Conclusions from the Georgia war

Georgia was simply not a defensible route for Europe to energy independence from Russia. Nor could it have been for years more, and because of its remoteness, and unless Turkey wished to have a very active role in NATO (which seems unlikely) then it was bound to stay indefensible for as long as Russia manages to keep up its military (i.e., for the foreseeable future).

Therefore Europe has two choices: become a satellite of Russia, or pursue alternatives to natural gas and oil from Russia.

To save Europe from subservience to Russia will require the development of new energy sources. Geopolitical plays can only work if backed by willingness to use superior military firepower. Europe clearly lacks the necessary military superiority and will-power, therefore only new nuclear power plants, and new non-Russian/non-OPEC oil and gas sources qualify in the short- to medium-term.

So, ramp up nuclear power production (as that's the only alternative fuel with a realistic chance of producing enough additional power in in the short- to medium-term). And, of course, build more terminals to receive oil and LNG tankers would help.

But any oil/gas to be received by tanker terminals have got to come from somewhere (and Russia's has got to have an outlet other than Europe). It would help enormously if new oil sources outside OPEC and Russia could be developed, as new friendly supplies would reduce the leverage that Russia has on Europe. That can only be Brazilian, American and Canadian oil.

Does Europe have the fortitude to try? Does the U.S. have the leverage to get Europe to try?

The big loser here is Europe. Europe now has to choose whether to surrender or struggle for independence. The U.S. probably can't force them. A European surrender to Russia will be slow, and subtle, but real. If Europe surrenders then NATO is over. Funny, that Russia is poised to achieve what the Soviet Union could not. But it isn't funny. And I suspect few citizens of Europe understand, and few that do object; anti-Americanism may have won.

The only thing Europe has going for it is that there is much less NIMBYist resistance to nuclear power there than in the U.S. Also, awareness that a power crunch is at hand, and a much more severe one probably coming is starting to sink in around the world (drilling for oil everywhere is now very popular in the U.S., for example, with very large majorities in favor; support for new nuclear power plants is bound to follow as well).

As for the environment, I don't for a second believe in anthropogenic global warming, but ocean acidification is much easier to prove, and appears to be real, and is much, much more of an immediate and dire threat to humans than global warming. Regardless of which threat is real, and regardless of how dire, there's only one way to fight global warming/ocean acidification: increase the wealth of Earth's nations, which in the short-term means producing more energy. American rivers were an environmental mess four decades ago, but today the U.S. is one of the cleanest places on Earth. The U.S. cleaned up when its citizens were rich enough that they could manage to care and to set aside wealth for cleaning things up. It follows that the same is true for the rest of the world, and if that's not enough, consider what would happen if the reverse approach is followed instead: miserable human populations that will burn what they have to to survive, the environment be damned.

Let us set on a crash course to develop new energy sources, realistic and practical ones, and let us set on a course to promote and develop international commerce like never before.

Comments:

Interesting one.

Posted by Gerald Beuchelt on August 12, 2008 at 06:28 AM CDT #

The US itself has its many short comings. Deciding between US oil and Russian oil is to choose between the devil and the deep sea for the rest of us. While it cannot be stated as the only cause, we'll not be in this position if the US were less aggressive in invading other countries, turning a blind eye towards the subversive activities of its "ällies" and setting up missile shields along the Russian border despite the fact that none of the "rogue" nations had developed a missile capable enough to reach its shores. Since the demise of the Ottoman empire, there has been no major threat to Europe from Asia, so claims of protecting Europe from them rings shallow. Commerce and balanced interests are more likely to bring in peace than military might.

Posted by Madhan Kumar on August 12, 2008 at 07:24 AM CDT #

Divert 10% of the global arms race and you can fund 100+ billion a year in water desalination, energy production. Think what a 20% or 30% could do! It boggles the mind.

Of course we all need weapons to protect ourselves from enemies that our governments and media constantly tell us are threatening us and like the Germans before us we fall for it hook, line and sinker.

Sad bunch humans are. We could do so much and yet we do the same stupid war routine all the time.

