OIL WEALTH AS A CURSE
An exclusive club of industrial countries speaks about energy security
By Susanne Gotze
[This article published in: Neue Deutschland, 7/14/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, link to www.nd-online.de.]
The question was raised at a podium discussion in Berlin on the eve of the imminent G8 summit: What are the effects of resource shortage and the relentless energy hunger of the eight leading industrial nations on the world community?
Economic aid and energy supply were the themes of the 2005 G8 meeting in Gleneagles, Scotland. This year the sequence is reversed - concern about securing worldwide energy reserves is at the top of the agenda. Before the summit, there was agreement on a paper titled "Global Energy Security." The eight states started from the assumption that the world energy need will increase 50 percent by 2030 and investments of "billions of dollars" in the energy infrastructure will be necessary - mainly in developing countries rich in raw materials. At the forum "World Economy in Oil-Withdrawal," Elmar Altvater, emeritus professor of politics at the Free University of Berlin, explained that the energy hunger of industrial countries has little to do with economic aid: "The raw material wealth of threshold- and developing countries is more a curse than a blessing for their populations." These populations hardly benefit from the investments of foreign firms that export the produced oil to the rich North and park the profits in Swiss bank accounts. The raw material exploitation causes enormous environmental damage. Altvater criticized and questioned the legitimation of the G8 meeting. Other countries must also be brought into the boat when global energy resources are discussed.
Ulrich Benterbusch from the German ministry of economics who belongs to the German G8 staff sees this less dramatically. The world energy shortage is not a compelling reason for conflicts and exploitation but a chance for growth. Many countries profit from high oil prices, Benterbusch explained. Altvater countered that the borders in energy questions often run between rich and destitute classes, not between countries. Oil conglomerates make millions in profits through speculation on the raw material exchanges while poor sectors of the population die in Africa and people could not heat their homes last winter in the US. This is very different in the European Union, Benterbusch replied. The high profits of foreign oil conglomerates will benefit the European market.
The German representative from the economics ministry conceded everything would not run problem-free as the gas dispute between Russia and the Ukraine showed. While the decision to keep special gas prices for former eastern bloc states was right, Russia represents an uncertainty factor for the EU. A close connection must be worked out, Benterbusch said. On the other hand, the Americans view Russia as a troublemaker and consider excluding Russia from the G8 community.
For Altvater, the problem is above all the US, not Russia. With its oil greed and its balance of payments deficit, the US could endanger global peace and the stability of the world economy.