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Someone is Missing from Romney’s Foreign Policy Team

by Michael Levi
October 7, 2011

Mitt Romney unveiled an impressive list of foreign policy advisers yesterday, establishing what Josh Rogin at The Cable aptly termed a “shadow National Security Council.” Romney has created a working group to match pretty much every piece of NSC terroritory, from AfPak to Counter-Proliferation to Human Rights. There is, however, one glaring omission: unlike at the NSC, which has long had a senior director for energy, no one is responsible for energy affairs.

Does this matter? In one sense, of course, it doesn’t. Romney hasn’t neglected energy: his economic plan has lots of energy related material in it. Nor is Romney behaving all that differently from other candidates, Democrat or Republican, past and present.

But the gap is still telling. For all the use of the term “energy security”, and the frequent claims from both right and left that energy is a matter of fundamental national security and foreign policy import, the gulf between the worlds of energy and national security is massive. The energy world speaks the language of economics and, on occasion, environment; the national security world thinks in terms of interstate relations and geopolitics. They rarely intersect. When President Obama gave a high-profile speech on “energy security” this past March, energy and economics experts and reporters were all over it. People who spend their lives thinking about national security, though, barely noticed.

This isn’t just a technicality—it’s a real problem. The divide between the energy and national security worlds helps make much thinking about energy and national security incoherent. that’s true whether the subject is the consequences of China’s global quest for natural resources, the wisdom of using energy to put pressure on Iran, or the purported geopolitical implications of rising oil production in the Americas.

Bringing the two worlds closer together isn’t a panacea, but it can help, even at the campaign stage. Experts in any particular field have a habit of coming up with recommendations that ignore constraints from others. India experts, for example, tended to love the U.S.-India nuclear deal, while nuclear experts mostly hated it; few tried to bridge the various sets of interests at stake. Governments can’t quite get away with that: they tend to spend more time resolving internal conflicts as they develop actual policies. Campaigns often do the same thing, if to a lesser extent.

More important that this process issue, though, is what leaving energy out of the foreign policy basket says about how Romney—and pretty much everyone else—thinks about energy. For all the claims that energy is central to U.S. national security and foreign policy, the facts on the ground suggest that we’re a long way from that really being true.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Lou Grinzo

    This is indeed a real concern, for the reasons Michael detailed. (How he noticed in that blizzard of information that there was no energy adviser is another question entirely.)

    I would extend the discussion to climate change, the problem whose name must not be uttered (except in a dismissive or mocking way) among the most faithful voters in Republican primaries. There is no shortage of predictions of massive numbers of climate refugees as impacts cut ever deeper into places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and even Mexico. While this is certainly a humanitarian challenge, it will very likely happen frequently enough, in time, and involve enough people to also constitute a security issue.

    Lester Brown has been talking about this for some time and connecting the dots that run from CO2 emissions through water and food shortages to failed states. I hope that policymakers are smart enough to listen to people like Brown and not wind up “surprised” when such events happen.

  • Posted by David B. Benson

    Pakistan is certainly on the edge of being a failed state.

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