Powering the Globe

Article excerpt

It is one of the main questions confronting experts in both government and academia: "What drives foreign policy?" Theorists provide many answers--geopolitical concerns, security issues, domestic public opinion, or institutional constraints. But a literalist might answer more simply and no less accurately: energy.

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Energy provides the physical fuel for the many undertakings within the global community from transportation to electricity. But it also has pervasive influences in realms to which it has no direct ties. Energy-related issues have been a force behind many domestic action groups. Deemed influential in determining the location of military interventions, energy has spawned conflicts over resource allocation and ownership. On a more basic level, energy is a valuable commodity, conferring power on those who possess it and reducing to dependency those who do not.

Energy has become one of the 21st century's most visibly politicized issues. Local groups have organized around concerns about energy's impact on the environment or on jobs. Now, thanks to modern communications powered by global energy systems, those formally local groups are becoming globally allied. Such concerns have mobilized influential lobbying efforts in many countries, leading to action within the international community to address rising concerns about global energy consumption's environmental implications. Enter the Kyoto Protocol, negotiated in December 1997 and now entering into force after Russian approval.

Politically, energy has become a source of immense international bargaining power. The 1970s oil crisis humbled many countries that were perceived to be dominating influences in the global sphere. Now, as prices continue to rise and show few signs of falling, much attention accrues to resource-rich countries in the hopes that they will acquiesce to demands to stabilize and potentially lower prices.

The energy market itself is a focus for much attention. Energy is a good that has benefits and costs that are arguably not included in its market value. …