role in ensuring the stability of the Middle East or the reliable flow of gulf oil to world markets. As the world’s sole strategic superpower, the United States remains the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. Yet continued U.S. commitment to the Middle East should not obscure the enormous tectonic shifts that are underway in the geopolitics of oil and gas. The workshop discussion of Iran sanctions demonstrated how the growing role of the Asian states as huge buyers of oil from the Persian Gulf is already beginning to complicate efforts by the United States to achieve key diplomatic and strategic goals. Washington has expended enormous diplomatic capital to pressure Asian states to collaborate on oil sanctions. As of July 2012, India has yet to convincingly reduce imports, and China maintains that it is already meeting international obligations and that a case has not been made for further sanctions, as described by Zha Daojiong. And while Japan and South Korea have enacted additional sanctions, both previously imported a significant amount of their oil from Iran, which has created dilemmas as each strives to balance competing policy and economic interests. Japan, for example, cannot ignore that these cuts are occurring at a time when it already...


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