Georgia attacks south Osettia and kills a bunch for what reason? Russia responds in a heavy handed way (like "go big" isn't a Russian trademark?). What were Georgia thinking? NATO would come to their aid? Russia wouldn't "go big"? They have now lost south Osettia and Abkhazia forever and deserve it.

European energy will mostly be coal and nuclear for the forseable future. They have little else.

If you could store electricity or hydrogen cheaply then they could be independent. Just put wind and solar out in the ocean. Pity there isn't enough money for researching these problems.

Posted by Tim on August 12, 2008 at 07:25 AM CDT #

Madhan:

Throwing a hissy fit over missile shields shows shows that Putin wants to be able to threaten Europe with its nuclear weapons. But because Putin isn't the Bush you're OK with it. And yes, there are rogue nations trying to build nuclear-tipped missiles with sufficient range to reach Europe (and, if they could, any other place on Earth). Just because Iran hasn't reached that point doesn't mean we should wait until they do to react. Quite the contrary, if we deploy missile defense now then Iran might spend less effort working on long range missiles. Less offensive capability -> better, right? Ah, but I forget, it's only the American offensive capability that anyone ever wants diminished.

Tim:

France gets most of its electric power from nuclear power plants, so there is a way forward. Oil is still needed for plastics and other things besides (plus plug-in electric cars are a few years out).

Human nature is what it is. Unilateral disarmament does not work; arms races will always be part of the human landscape, at least for the foreseeable future.

Finally, I am sick and tired of all the comparisons of the U.S. under the Bush administration to Nazi Germany. There is no such comparison. But since you brought it up I suppose we have Godwin's Law being triggered and this thread ends now.

Posted by Nico on August 12, 2008 at 10:22 AM CDT #

OT, but since you brought it up...which of the following do you not believe?

1. Atmospheric CO2 concentration is increasing
2. The principal source of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration is fossil fuel consumption
3. Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration is a positive climate forcing

Posted by Dan Riley on August 12, 2008 at 01:01 PM CDT #

Dan Riley -

Your argument 3. is anything but proven. And even IF (and that is a big IF) the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration is affecting the world climate, there remain a few rather big questions: In what way? To what extend? In what timeframe?

Madhan -

No threat to Europe from Asia since the Ottoman Empire? I guess that whole Soviet thingy doesn't really count, yes? And the recent energy interruptions targeting the sovereign nation of the Ukraine are also no threat whatsoever? Or should we briefly discuss the nuclear potential of China?

Tim -

Europe's largest economy - Germany - is hellbent on destroying her energy independence by shutting DOWN nuclear power plants. But the former Chancellor Schroeder will - in his new role as Putin's personal gas ambassodor - make sure that Germany will pay their tribute to the Kremel. Not so good...

Posted by GeraldBeuchelt on August 12, 2008 at 02:04 PM CDT #

As an American citizen, I feel the US must pull out of NATO. We do not have real allies. We are on our own. Europe hates us even after my family, my people, paid in blood and treasure... a big price (COLD WAR IS ONE EXAMPLE). We do not have universal health care or the work benefits of western Europe. Let western Europe take care of itself. We need to form new friendships with others who share similar values. The anti Americanism attitudes I experienced in Europe in the 1990s, and the new renewed ones I see in German and French media makes me nauseous. Please let's leave. They want us out of there anyway. Many Americans think this way now. Please, Europe send more America hate propaganda videos. It helps us make our point.

Posted by Jim from USA on August 12, 2008 at 02:54 PM CDT #

Global warming is far from proven, and there are very many big factors in global climate that we don't understand, or that we understand at a high level, but not enough to predict. Factors such as the cycles of the Sun, astronomic cycles such as the precession of the equinoxes, the variation in the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit, the angle of declination of the Earth's axis to the ecliptic, the very many negative feedback loops in ocean currents, winds, various climactic patterns, vegetation, the points at which those loops break, and the systems that replace them when they do.

But ocean acidification is much easier to measure and predict, as are its consequences.

