I've been listening to Tony Snow's White House Press Briefings for the last month on my iPod, and it's been particularly interesting to hear how he deals with complicated grand strategy questions as the mouthpiece for the President of the United States. Of course, the questions aren't phrased in that language, but the long term strategic interests of the United States are at the heart of the question, so the listener can tell how Tony is thinking about them in order to formulate his responses. There's been a lot of movement in this regard over the last year to keep a player like me interested, and Tony's deft handling of it impresses and entertains me as well.
The key to American hegemony has always been our economic dominance. That economic dominance creates our technological edge and ensures that military superiority is always within our reach. The economic dominance that has been our engine must run on energy, so the energy economy is of the highest importance to assure. With the current givens, we have a short to medium term need for oil to power our economy, since alternatives will take time for transition. In order to stay on top, we need to ensure that the last barrels of cheap oil are used by Americans - hence our heavy military presence in the Middle East. However, petroleum is a painfully limited resource, and one which carries a heavy environmental cost in the form of greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately the climate crisis will largely be addressed by the necessity born of our transit through the last years of cheap oil. We will be pushed away from petroleum by limited supply concurrently with the final conclusion of the climate change debate. The global warming skeptics will only be silenced when there is relatively little money to be made from using the planet in this way, thereby drying up the bribes for dishonest science.
In the longer run we need oil alternatives, and the ravages of global warming will have us looking to non-carbon-based solutions rather than coal. Currently, there is only one solution in wide use - nuclear power. This brings us to AfriCom (that's how I hope it will be labelled), the newly proposed centralized command infrastructure for the continent of Africa, taking that continent out of the purview of CentCom. This change perked up my ears because it certainly appears that we currently believe we have very little national interest in Africa. The "dark continent" is one that we have largely ignored, doing our best to turn a blind eye - even to genocide. They are, however, rich in resources for which we will one day have considerable use. Niger is the third largest producer of uranium, behind only Canada and Australia, who will be easy to control because of their proximity and cultural ties, respectively. Just as we have historically gamed the Middle East to our advantage, it looks like we are poised to do the same to Africa. Hopefully we can avoid occupations in the process, eh?
Finally, look at our changing relationship with India. A number of months ago our diplomatic ties led to a nuclear deal with India that raised my eyebrows. We gave them some number of verifiably inspected civilian reactors, but the agreement also allowed them to transition some of their existing reactors to exclusive military use. In a nuclear-armed nation, I'm sure you can understand what the military will use them for. Sure, the nuclear agreement has negative consequences worth mentioning - namely the arms race it will engender with Pakistan, a poor, unstable Muslim country with a terrorism problem - and we get almost nothing from the deal, but from the Grand Strategic perspective, it may make sense. We establish a closer and friendlier relationship with India, "the largest democracy in the world" as Tony refers to it, to act as a bulwark against our two fairweather friends and future competitors in the region, Pakistan and more importantly China. We already have natural ties with India, since they are the "largest Democracy in the world," so we reinforce those sympathetic ties with a nuclear agreement that "gives away the farm" as only a friend would. They owe us.
There are no real conclusions to be drawn from these observations, other than that I am now convinced that someone up there is giving serious thought to the long term risk game. Let's hope an unintended consequence of their plans doesn't inconvenience me.