WHILE WASHINGTON is preoccupied with curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, avoiding policy failure in Iraq and cheering the "forward march of freedom", the political consequences of recent structural shifts in global energy markets are posing the most profound challenge to American hegemony since the end of the Cold War. The increasing control that state-owned companies exercise over the world's reserves of crude oil and natural gas is, under current market conditions, enabling some energy exporters to act with escalating boldness against U.S. interests and policies. Perhaps the most immediate example is Venezuela's efforts to undermine U.S. influence in Latin America. The most strategically significant manifestation, though, is Russia's willingness to use its newfound external leverage to counteract what Moscow considers an unacceptable level of U.S. infringement on its interests. At the same time, rising Asian states, especially China, are seeking to address their perceived energy vulnerability through state-orchestrated strategies to "secure" access to hydrocarbon resources around the world. In the Chinese case, a statist approach to managing external energy relationships is increasingly pitting China against the United States in a competition for influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and oil-producing parts of Africa.