The United States' military spending and priorities would be drastically different if the country were no longer dependent on imported oil, according to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson.
“We have spent both in national treasure and in lives a tremendous amount of our defense establishment as a result of protecting the flow of oil,” Jackson said.
The United States military has been involved in two wars in the oil-rich Middle East and actively patrols and monitors oil shipping routes throughout the world. Energy independence could change both arrangements, Jackson said.
Jackson recently retired after 36 years of service, most recently as commander of Marine Installations West, which includes all Marine Corps bases in the western United States.
While oil is only one of many reasons the United States is involved in wars half a world away, Jackson said the fuel has a dramatic effect on how the country handles those conflicts.
“We would look at it differently if the Western nations were not so reliant on fossil fuels,” Jackson said. “It would allow us to take a more balanced look at our foreign policy.”
The United States spent $7.3 trillion defending the Persian Gulf from 1976 to 2007 and is now spending $50 billion a year securing access to Middle Eastern oil, according to a 2010 study by the Milken Institute.
Even if the United States were self-reliant, the country likely still would be heavily involved in the Middle East, Jackson said. But the focus could be more diplomatic and less militaristic.
“The negotiation table would help us solve more problems in the Middle East than our conflict because we wouldn't have something vital to the American and Western economies that we are trying to defend,” he said. “It would significantly reshape our foreign policy with respect to the Middle East.”
In the long term, Jackson prefers renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass, but he said those options are still many years away from replacing oil in the United States.
“We're talking about a generational problem,” he said. “Renewables are not going to solve this problem today. My first concern is to reduce the cause of the conflict overseas by reducing our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Then we should develop more efficient, cleaner uses of fuels.”
While North America may soon produce its own energy supplies, the United States would still be at least somewhat tied to the Middle East as long as European allies are dependent on Middle Eastern oil, Jackson said.
“I don't think we've put the level of effort into this that we should. The Secretary of Defense has said we should make the defeat of the IED (improvised explosive device) be the Manhattan Project of our time,” Jackson said.
The Manhattan Project was the effort to develop a nuclear bomb and end World War II.
“My reflection is that the Manhattan Project of our time should be getting off a reliance of fossil fuels (in the Middle East),” Jackson said. “That would lead to the defeat of the IED.”