Photo of Daniel Freifeld '08, Christine Parthemore, Steven Solomon, Michael Levi







On November 9, the Center on Law and Security hosted its third Open Forum of the 2010-11 school year. Moderator Daniel Freifeld '08, a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy, led a panel discussion of how resources like water and oil affect national security strategy, titled “Natural Resources and National Security: Facing the Future.”

Steven Solomon, the author of Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, spoke first about the environmental and political challenges presented by the fresh water scarcity crisis. Solomon described the crisis in simple terms: water is being used today at a faster rate than the Earth can replenish it on its own. “The grave looming danger from fresh water scarcity around the world is the increasing number of failed states,” Soloman said. “Countries that can’t produce the food, the energy that you need to maintain modern society, or even basic health are more likely to fail.” These countries, such as Yemen or Pakistan, Soloman said, can be sources of national security concerns for the United States.

Since the formation of international oil markets in the 1970s, the problems traditionally associated with national security and oil, said Michael Levi, have mostly gone away. Levi, who is the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations, raised the question of whether oil markets will persist, or be replaced by bilateral deals. “Markets do an enormously good job of attenuating the security consequences of trading oil. You don’t need to come to specific arrangements with each individual country over how you will buy and sell oil, with all of the messy politics and strategic discussion that that involves.” If countries begin negotiating bilateral deals, new security problems will emerge, and old security problems, now mitigated by markets, will reemerge.

Analytical understanding of issues like climate change is far ahead of policy implementation, said Christine Parthemore, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), where she directs the Natural Security Program. “As we go forward in building relationships with other countries and working on developing partnerships on energy and climate and natural resource issues,” Parthemore said, “[it is important] that we take work that folks like Michael and Steve have done to heart in planning approaches and helping other countries plan approaches that look at these sets of issues as comprehensive and interrelated so that we see these issues before they become really major challenges.”

Watch the full discussion (1 hr 27 min):

Posted November 18, 2010