on August 30, 2010
The problem with this book, like most other economics books that include figures and predictions, is that it becomes old fast. For instance, in 2008, China was the fourth largest economy in the world and Klare predicted it would become the second largest in a decade or so. China overtook Japan to become second largest economy, behind the US, last week.
This said, despite the outdated figures, the book's main arguments remain intact and applicable today.
Rising Powers opens by introducing the link between energy-producer states and energy consumers, and shows how such links have defined the geopolitics of the world ever since fossil fuel became centerpiece in the life of civilization, more than two centuries ago.
The continuous consumption of fossil fuel was based on the assumption that oil companies will keep on discovering new sources at a pace faster than that of the demand. Apparently that turned out to be false as companies seem to have discovered them all. Klare argues that out of 116 giant oil fields that supply the world with most of its demand today, only four were discovered in the past quarter of a century.
Not only the globe has surveyed and tapped most of its oil resources, demand for oil has skyrocketed with the transformation of the economies of the world's two most populated countries, China and India, from agrarian to heavy industrial.
Meanwhile, after having conceded its oil and natural gas resources to private firms in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, with its former President, and now Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, came back. Employing some arm-twisting and other illicit tactics, Putin nationalized the oil and gas firms, and monopolized them in the hands of the state. This gave Russia immense geostrategic power, and Moscow has been keen on using it in countering America's attempts to tap hydrocarbon resources in the former Soviet republics, especially in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
Klare identifies three world regions for fossil fuel production: Africa, the Capsian Sea and the "American Lake" or the Middle East. He argues that the race over tapping oil resources around the world has created two main proto-blocs. In the first is the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kazakhstan, among others. In the second is Russia, China, Iran, Sudan Uzbekistan, Armenia and other countries.
While not an imminent threat yet, Klare believes that the politics of Great Powers arming their energy-producing allies is a dangerous game, especially when mixed with populist politics of nationalism.
He concludes by writing that the energy race has been straining the environment, leading to global warming and slowing economies. Instead, Klare argues - albeit naively - that oil poor America and China should not be competing but rather complementing each other's quest for alternative, clean and renewable sources of energy.
In this, Klare fails to notice that only because both America and China are oil poor, does not mean that they will cooperate to discover alternative fuel. Telling from history, in such situations, it will be the race toward alternative energy that would ultimately result in finding a solution. And, also from history, whichever nations arrives at the breakthrough of discovering energy that is alternative to fossil fuel first will thereafter enjoy the reaps of its discovery and rule the world for decades to come.