"Each of (the) fears about oil supplies is exaggerated, and none should be a focus of U.S. foreign or military policy," write professors Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press in the policy analysis from the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.
Much of the fears are centered on the concepts of peak oil, instability among oil-producing nations, competition for a finite resource from countries such as China and India, and supply disruptions in producing countries. Those who back these theories, the writers say, support U.S. efforts to stabilize -- or, alternatively, democratize -- the politically tumultuous oil-producing regions or call for U.S. military presence to enhance stability in those regions.
"Our overarching message is simply that market forces, modified by the cartel behavior of OPEC determine most of the key factors that affect oil supply and prices," they say. "The United States does not need to be militarily active or confrontational to allow the oil market to function, to allow oil to get to consumers, or to ensure access in coming decades."
They dispel the models used to predict peak oil as "dubious" and say that in unstable regions "investment to reduce the costs of finding and extracting oil is a better response to that political instability than trying to fix the political problems of faraway countries.
"Furthermore, Chinese efforts to lock up supplies with long-term contracts will at worst be economically neutral for the United States and may even be advantageous."
They warn, however, that the main danger from China's energy policy is U.S. fears may become a self-fulfilling prophecy of conflict with China.
The writers say that political instability in the Persian Gulf region poses few dangers and the U.S. military presence there adds to the problems rather than solves them.
Gholz is assistant professor of public affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and Press is associate professor of government at Dartmouth University.
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