PARIS – For some time now, a certain strategic vision has been gaining traction: the United States is becoming energy-independent, paving the way for its political retreat from the Middle East and justifying its strategic “pivot” toward Asia. This view seems intuitively correct, but is it?
Energy-hungry America has long depended on the global market to meet domestic demand. In 2005, the US imported 60% of the energy that it consumed. Since then, however, the share of imports has decreased, and it should continue to do so. The US is expected to become energy self-sufficient in 2020, and to become an oil exporter by 2030.
This scenario would grant the US three enormous advantages. It would enhance US economic competitiveness, especially relative to Europe, given the lower costs involved in the extraction of shale gas. It would also reduce America’s exposure to growing unrest in the Arab world. Finally, it would increase the relative vulnerability of America’s main strategic rival, China, which is becoming increasingly dependent on Middle East energy supplies.
These facts obviously need to be taken seriously, but their implications for US foreign policy in the Middle East should not be too hastily drawn. Above all, though energy dependence is a key element of US policy in the region, it is far from being the only factor. Israel’s security and the desire to contain Iran are equally important.