Increasingly, world diplomacy is linked to energy.
Whether it's the proposed US nuclear agreement with India,
tension over a natural-gas pipeline from Russia to Europe, or talks
between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao about China's
growing ties to oil-rich Iran, world leaders are factoring crucial
energy needs into their strategic calculations.
Global energy strains have been particularly evident over oil,
which topped a record $75 a barrel last Friday.
So is it time for an OPIC - an organization of petroleum-
importing countries - as a way to build up cooperation among the
world's booming and increasingly competitive energy consumers?
Such an idea may sound far-fetched. Indeed, any discussion among
officials about greater energy cooperation is just in the beginning
stages: NATO has held a conference on energy security, and Sen.
Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana has recently proposed legislation
calling for enhanced international partnerships. But among analysts,
consensus is growing on the need to find new ways to boost
international energy security and cooperation.
"Energy considerations underlie international politics today more
than any other issue and are at the root of every country's
international behavior," says Gal Luft, codirector of the Institute
for Analysis of Global Security in Washington. "As more countries
like China and India enter the club of energy-intensive societies,
we should be developing forums for steering the competitive
tendencies into more cooperative channels."
China's entry into the club of major energy consumers - last year
it overtook Japan as the world's second-largest consumer of
petroleum after the United States - demonstrates both the challenges
of growing competition and the opportunities held out by greater
China is engaged in a search for oil that has it setting deals
with Iran, Sudan, Burma, and other energy sources the US considers
unsavory - and, in some cases like Iran, as threats to international
security. US officials worry that the priority of securing oil
supplies from Iran is leading the Chinese to balk at US efforts to
penalize Iran for moving ahead with what the US suspects is a
But China is also interested in building a stable and cooperative
economic relationship with the US, its largest commercial partner.
And it is that desire the US could tap into, some experts say, by
working with China and other countries like it on enhancing energy
cooperation and security.
China's interest in greater international economic cooperation
and in a larger role in international economic and security
frameworks was on display during Mr. Hu's visit last week, White
House officials say. Perhaps the greatest long-term accomplishment
of the Bush-Hu summit was the indication that Chinese leaders see
their country as "a stakeholder in the international economic
system," said Dennis Wilder, the National Security Council's acting
senior director for East Asian affairs.
For some observers, such broad characterizations simply mean the
White House was unable to extract any specific commitments from the
Chinese: on accelerating appreciation of the yuan, for example, or
going along with sanctions against Iran.
But other officials say the degree to which energy issues
suffused the Bush-Hu discussions suggests a desire for potentially
The two leaders approached energy as "a common challenge of the
two countries," said Faryar Shirzad, deputy national security
adviser for international economic affairs. Mr. Bush, he said,
emphasized to Hu "the importance of diversifying away from oil," in
particular to develop nuclear energy. …