Impact of the Peaking of World Oil Production on the Global Balance of Power, USACGSC, Dec. 2011 (91 pgs)

The U.S. war colleges continue to generate insightful analyses of the potential effects of Peak Oil. Recently the U.S. Army Combined and General Staff College (USACGSC) released an excellent study by Lt. Col. GS Pascal Eggen, Swiss Armed Forces.

The key points of Lt. Col. Eggen’s analysis are summarized in the second paragraph of his Abstract:
“This research has found that the peaking of world oil production will increase the resource awareness of great powers. While oil production will decline, nations will try to preserve their high level of organization. The world politics will shift from idealism, typical of our present growing economy, to realism and offensive realism. The economic rules will move to those of a negative sum game. As a consequence, minor geopolitical players will have to align with great powers, to ensure minimal losses in oil supply. Finally, the great powers will wait until the last moment to start mitigation measures against oil depletion. Indeed, too early a transition towards new sources of energy constitutes a risk to alter their current geopolitical position.”

Lt. Col. Eggen has clearly done a good deal of research for his thesis, including examining the literature on geopolitics, system theory and oil production. He has also done plenty of thinking about the implications of a constrained supply of liquid fuel and the probable human responses to that unprecedented reality. Eggen begins each of his five chapters with a thought-provoking quotation from diverse sources such as Hirsch, Campbell, Einstein, Boulding and FDR, and his bibliography is both extensive and eclectic.

Like most military analysts, Eggen is a realist and approaches the topic of Peak Oil with prudent respect. This reviewer has yet to find a study from the military research community which dismisses Peak Oil as premature alarmism or unworthy of careful consideration. Indeed, Eggen is almost apologetic in pointing out, “The result of this research may seem pessimistic…” (p. 71).

Like the team of German military analysts who examined Peak Oil two years ago, Eggen speaks plainly. He bluntly warns that with respect to the eventual forced transition away from oil, “there is no peaceful and orderly shift to expect” (p. 68). In his section, “Timing is Everything,” he further points out that “breaking [away from oil] too soon induces the loss of some power. Pushed by consumerism, no country will take the risk … until the ceiling of scarcity is hit” (p. 68).

This does not augur well: Dr. Hirsch and others have pointed out that we need a decade or two of sustained, concerted action prior to peaking if we are to avoid its destabilizing effects. Despite the merits of proactive mitigation, the reality is that as tensions increase, there will be powerful incentives (and perhaps strategic imperatives) to hang onto the power bestowed by petroleum, however expensive, despite the longer-term risks of doing so.

Lt. Col. Eggen’s conclusions support those raised by the Bundeswehr and other analysts: “globalization will go in reverse” (p. 65), bilateral deals for oil will increase, and there will be significant risks to domestic security (in addition to the increasing potential for conflict between nations).

In summary, Eggen’s thoughtful analysis is a significant contribution to the military literature on Peak Oil. It should be of interest to senior military personnel, civilian emergency planners and civic leaders at all levels.

The link to the report is here.