The 21st century will mark the dispute for clean and renewable energies between some great powers within a system that will become increasingly hierarchical, asymmetric and imperial.
With an average daily consumption of more than 300,000 barrels, the Department of Defense appears as the largest annual consumer of oil in the United States. This has sparked growing concern about the energy vulnerability of its military forces, fueled by China’s aggressive diplomatic and geopolitical stance regarding access to oil resources.
Barreiros, D. Projections on the future of war: disruptive technologies and paradigmatic changes (2020-2060). Text for discussion n. 25, IEUFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, 2019, p. 9.
At the beginning of World War I, the horse was still a central element in the military planning of the great powers, and coal moved the machines, trains, and steam of the world. But four years later, at the end of the war, an “energy revolution” took place that changed the face of capitalism, and oil redesigned the geoeconomics and geopolitics of the world. Soon after the conflict, the exponential growth of the auto industry played a key role in the global expansion of the combustion engine and gasoline.
There is no doubt that it was war that accelerated the process of this second great “energy transition” in the history of industrial capitalism. This happened after the war, but the “energy transition” from coal to oil played a decisive role in the very outcome of the war.
The great change began with the British Navy as early as 1911, but after the first step, all other powers involved in the conflict adhered to the new oil energy matrix and its immediate military use in creating new war tanks, and the development of military aviation.
And during the war, due to the importance of the new energy source, all governments ended up creating specific structures and organizations for coordination between the State, its strategic command and the large private oil companies, to coordinate the production and distribution of oil, outside the market and in obedience to the war strategies of each of these countries.
A few days after the signing of the armistice, on November 1, 1918, the English government hosted a meeting of the Inter-American Petroleum Conference, created during the war, and on that occasion Lord Curzon celebrated the Allied victory, declaring loudly and clearly that ” the Allied cause floated to victory over a wave of oil. “
At the beginning of World War I, the United States controlled 65% of world production of “black gold”, and during the conflict the Americans supplied 80% of the oil consumed by the allied countries. Thus, after the war, Americans automatically took the lead in the world’s new energy matrix, and became the world’s largest oil producers and exporters until the end of World War II.
The Caucasus region had temporarily lost its importance after the war and the Soviet revolution, and oil exploration in the Middle East continued to take its first steps after France and England signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, which later It was confirmed by the San Remo Agreement of 1920, dividing among them the territory of the former Ottoman Empire, which would become the epicenter of the energy dispute of the great powers in the second half of the 20th century.
A gigantic world geopolitical mutation is in full swing caused by the universalization of the interstate capitalist system, the dizzying rise of China and India, and Russia’s return to the status of world military power
A century later, already in the third decade of the 21st century, the world is going through a huge geopolitical transformation, and at the same time it sets out to make a new “energy transition”, replacing fossil fuels with new “clean and renewable” energy sources . World War II ended 75 years ago, and the Cold War ended 30 years ago, but today it is common to speak of a “third world war”, or of a “new cold war”, although the great powers are not involved in a direct and explicit war.
In fact, what is in full swing is a gigantic global geopolitical mutation caused by the universalization of the interstate capitalist system, the dizzying rise of China and India, and Russia’s return to the status of world military power.
All this is concomitant with the decline in economic participation and military power of the richest and most industrialized western powers of the 20th century, especially in the case of Europe, rather than the United States. And despite these major transformations, a major “hegemonic war” between the US and China, or even between the US and Russia, is unlikely in the coming decades.
The territory and arms of these countries are gigantic, together they control around a quarter of the world’s land area, and more than a third of the world population, and they no longer admit invasions or conquests of the classical type. For this reason, its struggle must move to the peripheral territories of the system and to the spaces and flows without borders through which the resources and energy of the interstate capitalist system circulate, where it must take the form of an almost permanent “hybrid war” waged at various points simultaneously, with sudden and unexpected changes of scenery, and with increasingly unstable alliances, as if each were to reproduce in the future, and on a planetary scale, what was the past history of the formation of Europe itself.
