Russia, Iran, and the Weaponization of Energy
One of the most important lessons from World War II is this: integrated economic growth is always better than a global war that engulfed all seven continents and killed over 100 million people. Since oil, natural gas, and coal are now intertwined with geopolitics, international relations, foreign policy, realist balancing that pits nation against nation, and macroeconomic monetary policy, energy and electricity are now coupled with national security. Russia and Iran use fossil fuel, nuclear power plants, and renewable energy as weapons — hence the term "the weaponization of energy."
Confronting both countries using alliances like NATO to hem Russia and Iran into their respective regions of influence while also using soft power to coax them into using their energy resources in a positive direction is where the world is now and into the future. What's disconcerting is how Russia and Iran use energy as a foreign policy and national security weapon, the same way a nuclear arsenal is exploited to deter enemies and project national power and pride.
The largest problem with Russia is that both state-run and influenced energy firms — Rosneft and Gazprom — seemingly are beyond balancing, containing, or deterring since they are incredibly profitable. Alexei Bolshakov, general director of Citigroup Global Markets, stated in late November 2018:
They [Russian oil and gas companies] are having an absolutely fabulous year (2018 into 2019). They earn more per barrel than they did even during $100 barrel oil prices.
Another Russian senior analyst echoed these sentiments: "Russian oil and gas companies are flooded with cash, they don't know what to do with it." This allows Vladimir Putin the ability to engage in geopolitical adventures in Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, the United States, Europe, the Arctic Circle, and his own country. Oil and natural gas profits from each firm are a never-ending source of money and financial power that translate into hard, military resources used for projecting Russian power. It's as if the Cold War never ended.
The Obama administration attempted exhaustive diplomacy with Iran, and it failed. The counter to diplomacy and a helping hand in energy and nuclear weaponry is that under former president Obama, "Iran was closer than ever to nuclear weapons, received hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, and had billions in cash flown over to them in jets (illegally)."
Whichever perspective is correct, and history will be the judge, nothing was deterred from the Iranian or Middle East's perspective. Iran and its use of energy for its military, its paramilitary organizations, and Hezb'allah is more powerful than ever before. Iran is now entrenched in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon and has created an arc of influence from their homeland over multiple countries to the Mediterranean Sea. It can be argued that the Iranian regime is in the best position to counter the U.S.-led global order and can use energy with Islamic terrorism to remake the liberal world order in place for over seventy years.
While Western countries and environmentalists such as Al Gore, well known Hollywood actors, and overly environmentally sensitive political parties (the Greens in Germany and the U.S. Democratic Party) tout their green virtue, Iran is building two new nuclear plants. There isn't a solid reason behind building nuclear power plants when Iran is blessed with one of the largest supplies of natural gas, oil, and petroleum in the world. Iran is moving forward with nuclear plants under the guise of energy to electricity because it is still trying to build or acquire nuclear weapons to use against Israel; the E.U.; the U.S.; and Sunni Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.
Iran building two new nuclear reactors has elicited outrage in Washington and the Trump administration. This is a major cause — the Iran problem — of Trump's allowing and encouraging U.S. oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) firms to "drill, baby, drill" without pause. According to Rystad Energy, "[t]he United States will surpass Saudi Arabia later this year (2019) in exports of oil, natural gas liquids and petroleum products like gasoline."
This exploding E&P has caused a complete overhaul in rising U.S. natural gas consumption, and the all-time highs keep breaking records. The only thing stopping the U.S. from drilling and using oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear as natural security buffers against Russia and Iran is legislative fiats coming from federal benches that have zero basis in judicial accountability. But the world has to begin "getting real about Iran" — its murderous intentions and its brutality against women, gays, Christians, and anyone not fully supporting the revolutionary Iranian regime and government.
Since Iran is a leading member of OPEC, and has massive reserves of oil and natural gas, Iran like Russia uses its deep earth minerals and energy deposits as weapons the way NATO uses its military divisions to deter Russia. Energy is the soft economic power weapon of choice for Russia and Iran. Unless each is confronted, deterred, or destroyed, or regime change occurs, these problems will only fester. Then the continued weaponization of energy will beget a regional, international, or global war with oil, petroleum, aviation fuel, nuclear energy, and natural gas being at the forefront of who wins and who loses once shots are fired and bombs are dropped.