Cliff May

Oil is not just any commodity. It is a strategic commodity. Our military can't move without it. Our economy can't function without it. Regimes that have large amounts of oil lying under the lands they rule enjoy unearned wealth and power. Some -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia -- use that wealth and power in pursuit of nefarious goals.

A panel of top-ranking retired admirals and generals has taken a hard look at these connections and released a report entitled "Powering America's Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security." In it, they warn that dependence on oil poses a significant national security threat -- one that is "exploitable by those who wish to do us harm."

Issued by the Military Advisory Board of the CNA (a nonprofit organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research), the report concludes that "diversifying our energy sources and moving away from fossil fuels where possible is critical to our future energy security."

"If we don't address the fossil fuel issue now," said Military Advisory Board Chairman General Charles F. Wald, USAF (Ret.), "we will see more price volatility, with steeper spikes and shorter cycles between spikes. We are already paying a penalty for not looking into the future."

The cost of oil is not measured at the pump alone. The generals and admirals note that many overseas deployments have been "defined, in part, by the strategic decision to ensure the free flow of oil, to the U.S. and to our allies." What's more, "some of the attacks on our troops and on American civilians have been supported by funds from the sale of oil."

They conclude: "Our dependence on foreign oil reduces our international leverage, places our troops in dangerous global regions, funds nations and individuals who wish us harm, and weakens our economy; our dependency and inefficient use of oil also puts our troops at risk."

They worry, too, about America's electric grid, calling it a "weak link" on which "many of our large military installations rely" despite the fact that it is "vulnerable to malicious attacks or interruptions caused by natural disasters."

Finally, the Military Advisory Board calls upon the Department of Defense -- America's largest consumer of energy -- to begin a process of energy innovation and transformation, to act as "a technological innovator, early adopter, and testbed."

All that is sensible and commendable. Where I find the report disappointing, however, is in its specific recommendations. These seem less than bold and cutting-edge.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.