"One must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed." – Carl von Clausewitz, On War
U.S. joint doctrine describes Centers of Gravity (CoGs) as “"those aspects of the adversary’s overall capability that, theoretically, if attacked and neutralized or destroyed will lead either to the adversary’s inevitable defeat or force opponents to abandon aims or change behavior". A CoG is further defined as "that point where the enemy is most vulnerable and the point where an attack will have the best chance of being decisive."
The bottom line is, one must defend their CoGs or risk defeat.
Just as Sun Tzu’s principles of warfare have been successfully adapted to the business world, so too can the principles of von Clausewitz. Companies too, have centers of gravity. So also do nations.
Air Force doctrine holds that in any strategic entity there exist five component parts (or rings), each of which can contain one or more CoG. These components are: leadership, organic essentials, infrastructure, population, and fielded forces. In this article we will focus on organic essentials.
“Organic essentials” can be described as those material things required for the strategic entity to function, such as food, energy, strategic materials, etc. While a high-tech nation such as the United States requires a vast array of essential minerals to maintain its standard of living, (most of which we import from other countries), two items stand out as immediate organic essentials that constitute a natural center of gravity for any nation; food and energy.
When it comes to food, the United States is fairly self-sufficient. Indeed, we export food to many nations across the globe. The “agricultural sector” is a broad-spectrum entity. Even if one component, say the poultry industry, or wheat production were to take a hit, the other sectors are more than sufficient to take up the slack. Although food production is a center of gravity, here in the United States it is a highly resilient industry, and would be very difficult for an opponent to directly attack - with the exception of the energy necessary for development, processing and transportation of food.
Agriculture depends on energy. Gone are the days when farmers plowed their fields with mules. Today, farming is high-tech, with tractors, sowers, reapers, and other mechanized methods of production. Even fertilizer, which used to come from the southern end of a north-bound mule (and other such natural sources) is highly dependent on the energy sector for its production. Nitrogen fertilizers, essential for high-yield crop production, are made from petroleum. And this doesn’t even address the issues of getting the product to market, packaging it, and shipping it to stores all over the country so that you the consumer can hop into your car and go and buy it. The common denominator here is ENERGY. Energy, that is primarily in the form of oil.
Energy is the life-blood of any highly industrialized nation. The United States is no exception. Everything we do depends on energy, from lighting, heating, and air-conditioning our homes to the production of everything we enjoy in this country - including food.
The United States meets its energy needs from many sources; oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, and solar. Some of these needs are met by domestic production, some by foreign imports. That which we produce at home is fairly secure, barring outright invasion of our land and airspace.
Of the energy sources that require natural resources occurring within the borders of our nation, the US enjoys coal and natural gas reserves sufficient to meet our consumption needs for quite some time.
Australia is the Saudi Arabia of uranium, with 40% of the world’s known reserves. Canada is the largest exporter. Although both countries are allies of ours, should that happy circumstance ever change, it is good to know that the United States has sufficient reserves that interdiction of foreign sources would cause no immediate hardship; even if we sharply increase the number of nuclear power plants in operation.
Hydroelectric, solar, wind, and geothermal are energy sources that are dependent on physical features of our country, not materials we extract from the ground. In this sense, they are “renewable” and not something we can run out of or that can be embargoed or interdicted from abroad. (Unless someone figures how to dry up our rivers, stop the wind from blowing, or shield us from the sun). With the possible exception of hydroelectric, they are also energy sources that can be considerably expanded in this country to account for a larger share of our energy production than they currently provide. All it takes is money, time, and space; lots of space in the cases of solar and wind.
Time is the critical factor.
Anything we produce or purchase overseas is subject to interdiction by hostile forces. The main energy source that fits this description is oil. According to the CIA World fact book, the U.S. consumes around 20 million barrels of oil each day. Of this over 13 million barrels are imports. The top five suppliers are Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria, accounting for 64 percent of US oil imports between them.
So is imported oil a good candidate for a U.S. strategic center of gravity? Would an “attack” there “lead to our inevitable defeat” or “force us to abandon aims or change behavior”?
Three dollar a gallon gas is pretty fresh in our minds. It has been reported in papers quite recently that a threat of action against Iran, or an interdiction of Iranian oil could cause the world price of oil to spike to $100/barrel or more. Even though we don’t import oil from Iran, the oil we do import is purchased at the world price. Any idea how 4, 5, 6, or even, heaven forbid, 10 dollar a gallon gasoline would affect the U.S. economy?
We have in the past been proponents of using embargos as a tool to force other countries to accept foreign policy objectives of ours which were contrary to their desires. Such embargos have met with varying degrees of success, particularly when used against totalitarian regimes. They tend to disproportionately affect those who have the least capability to effect change; those at the bottom rungs of society.
But what if such an embargo were used against a liberal democracy? Particularly over an issue that did not fundamentally affect the country’s continued existence? Particularly, an issue that the public at large did not perceive as one worth their suffering over?