And yet, here's a prediction based on human history: only more wealth will lead to a clean-up. Nothing more will do.

Posted by Nico on August 12, 2008 at 04:22 PM CDT #

I don't think nuclear power is it for europe, since europe does not have much uran. So we have to import it from ... russia.
The next point against nuclear power is cost. No electric power company is planing nuclear plants, since they will not get state subsidies for building the plants like in the seventies.
I would like to see a cooperation with the sahara states for energy from the sun. But this will not supply a noticeable percentage of europe's energy in the next 20 Years.
The NATO problem is that we don't see anything good coming from war in europe. The rocket shield is a subsidy for american companies, since it will never work. The technology is just as mature as the fusion power generator: We know now, it is feasible, but do not have a working prototype, not to mention a deployable product.

Posted by Knut Grunwald on August 12, 2008 at 10:23 PM CDT #

Knut -

The argument about uranium lacks merit: using modern high-temperature, gas-cooled breeder technology, you can breed nuclear fuels from otherwise unusable isotopes. And if the 70s, 80s, and 90s had not been littered with brain-dead anti-nuclear 'movements', we would have a mature thorium-based fuel cycle at this point. It is now up to the people of Europe (but also the rest of the world) to make good on these most unreasonable, ideology-fueled delays in improving fission technology. In the long, run, we must obviously harness controlled fusion to achieve a long-term sustainable energy economy.

Cooperation with the saharan countries is obviously out of question at this point in time. Complex installations such as massive solar powered plant and the necessary advanced transmission networks can not be built and maintained in a region where civil war, genocide, and state-sponsored racism, terrorism and apartheid are rampant. Prior to economic integration (or MAYBE in lock-step with), the Magreb MUST disarm ideologically and transform into a much more open and enlightened (in the sense of European 16-17 century) society.

European adversity to war is historically understandable, but unbelievably naive. The E.U. was only able to create their system of intergovernmental cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution under the protection of NATO and the U.S. nuclear shield. Abandoning the protection of the U.S. would require Europe to create their own defensive AND offensive capabilities. I cannot see that Europe is either capable or willing to do just that. Without protection from external military threats and a credible deterrence potential, Europe will falter at the first sight of a unfriendly jet or tank.

Posted by Gerald Beuchelt on August 13, 2008 at 02:55 AM CDT #

@gerhard
High temparature reactors may solve the supply problem, but do they solve the cost problem ? Taking into account all costs for nuclear power plants, there is no cost advantage to i.e. wind. This excludes the cost for storage of the atomic waste.
I don't know, if using high temperature reactors shifts the cost to the better.

The political problems with the Magreb is correct. Since the distance to the european power network is short, it would be feasible, if they produce power for their own use and want to sell the over production, since the investment would be neglectable. I don't see that in the near future.

The european military forces are good enough as a defence. I don't see any aggressor, which is capable of making war to europe and succeed, except the united states. I don't think the usa will fight against europe with arms.

Posted by Knut Grunwald on August 13, 2008 at 05:06 AM CDT #

@Nico

Make no mistake, I am not saying Russia's action is applaudable - it is far from it. But some US actions provide the lame excuse and rhetoric that politicians are good at exploiting.

On the missile capability of nations like Iran, I'd take them with a grain of salt - where are the WMDs that Iraq developed? Or where did the Anthrax stuff come from? Just check some of the archives from 2001 to see how rhetoric from media clouds one's judgement. If desire were to equal action, the world would have been reduced to rubble during cold war itself.

Nuclear disarmament is something that I want everyone to do. I want my own country to start it despite being surrounded by two nuclear capable neighbours - Pak & China and having been in war with them within last 30 years.

There is nothing that changes a nation's ideology like economic concerns. It is like a constrictor killing a prey compared to an arms race which is like a shark feeding frenzy - a disorderly mess.

@Gerald,

I wouldn't count Russia as an Asian nation despite vast stretches of land. Ideology wise, it is European.

Since when did China want to conquer Europe?

What the turning-off-petroleum-pipelines teach us is to completely be independent of unreliable trading partners. Trying to resolve it with military might is to foster a new headache instead of solving the prevailing one.

