America's energy revolution transforms international relations
Saudi Arabia's leaders clearly fear their own alliance with Washington is being downgraded as the Obama Administration pursues detente with Iran.
Tensions between Washington and Riyadh erupted into the open last year when Saudi Arabia declined to take up its seat on the UN Security Council and undertook a series of other carefully calculated diplomatic moves to signal its displeasure with the White House.
Such an open breach between the two close allies would have been unthinkable in 2005 or 1995 let alone 1985 or even 1975, when the United States felt its dependence on Saudi oil exports keenly.
Even more remarkably, U.S. foreign policymakers have largely ignored the protests coming from Tel Aviv and Riyadh, and forged ahead regardless.
Ultimately, it is the energy revolution that has emboldened U.S. policymakers to pursue a very different course in the Middle East.
The idea of the United States exporting fossil fuels to the Persian Gulf would have laughable five years ago. But in what has to be the supreme irony, the United Arab Emirates is now openly talking about importing cheap shale gas from the United States to meet its surging electricity demand.
Middle East oil producers are not the only countries that have been disconcerted by the shale revolution. It is also altering the relationship between China and the United States.
In effect, the two superpowers have swapped places. In 1973, the United States perceived its growing reliance on imported crude from the Middle East was a key strategic weakness, while China's rapidly developing Daqing super-giant oil field promised greater energy independence.
Now U.S. reliance on the Middle East is loosening, while China is increasingly aware of the risks of relying on importing oil from unstable parts of the Middle East and Africa via long supply routes through the straits of Hormuz and Malacca and the South China Sea.
Once again, shale, and the energy revolution more broadly, lies at the heart of the fundamental shift in the balance of power.
China's own policymakers attach the highest strategic priorities to developing their own domestic energy production (including from shale), cutting energy consumption through improvements in energy efficiency, and protecting foreign supplies by projecting diplomatic and military power into key supply regions and along supply routes.
Just like the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in the 1850s and the Middle East between the 1920s and 1950s, the North American energy revolution is remaking the world order.
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