Thursday, January 17, 2008

Strategic Inanity

Ever the font of useful information and analysis, BBC News has an excellent summary of many of the energy issues facing the emerging economies of China and India currently up on its website. As I was reading through, most of it seemed informative, if pretty standard for anyone who has been following the issue of global energy supplies over the last few years. Standard, that is, until I came upon the following quote:

China is eager to exploit clean coal technology, but Western companies are not that keen to part with it for hard-nosed commercial reasons.

"What if China got all this clean coal technology and their economy would develop even faster? What would happen to the big economies like the USA and India?" says the BBC's China editor Shirong Chen.


Really? Seriously? We're really worried about giving the Chinese access to clean coal technology because we want to slow down their economic growth? As though China continuing to belch CO2 and sulphur into the atmosphere isn't going to adversely affect our economic growth? As though un-checked global warming isn't going to create security challenges that make the conflict in the Taiwan Strait look like a game of footsie? Can the American business community and the American foreign policy community really be this shortsighted?

Okay, deep breath. This is the BBC's China editor, not the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Commerce or State. Shirong Chen isn't the official mouthpiece of U.S. energy policy. Still, this comment just illustrates the perversity of "realist," zero-sum strategic thinking when it is divorced from all context and perspective.

Yes, it's true, helping China develop clean energy technologies will have the side effect of assisting the economic development of a strategic competitor. If we don't provide such help, though, and China supplants the United States as the world's exhaust pipe, the global instability created by widespread drought, crop failure, famine, natural disasters and all the rest of the near-Biblical consequences of global warming that climatologists have identified will dwarf any threat that China poses to U.S. economic and strategic interests. It bears mentioning, for example, that the Muslim world with whom the U.S. is having such difficulty rests almost entirely within the equatorial regions that will be hardest hit by the crisis.

Rather than be nervous about helping a rival, the United States ought to view the cooperative devleopment of renewable and clean energy as a potential boon to stability in Asia. The United States, Japan, China and India will consume the vast majority of the world's energy in the coming decades. They have a strategic interest in applying their collective intellectual capital (which is formidable) towards a solution to the problem, rather than fighting over the table scraps of the global hydrocarbon economy while vainly trying to insulate themselves from the larger consequences.

This kind of foolishness needs to stop.

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