31
Jul

By Zachary C. Shirkey

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By most accounts the United States will soon shift from being the world’s largest importer of petroleum to being a major global exporter.

This will result from greatly increased domestic discovery and production of petroleum combined with growing energy efficiency and expanded use of U.S.-produced natural gas. While this profound energy transition is bound to have large implications for both the American and global economies, what will its impact be on U.S. foreign policy, especially towards the Middle East? Perhaps, surprisingly, energy independence will not have a large effect on American foreign policy towards this area of the globe.

The Middle East has been a vital area of U.S. foreign policy since the early decades of the Cold War. While this owed in part to America’s global policy of containing the Soviet Union, the region’s petroleum reserves have always been one of the major reasons for U.S. interest. Indeed, the United States’ presence in the Middle East has only increased in the decades since the end of the Cold War.

However, if the United States is no longer dependent on oil imports, might not its interest in the region wane?

Though growing energy independence seemingly would allow the United States to vastly reduce its role in the Middle East, this is unlikely. Despite temptations and pressures to recede from the region, the United States will continue to have a vital interest in maintaining stable global energy markets and in countering security threats emanating from that part of the world.

The case for shifting U.S. attention and resources from the Middle East is straightforward. Both Latin America and especially Asia are growing in economic and strategic importance and will demand greater American engagement. This has already been reflected in the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia.” Given that American foreign-policy resources are limited, for these other regions to receive a bigger share, other locations have to receive less. While Europe is a candidate for less attention, growing U.S. energy supplies make the Middle East a candidate as well. Simply put, energy independence seemingly eliminates the main reason for U.S. policy makers to concern themselves with the Middle East. Indeed, to the extent that U.S. policy has created enmity in the region, lowering America’s profile could have significant benefits, such as reducing popular support for groups such as Al Qaeda. Read more…

As published by The National Interest on July 29, 2013.

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