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Energy and American Power: Farewell to Declinism

Author: Thomas E. Donilon, Distinguished Fellow
June 15, 2013
Foreign Affairs

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Energy is a profoundly important aspect of U.S. national security and foreign policy: the availability of reliable, affordable energy is essential to economic strength at home, which is the foundation of U.S. leadership in the world. Scarce resources have driven both commerce and conflict since time immemorial -- and still do today. Energy supplies present strategic leverage and disposable income for countries that have them. The challenge of accessing affordable energy is shared by people and businesses in every country -- young democracies, emerging powers, and developing nations -- allies and adversaries alike. Disruptions in supply in one location can have global economic impacts.

Energy shapes national interests and international relations. It influences politics, development, governance, and the security and stability of the environment. For all these reasons and more, increasing global access to secure, affordable, and clean energy is a national interest of the United States and a top priority for those of us entrusted with U.S. national security. Two recent developments have changed Washington's approach toward energy: first, the substantial increase of affordable energy resources within the United States affects the country's economic growth, energy security, and geopolitical position. Second, climate change, driven by the world's use of energy, presents not just a transcendent challenge for the world but a present-day national security threat to the United States. Both forces should push the United States and other countries toward cleaner, more sustainable energy solutions.

The current optimism about the U.S. energy picture is a relatively new development. Even as recently as 2008, when President Barack Obama took office, energy experts predicted that the United States would need to double its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) over the next five years. However, thanks to U.S. innovation and technology, nearly all of those estimates have been turned on their head. U.S. oil consumption peaked in 2005 and has been declining since and alternative energy sources are being developed.

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