It is unfortunate that NAM (remember Non-Alignment?) didn't take off, for it would have served to be an impartial mediator in a bi-polar world.

Posted by Madhan Kumar on August 13, 2008 at 06:00 AM CDT #

Ah, talk about timing!

news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080813/ap_on_el_pr/mccain_lobbyist_1;_ylt=AsxejaVYci2wqNMkdKb15hFh24cA

Posted by Madhan Kumar on August 13, 2008 at 06:09 AM CDT #

Knut -

Energy cost is to a large degree affected by scale. Nuclear energy has been quite expensive, since there was a lot of technology that needed to get researched and implemented. Today, we already have access to reasonably save fission energy and there is more already under development. If countries like Germany would actually put their investments to use (the SNR-300 fiasko comes to mind). As for the long-term storage of waste: if, and only if, western society comes to mind, the storage issues are quite solvable. Albeit not in central Europe, there are vast stretches of barely inhabited and geologically stable land in the western world available, were deep depleted mines can be used for permanent storage. This is really a matter of political and social willingness, and not one of technical feasibility. And regarding wind: unreliable, lack of availability, extremely ugly, etc. are attributes that come to mind when talking about wind for general energy production. Wind is great for niche markets, but not to supply the energy for a large, modern economy.

I am looking forward to seeing the Maghreb nations start setting up solar energy plants. With their current governments, they would likely not even be able to start the planning phase. And please do not dismiss the problem of long-distance transmission of electrical power. Even the closest highly industrialized centers in Europe are thousands of kilometers away from potential plant sites. Building a network capable of handling such a load would be extremely expensive.

The U.S. is certainly not a military thread to Europe. But seem to fail to recognize the theme of the original article: Russia is quite capable--and willing--to use military force for achieving her goals. Against a coordinated Russian attack, using conventional weapons, and perhaps a small subset of their tactical nukes, Europe--without the U.S.--would be helpless.
In addition, we have seen that Russia does also not hesitate to flex her economical muscle (energy embargo against the Ukraine) to take undue influence. A full energy embargo would send the European economy into complete disarray, and would have the nice side effect of completely disabling the small European military capabilities.

Posted by Gerald Beuchelt on August 13, 2008 at 06:35 AM CDT #

Madhan -

Russia is partly European at best... a lot of their strength and military superiority comes from her vast, practically unconquerable Asian lands. And if you go by nominal ideology, China would have be counted into the family of European nations, as well.

I have never said that China indicated interest in conquering Europe--even the USSR insisted on being entirely peaceful. At the same time, the Chinese strategic arms capability was and still is a THREAT to European interests--at home and abroad. That was the starting point that you took when saying that there was never a THREAT from Asia since the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Posted by Gerald Beuchelt on August 13, 2008 at 06:46 AM CDT #

well, I'm not sure how it's possible to lend credence to ocean acidification without doing so for global warming: excess CO2 is causing both. Or neither, if you choose to interpret data that way.

Posted by A Sea Change: Imagine a world without fish on August 13, 2008 at 11:43 AM CDT #

Excess CO2 can cause one and not the other. And one of the two supposed problems is much easier to establish as such than the other. You're assuming that excess CO2 -> global warming, but that's really hard to establish given all the factors I mentioned. The assumption that excess CO2 -> ocean acidification too is marred by a variety of factors (e.g., what is happening with land-side vegetation), but there should be fewer such factors. Finally, global warming is very difficult to establish, but ocean acidification is much, much easier to establish.

Posted by Nico on August 14, 2008 at 04:16 AM CDT #

Madhan: arguing with you is probably pointless given that you'd rather wait for Iran to announce and demonstrate that they have nukes and can mount them on long-range missiles before doing anything about it -- by that time, obviously, no one could do anything about it, so, which side are you on? Expected answer: "but why should the nuclear club be so small? what gives the U.S. and so on the right? ..." The answer to that has already been given but is worth repeating: when it comes to nukes deterrability and intentions matter enormously, so not just anyone can have them.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament means that deterrence no longer works. Intentions can change. Therefore unilateral nuclear disarmament is a disastrous policy.

