Pipelines and Global Political Center of Gravity Alternatives

Geopolitical Short Papers

Pipelines and Global Political Center of Gravity Alternatives

George McMillan
George McMillan
Founder and Head of Research

Tue January 30, 20244:09 PM EST6 Minute Read

Last Updated: Thu February 29, 20243:31 PM EST

Introduction—Cold War History of Soviet Oil and Natural Gas Pipelines

The indication that Russian oil and natural gas shipped by pipeline is the biggest threat to geopolitical realignment can be seen in the reaction of the United States to Russia developing its oil and gas fields in the Caspian, Ural, and Arctic regions in the 1950s, and throughout subsequent decades constructing pipelines to the Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern and Central Europe. As anticipated, the logical extension of the pipelines protruding Westward would be not to route them through the Warsaw Pact countries but through neutral Austria into Southern Germany from the Southern branch of the Druzhba Pipeline from Poland to East Germany; and to West Germany from the Northern branch of the Druzhba pipeline.

Following Mahan’s differentiation of “production” and “wealth,” petroleum production does not become wealth until it is traded for goods that a country wants but does not produce. In this case, the Soviet Union wanted convertible Western currencies so they could buy products and reverse-engineer them to drive innovation in domestic production.

“Russia Will Freeze and Invade Europe”

The West always put forth the narrative that the Soviet Union could blackmail Western Europe by shutting off the pipelines during the Winter. But that threat diminishes when one considers that if Western countries maintain the minimum three-month strategic petroleum reserve as they are supposed to, then they would have plenty of time to buy energy supplies elsewhere, albeit at a higher price. So why are they discouraged from buying as much oil and natural gas as they can at a lower price?

The answer as to why the US is so strongly opposed to its Western European allies buying cheaper Russian oil and gas via pipeline lies in the logic of the Instruments of National Power—that is, the way a nation’s power is measured. The two primary measures are PMESII and DIME: the Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructural, and Informational (PMESII) effectiveness of a country, and the Diplomatic, Infrastructural/Informational, Military and Economic (DIME) measures of effectiveness.

While acronyms are sequenced to create the best pneumonic device for the sake of memory, the behavioral reality is that humans always employ armed guards to protect their critical investments. People know, just as in Solow-Swan models, that infrastructural investment and integration promote economic integration and expansion, which almost always culminates in enhanced diplomatic and military alliances.

In 1973, after the Yom Kippur War, the US and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) left the Bretton Woods gold standard and shifted to the floating petrodollar system, necessitating the US to maintain the petrodollar trading scheme at all costs. Since the 1973 Petrodollar was agreed to by the US and the KSA, with OPEC accepting the arrangement in 1975, the US relied on the global petrodollar demand to finance its yearly budget deficits.

It might have taken a few decades, but since the Global War on Terror (GWOT), US budget deficits have risen from $5 trillion to almost $34 trillion. As the US national debt rises, the more important the external use and demand of the US dollar becomes to externalize inflation to the rest of the world and prevent it domestically. In short, the external demand for the petrodollar keeps the US from experiencing Weimar Republic-style hyperinflation.

The Post-Reagan Budget Deficits

After the increases in national debt during the Reagan administration and the profligate spending in the post-GWOT Bush and Obama administrations, the original reason for the US to prevent its European allies from buying cheap Russian oil and natural gas shifted beyond the initial DIME integration concerns to the potentially catastrophic mass exodus of its allies from the petrodollar in their energy purchases. In 2023, the US reached a new milestone in debt and budgetary allocations: It has accumulated approximately $34 trillion in debt, plus three or four times that in unfunded social service mandates and future pension liabilities. The continued success of the petrodollar system is now paramount.

As mentioned in a previous article, and as will be restated in future articles in this series, there is no way the US can (a) allow cheap oil and natural gas from Russia to be shipped to any ally in Europe or the Pacific Rim, or for (b) the end user to pay directly in rubles, cutting out the Wall Street middle man and thereby undermining the petrodollar system. The US, to maintain its superpower status and avoid Weimar Republic-style inflation, must focus on preventing its allies from infrastructural DIME integration occurring with Russia, and its allies from paying in foreign currencies.

The US-UK-NATO Counter Strategy of the 1990s

US hegemony depends on maintaining Western Europe as an Atlantic ally and Japan and South Korea as Pacific allies to keep the global economic and political center of gravity centered in Washington and London. The more one understands the DIME instruments of national power in conjunction with the Five Power Center Doctrine of George Kennan (see John Lewis Gaddis’ 1982 book Strategies of Containment), the more one will understand the drive of US foreign policy.

The alternative, should the US allow Russian oil and gas to be delivered by pipeline to Western Europe, is that the global political center of gravity will be shared between Washington and London, and Berlin and Moscow, leaving Beijing isolated. However, by thwarting Russian oil and gas delivery by pipeline to Western Europe and trying to isolate both Russia and China simultaneously, the US has instead compelled Russia and China to integrate.

In its attempt to maintain its sole superpower status, the United States is risking its financial well-being and that of its allies. This could quite possibly chase its European and Pacific Rim allies into the safety of the expansive Russian oil and gas network. 

In Terms of Geopolitical Theory

It is important to understand the DIME measures of national diplomatic, infrastructural, economic, and military power relationships in the context of post-Mahan sea power-versus-sea power and post-Macinder sea power-versus-land power geostrategic theories.

In terms of Mackinder’s geopolitical theory, it is important to understand that Russia is in the “heartland” of Eurasia and is pursuing a Haushofer-style “land power” integration of Eurasia. Meanwhile, China is using both a strategy of land-power integration in Eurasia via its original Silk Road Initiative, and a sea-power strategy with its maritime Belt and Road Initiative.

In contrast, the US and the UK appear to be employing a Spykman-based “sea power” divide-and-conquer strategy to thwart the global economic and political center of gravity shifting to a Berlin-Moscow and Moscow-Beijing-centric one. However, by trying to maintain sole superpower status with full-spectrum dominance, the Anglosphere risks a shift to this very global center of gravity in Berlin-Moscow-Beijing, especially if the Alternative for Deutschland Party defeats Olaf Scholz in the upcoming election cycle in Germany.

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About the Author

George McMillan
George McMillan
Founder and Head of Research

As the Founder of the G3Strat Group, he combines business acumen with military precision to guide companies in risk resilience. With over a decade of experience, he has held multiple roles in security, intelligence, and training. His expertise includes risk assessment, national security, operational planning, and intelligence analysis.

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