What if it were used against us? Could even the threat of such an embargo be enough to force the United States to “abandon aims or change behavior”?
It is worth noting that China has been very busy lately buying up energy supplies.
In 1997, China signed a deal with Iraq to develop the al-Ahdab oil field. With a pre-war capacity of approximately 90,000 barrels a day, the contract was valued at around $1.2 billion. At that time the price of oil was much less than today, and China’s oil requirements were also considerably less. Operation Iraqi Freedom put an apparent end to this deal in 2003.
In December 2004, China signed an agreement with Venezuela allowing China to operate oil fields in Venezuela and to invest in new refineries. The agreement allows Chinese firms to operate 15 mature oil fields in east Venezuela, capable of producing up to a billion barrels of oil. Exports began in 2005 at around 120,000 barrels per day, with plans to increase that to 1.6 million barrels a day in 2007. During 2004, China imported 110 million tons of oil, 21% more than she imported the previous year.
In August 2005, China signed an agreement with Venezuela to develop and manage Venezuela’s Zumano oilfields, an area containing an estimated 400 million barrels of light and medium crude and 4 billion cubic feet of gas reserves. China is also in negotiations with Venezuela to help develop the Orinoco river belt, which contains an estimated 235 billion barrels of heavy crude. This oil is extremely difficult to extract and refine; estimates are that oil would have to be over $40/barrel to make it profitable to do so. Of course, oil is over $60/barrel now. In the near future, Venezuela hopes to supply 15 to 20 percent of China’s oil imports.
In February 2006, they signed a $100 billion deal with Iran, allowing a Chinese state-owned energy firm, Sinopec to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the purchase of 10 million tons of liquefied natural gas per year for the next quarter century. Sinopec holds a 51% stake in the project.
In March 2006, Russia signed a deal with China to supply up to 80 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, beginning in 2011.
In June 2007, the old deal China had signed with Saddam Hussein was revived by the current Iraqi administration in Baghdad. They have also welcomed the Chinese in for any other oil contracts to be bid in the future. A dollar value has not yet been put on the revised contract.
These are just a few of the energy deals China has struck over the past decade. They have been very active in Africa and Asia as well. In fact, it is safe to say that China’s quest for energy has been world wide, with particular emphasis in South America, Central America, and the Carribbean.
While America has largely ignored Latin America, China has been investing millions, and not just in South America, but in the Caribbean as well. Whereas the United States is viewed with suspicion by many in the region, China is building lasting relations and good will. Among other initiatives, China has poured hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money into various Caribbean nations, such as Grenada and Dominica. This money has already paid dividends; both countries have recently cut their diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As usual, the United States is doing poorly in the public relations arena. The “hearts and minds” campaign in our hemisphere may be lost before it is ever truly engaged.
Other Chinese investments in Latin America include:
China’s in-country oil reserves are very small, forcing her to look abroad for her oil. This is forcing a dependency on foreign oil as great as, or greater than our own. Currently, 58% of China’s foreign oil comes from the Middle East. By 2015 that number is, at its present growth rate, expected to increase to 70%. Oil is becoming a strategic center of gravity for China as well, one subject to interdiction by the U.S. Navy should conflict between the two countries ever occur. As of now, we have the advantage there. We could easily interdict Chinese supply lines while they can do little to challenge ours.
China recognizes this, and the strategic picture is changing there as well. China is becoming a blue-water navy, focusing on submarines and anti-carrier surface ships; building a force that is designed specifically to counter the U.S. Navy, keep its supply lines open, and interdict ours.
The main Chinese strategy seems to be to secure the energy resources it requires for both today and the future; resources that are subsequently not available to the United States, or which can be made non-available during time of increased tension or open warfare. They are taking advantage of our preoccupation in the Middle East to build bases of support in our own hemisphere, where they can also take advantage of decades of mistrust by Latin America of the “Colossus of the North”, and decades of neglect and lack of respect on our part toward the region.
They are also in the process of building the military infrastructure to defend their supply lines and investing heavily in overseas operating locations and good will. The process of doing so will, of necessity, make China a global power, much in the same way as we became such ourselves.
It has been said that the best defense is a good offence. By building the infrastructure necessary to protect its oil shipping lines from the United States, it also makes it possible for China to hold our oil shipping lines at risk. Whereas they do not have the capability to do this globally at this time, given 20 years (or perhaps less at their current rate of growth and our current lack of concern), it is not inconceivable that they could be fully capable of challenging us on the high seas. And given their current population, they certainly have more than enough manpower to do so.
However, in keeping with Sun Tzu’s observation that the ultimate in war is to win without ever having to fire a shot, perhaps we should look not so much at their growing military strength, and concentrate more on the socioeconomic aspects of their apparent strategy. It is hard to fight a war without fuel. And it is hard to project power across the globe if you are having problems in your own back yard.
“If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: ‘Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will.’ Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.” -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War