In any case, this continuous underground competition between the “three giants” should promote one of the most spectacular technological leaps in history. And once again, as has always been the case over the years, this technological leap must be led by research and innovation in the war industry, which implies a change in the energy matrix that currently drives the military infrastructure of these countries, and around the world.
It will not be a war, but a long “preparation for war”, a war that may never be fought explicitly, but that will be waged in a hidden way, on all planes, on the ground, at sea, in the air, in the underwater world and in outer space. In all likelihood it will be one of those times when humanity will be crossing one of the “frontiers” that some analysts call “the point of oneness.”
Ray Kurtzweil 2 , for example, “predicts that the growth of the technological capabilities of computers, robotics and biotechnology will reach a point ‘towards infinity’ between 2029 and 2045, which would mean that artificial intelligence would have exceeded the capabilities of all humans combined, from then on, human biology and the machine would be part of the same complex, without being able to distinguish where one begins and where the other ends. ” 3
Today, from an energy point of view, when you look at the strategic planning of the great powers that are at the epicenter of global geopolitical competition, what you see is not an immediate concern about the depletion of fossil resources, but by the increase in the costs of the actions to guarantee the access of each one of them to its reserves scattered throughout the world.
The Strategic High Command of these countries continues to foresee the priority use of fossil energy on their various military platforms, until at least 2050, but all of them work with the same objective of replacing carbon energy with a new matrix that is progressively built and which increasingly includes wind, solar, tidal and biofuel energy, also using hydrocarbon sources that are still underused, such as oil sands and methane hydrate.
Furthermore, all these countries, along with others with less military pretense, have dedicated themselves to the development of electricity produced on the battlefield itself, as a result of the demands imposed by the new electronic systems that are increasingly used in operations. military with lasers, chemical-biological sensors and exoskeletons. Several authors even suggest that in the coming decades, from a military point of view, “the very concept of power generation will reasonably depart from the ‘collector’ model” of the fossil-dependent economy, in which the geography of resources It is given by nature, towards a ‘farmer’ model in which energy is effectively generated from start to finish in spaces predetermined by each one’s strategies. At the limit of the ‘4
The few great powers will compete for global power during the 21st century within a system that will surely be increasingly hierarchical, asymmetric and imperial.
The United States, Russia, China, India itself and the other intermediate powers of the world system work with the same horizon of 2050/60, when they program the “energy transition” of their military structures and platforms, with a view to building a new paradigm. “fossil free”.
Even so, today it is already possible to identify the presence of this new paradigm of the future, in the current development of some “avant-garde” military technologies used in some weapons that are already in the embryonic phase or, in some cases, in full experimental use in oil disputes in the Middle East.
This category includes three types of technologies that interact with each other and are already being used in an increasingly lethal way, such as “drones”, “swarms” and “artificial intelligence” for military use. Three technologies that are part of a broader “war buzz” process, with the use of remotely operated armed, land, air and naval vehicles, with self-piloting and tactical capacity to make autonomous decisions during the execution of some altered target in the middle of battle.
Part of this armament, especially the larger one, still uses conventional aviation fuel. But the intention of their projectors is that in the medium-term horizon they use the same energy as the smallest drones, which are electric, or that use a hybrid matrix, which involves a variable combination of hydrogen and electricity.
The potential of these new weapons is geometrically multiplied in what specialists call “swarms” – literally located in the last technological frontier of the war of the 20th century – which are, in practice, true “drone collectives” that operate in a Information exchange network between them, under the command of teams equipped with “artificial intelligence” that reduce human intervention to the minimum necessary to define the most general objectives of the war itself and of each of its combats.
From the point of view of the “energy transition” that is currently being debated around the world, the most important thing is to make clear that the military strategists of the great powers foresee that between 2020 and 2050/60, all these new weapons and platforms The military will already be framed in the new energy matrix – “clean and renewable” – which will arise, in this case, from military competition between the few great powers that will compete for global power during the 21st century, within a system that will surely be increasingly hierarchical, asymmetric and imperial.
This story was first published in Open Democracy