Any hopes that volatile global oil markets would settle has been dispelled by events over the past two weeks: With OPEC unable to agree on a price target at its latest meeting, the International Energy Agency (IEA) decided to release 60 million barrels of strategic reserves. As a result, markets have little idea how to set prices. A 7 percent price drop following the IEA’s actions suggests that the market is trending downward. But while lower prices will be welcome news to consuming countries, the IEA is playing a dangerous game in seeking to influence short-term sentiment by putting more […]

With oil prices nearing $120 a barrel and Libyan exports shut down, all eyes were on the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) during their meeting in Vienna earlier this month. The International Energy Agency (IEA) had strongly urged OPEC, which produces 40 percent of the world’s oil and holds much of the spare capacity, to raise production output to stem rocketing oil prices and prevent a potential double-dip recession. That did not happen. In what Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi labeled one of the worst meetings he had attended, the proposal by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, […]

The Asan Institute for Policy Studies held its first Asan Plenum in Seoul, South Korea, from June 12-15. The plenum, which the institute plans to make an annual event, gathered representatives of the world’s leading think tanks to discuss a single global challenge, which will vary from year to year. The goal is for the dialogue to then influence the policies of the world’s governments toward the chosen issue. This year’s plenum addressed “Our Nuclear Future,” with the goal of providing “a much-needed comprehensive reassessment of safety and security issues which have crucial implications for our nuclear future.” Some 250 […]

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On June 1, Brazil approved the construction of the controversial Belo Monte dam, a hydroelectric project in the Amazon rain forest. In an email interview, Kathryn Hochstetler, the CIGI Chair of Governance in the Americas at the University of Waterloo‘s Balsillie School of International Affairs, discussed the Belo Monte dam. WPR: What is the background of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project, and what are the opposing arguments for and against the dam? Kathryn Hochstetler: The dam was first proposed in the 1970s, but it was set aside when World Bank funding was withdrawn in the face of widespread popular […]

Chile and Brazil have both been in the news in recent weeks due to massive and controversial hydroelectric projects that have provoked heated debates and large-scale protests. Both countries are struggling with the delicate issue of how to balance the need for increased energy supplies to fuel modernizing and booming economies, with important environmental concerns in cherished parts of each country — the Amazon in Brazil and Patagonia in Chile. Like most people in emerging economies, Brazilians and Chileans are unwilling to renounce a modern lifestyle that increasingly demands access to reliable and affordable energy supplies. But the controversy surrounding […]

Saudi Arabia’s recent announcement that it plans to build 16 large reactors by 2030 may have seemed incongruous in the wake of the Fukushima crisis. In fact, it actually buttresses the Middle East’s current trajectory as a major future market for nuclear energy and underscores the continuing attractiveness of nuclear power for industrially underdeveloped economies. Moreover, given the sheer size of the plan — well more than $100 billion will go to the reactors alone — Riyadh is in a position to set terms and use the project to enhance new partnerships while balancing old ones. The kingdom’s interest in […]

After almost two years of intensive lobbying by New Delhi, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) — the global watchdog of the sensitive nuclear trade — is finally considering India for membership. The issue has been incorporated as a special agenda item for discussion in the NSG plenary meeting scheduled for late June. The major member states, including the U.S., Germany, France and Britain, have all indicated their support for India’s candidacy. India’s quest for NSG membership raises serious questions for the nuclear nonproliferation regime, however. According to criteria set by the NSG, only signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) […]

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Iraq in May to discuss investments in Iraqi energy projects, among other issues. In an email interview, Marat Terterov, director and principal founder of the European Geopolitical Forum in Brussels, discussed Russia-Iraq relations. WPR: What is the recent history of Iraq-Russia relations? Marat Terterov: Russia, along with France, was one of Iraq’s closer allies during the 1990s, when Baghdad was heavily isolated and subject to U.N. sanctions. Moscow frequently lent diplomatic support to Baghdad during this period, pushing for the lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq and condemning occasional U.S. and U.K. airstrikes […]

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Russia is building the world’s first floating nuclear power plant for mass production. The plant is designed to create enough electricity for 45,000 people and will have the added ability to purify sea water into fresh water.

Things are not looking good for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The man who built arguably the most stable, authoritarian and centralized administration in the former Soviet Union is now struggling to maintain control. A forced currency devaluation last month wiped out the savings of ordinary citizens, who subsequently took to the streets, plunging Minsk into chaos. Throughout May, Belarus teetered on the brink of economic collapse, and Lukashenko was rumored to be plotting to flee the country. An emergency $3 billion loan package from Russia, technically administered through the Eurasian Economic Community, has stabilized the situation for now, but the […]

Chinese foreign investment is often considered nonideological: Dictatorship or democracy, model state or pariah — if a country has natural resources, China is an eager investor. In Latin America the characterization rings true, as China has curried favor with left-leaning governments — in Venezuela and Ecuador — and right-leaning governments — in Chile and Colombia — alike. China’s relations with Cuba are a case in point, if a counterintuitive one. On a three-day visit to the island this week, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Cuban President Raúl Castro signed 10 accords and began talks on a five-year plan for […]

The Naval War College just completed its annual Current Strategy Forum, with this year’s topic being “Energy and U.S. National Security: Vulnerability and Opportunity.” Listening to the presentations, one could not help but be struck by the “chicken and egg” relationship between access to energy and U.S. grand strategy. Which should drive the other — and what are the various options? Rising energy costs, combined with economic austerity, means that “business as usual” is no longer an option for the U.S. military. A recent study by Deloitte noted (.pdf), “Warfare and combat operations are not the only variables driving [Defense […]

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Uganda recently held talks with Southern Sudan about importing oil from the soon-to-be-independent state. Meanwhile, Sudan engaged in broad-ranging talks with two of its western neighbors, the Central African Republic and Chad. In an email interview, Jonathan Temin, director of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Sudan program, discussed the regional implications of south Sudan’s secession. WPR: How do Sudan’s sub-Saharan neighbors view South Sudan’s upcoming independence? Jonathan Temin: Historically, Sudan’s sub-Saharan neighbors, especially Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, have been supportive of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and its political wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, as well as of […]

It is time for President Barack Obama to initiate an informal, tripartite dialogue with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about stabilizing the global price of oil. Leaving the decision in the hands of speculators has not served the interests of any of these three countries. At midweek, the price, while coming down, still stood higher than $100 a barrel, with Brent crude currently trading at roughly $112 a barrel. Counterintuitively, oil producers are hoping the price descends further, because if oil gets too expensive, customers begin looking for other sources of energy. Last week, speaking […]