Only omni-lateral nuclear disarmament could work. I just isn't likely.

And, of course, deterrence works only if there's not much room for plausible deniability. Which means the nuclear club of necessity must be kept small. Every addition of a difficult- or impossible-to-deter member, or of a member with declared intentions to use nukes (or both) brings us much closer the renewed use of nuclear weapons, which in turn brigns us closer to nuclear world war.

If you love man, then you must work to keep the nuclear club at its current size. If you hate man but love Gaia, you should still work towards that goal (think what a few thousand nukes would do to the environment).

I am open to the possibility that many just don't understand nuclear weapons calculus, and I understand that it's a losing battle anyways -- Doc in Back to the Future was off by a few decades as to when one would be able to buy Plutonium on street corners, but otherwise he was right. But I know too that there are many who are blinded by ideology or by hatred. You can't often tell the difference though, since all tend to use the same rationales.

Posted by Nico on August 14, 2008 at 04:41 AM CDT #

Nico,

In your response you give a laundry list (of varying quality) of reasons for uncertainty about AGW. But what you wrote in your original post didn't sound the least bit uncertain--you dismissed it as not worth a second of your consideration. I don't see how you get from the former to the latter--or have I misunderstood?

Nico and Gerald: I didn't (and wouldn't) claim any of the points I listed are "proven".

wrt the wealth argument, I partly agree, but getting the rest of the world rich enough that they can afford the (relative) luxury of a clean environment is more a question of the median than the mean, and raising the mean doesn't necessarily raise the median.

Posted by Dan Riley on August 14, 2008 at 10:18 AM CDT #

Dan:

I'm not saying that AGW cannot possibly be real, only that I don't believe it (I wrote "for a minute").

The distinction may seem minor, but it is a meaningful one. Show me enough evidence, accounting for the many factors I mentioned (and probably many others I'm not aware of but which scientists might be) and I'll change my mind.

The problem is that we lack quality observations of things like solar energy output (and, I suppose, spectrographic distribution) over centuries, millenia, but we know that it does vary (see Maunder Minimum) -- we just don't know what the cycles are nor why those cycles exist.

Some scientific problems are simpler than others. Ocean acidification strikes me as much easier to show than AGW. Whether OA is anthropogenic or not will matter for estimating future rates of acidification, but if it's happening fast enough we'll have to do something regardless of origin.

As for wealth, China is growing at enormous rates. So is India. China is probably one to two decades out from caring about the environment. The reason they can grow so fast is that they are catching up, and the technology needed has been comoditized, therefore it's cheap. Growth in mature economies is harder to come by, but those already care about the environment (though more growth is probably needed if we're going to stop burning carbon, and growth will always be needed, at least as long as populations are growing, and probably even if they aren't as long as they're not shrinking too fast).

Posted by Nico on August 15, 2008 at 04:31 AM CDT #

I think BUSH really got this wrong.
I think that CNN is not a credible news reporter.
I think the USA's biggest enemy is the clowns running it.
I think the US needs to find leadership thats not run by the military.

The US from the outside, looks much more like an emerging fascist state than Russia does.
Find good leadership, or I think the US will find itself in a real war.

BUSH is an idiot, Russia was a US ally.
Now the US has two emerging super powers that dont think too much of the its comical leadership.

USA is still the greatest country in the world, but the morons running it are changing that fast.

Now that its emerging what that Georgian President actually did to those people, it seems like the US was sponsoring an absolute psycho.
That guy is the devil, and if you not careful, he'll start a war for you, he's certainly seems to want that.

Find a leader with a brain, the candidates dont seem to have that attribute.

What are you thinking USA... how many wars to you want?

Posted by Johnny on August 16, 2008 at 04:04 AM CDT #

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I'm an engineer at Oracle (erstwhile Sun), where I've been since 2002, working on Sun_SSH, Solaris Kerberos, Active Directory interoperability, Lustre, and misc. other things.

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