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Can The U.S. Steal Gas Market Share From Russia?

Though Russia has historically maintained…

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Natural Gas is Sticky

Richard Morningstar, the U.S. envoy for Eurasian energy, spoke before a Greek delegation on the importance of a diverse, but interconnected, global energy market. Morningstar's interests lie predominately in European energy security, diplomatic-speak for easing the Russian grip on the regional energy sector. Energy, however, is not a zero-sum game, he said. That's in part because somewhere between the lines, he was speaking of a grand strategy for interdependence guided by U.S. economic principles.

Morningstar spoke before delegates in Greece, which recently had even Iran saying its debt was too bad to deal with. Morningstar's presence in the region usually marks some sort of development in the regional natural gas sector, specifically the geopolitical aspects behind decisions on oil and natural gas pipelines. In the 1990s, he helped spearhead the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and, in 2009, he represented the United States during the signing of an intergovernmental agreement on the much-lauded Nabucco natural gas pipeline planned for European consumers.

This trip, he spoke of the pressing need for diversity in an interconnected energy market. He warned that pipelines like BTC and Nabucco may sometime in the future "become somewhat archaic." In theory, that means bad things for a U.S. foreign policy based on what geopolitical scholar Walter Russel Mead dubbed sticky power -- "attracting other countries to the U.S. system and then trapping them in it." Much like the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II, sticky power works because even though the United States isn't always the global superpower, its economic principles are defined largely in global terms. Integration into the global system means U.S. economic influence, for all intents and purposes, is geopolitical flypaper.

"We have an interest in an economically strong Europe," said Morningstar. "Europe has a major interest in an economically strong United States."

Morningstar said that while Washington has a keen interest in natural gas, whether it comes from the Caspian region, Iraq, the Mediterranean and even Russia, none of it would ever get to the United States. It's still important, he said, because natural gas, like oil, is a global commodity. Immanuel Kant, more than 200 years ago, foreshadowed the notion that the denser the network of connections, the more stable the system becomes. With sticky power, the United States can sustain at least some semblance of hegemony with little effort by ensuring its political economy is influential at the global level. Energy is no different.

Morningstar said the most important thing Europe can do with its energy is make sure it's connected. While he was speaking in large part about pipelines like Nabucco, he may have been making grand statements about sticky power. Energy, he said, is a zero-sum game where no single entity emerges as the decisive winner, but that doesn't mean there can't be a leader.
 
"There are multiple pots of gold in the Eastern Mediterranean," he said. "If equitable solutions are found, all will gain. If not, nobody will reap the full benefits."

By. Daniel J. Graeber of OIlprice.com




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