In Europe, dependence on Russian oil and gas reduces the willingness of key governments to sanction Russia significantly. If, however, the United States opens itself up to exporting its natural-gas and -oil production (which currently is quite limited) and builds the infrastructure to deliver in massive quantities, Russia will face stiff economic competition and even deeper drops in energy prices. That will compel the Russian government to look into ways to diversify its economy, which will probably result in the necessary emergence of counter-elites to Putin and the government-controlled oil and gas industry. Such competitive economic pressure may well nudge Russia in a more responsive and accountable direction as a government, while simultaneously bolstering the U.S. economy, reducing further our already weakened dependence on foreign energy and stabilizing longer-term relations between Russia and Europe, as well as Russia and the United States.
As each of the above steps is taken, organizations like ISIS that rely, at least in part, on energy-based income, will be weakened as well, simply because the price they will be able to command for their oil production will have dropped to a point that, given their inefficient production, may make it impossible for them to produce greater revenue than it costs to extract petroleum.
Finally, all of this can be done in a manner that improves the environment and reduces global warming. Natural gas, for instance, is abundantly available and cleaner than burning coal or petroleum. What is more, technology for other energy sources is improving as well, providing other means to reduce dependence on Russian energy in Europe while finding more efficient means to produce alternative fuels. Greater demand for energy as Europe’s and China’s economies recover will help spur private-sector spending on more efficient production of clean energy. Our bet is that when, for instance, there is an automobile that costs under $25,000 and can travel about 150 miles (roughly 250 kilometers) on a single battery charge—with substitute batteries available at “filling” stations—then there will be a cascade away from gasoline-powered cars and toward cleaner energy cars (or the automobile and energy industries will find ways to produce much more efficient fossil fuel–powered vehicles). Thus, national security and environmental well-being can go hand in hand with solving major disputes without the use of force. The United States is the indispensable nation that can help make all of this happen.
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Julius Silver Professor of Politics and Director of the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at NYU.
Kiron K. Skinner is director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for International Relations and Politics and research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Along with Serhiy Kudelia, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and Condoleezza Rice she is the author of Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin.
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