Clashes show planet heading into energy overdrive
- Argentina seizes YPF: On April 16th, Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, announced that her government would seize a majority stake in YPF, the nation's largest oil company. Under President Kirchner's plans, which she detailed on national television, the government would take a 51 percent controlling stake in YPF, which is now majority-owned by Spain's largest corporation, the energy firm Repsol YPF. The seizure of its Argentinean subsidiary is seen in Madrid (and other European capitals) as a major threat that must now be combated. Spain's foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garc?a Margallo, said that Kirchner's move "broke the climate of cordiality and friendship that presided over relations between Spain and Argentina." Several days later, in what is reported to be only the first of several retaliatory steps, Spain announced that it would stop importing biofuels from Argentina, its principal supplier -- a trade worth nearly $1 billion a year to the Argentineans.
As in the other conflicts, this clash is driven by many urges, including a powerful strain of nationalism stretching back to the Peronist era, along with Kirchner's apparent desire to boost her standing in the polls. Just as important, however, is Argentina's urge to derive greater economic and political benefit from its energy reserves, which include the world's third-largest deposits of shale gas. While long-term rival Brazil is gaining immense power and prestige from the development of its offshore "pre-salt" petroleum reserves, Argentina has seen its energy production languish. Repsol may not be to blame for this, but many Argentineans evidently believe that, with YPF under government control, it will now be possible to accelerate development of the country's energy endowment, possibly in collaboration with a more aggressive foreign partner like BP or ExxonMobil.
- Argentina re-ignites the Falklands crisis: At an April 15th-16th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia -- the one at which U.S. Secret Service agents were caught fraternizing with prostitutes -- Argentina sought fresh hemispheric condemnation of Britain's continued occupation of the Falkland Islands (called Las Malvinas by the Argentineans). It won strong support from every country present save (predictably) Canada and the United States. Argentina, which says the islands are part of its sovereign territory, has been raising this issue ever since it lost a war over the Falklands in 1982, but has recently stepped up its campaign on several fronts -- denouncing London in numerous international venues and preventing British cruise ships that visit the Falklands from docking in Argentinean harbors. The British have responded by beefing up their military forces in the region and warning the Argentineans to avoid any rash moves.
When Argentina and the U.K. fought their war over the Falklands, little was at stake save national pride, the stature of the country's respective leaders (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher vs. an unpopular military junta), and a few sparsely populated islands. Since then, the stakes have risen immeasurably as a result of recent seismic surveys of the waters surrounding the islands that indicated the existence of massive deposits of oil and natural gas. Several UK-based energy firms, including Desire Petroleum and Rockhopper Exploration, have begun off-shore drilling in the area and have reported promising discoveries. Desperate to duplicate Brazil's success in the development of offshore oil and gas, Argentina claims the discoveries lie in its sovereign territory and that the drilling there is illegal; the British, of course, insist that it's their territory. No one knows how this simmering potential crisis will unfold, but a replay of the 1982 war -- this time over energy -- is hardly out of the question.
- U.S. forces mobilize for war with Iran: Throughout the winter and early spring, it appeared that an armed clash of some sort pitting Iran against Israel and/or the United States was almost inevitable. Neither side seemed prepared to back down on key demands, especially on Iran's nuclear program, and any talk of a compromise solution was deemed unrealistic. Today, however, the risk of war has diminished somewhat -- at least through this election year in the U.S. -- as talks have finally gotten under way between the major powers and Iran, and as both have adopted (slightly) more accommodating stances. In addition, U.S. officials have been tamping down war talk and figures in the Israeli military and intelligence communities have spoken out against rash military actions. However, the Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and leaders on all sides say they are fully prepared to employ force if the peace talks fail.
Michael Klare is a TomDispatch regular, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of "The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources." To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses global energy conflicts, click here or download it to your iPod here. This piece originally appeared on TomDispatch. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.