Pipes of peace?
Modern industry and transport and the daily lives of people are wholly dependent on sources of energy. It used to be coal and coal gas and their use for the generation of electricity; then oil took the lead and now it is a combination of many sources including nuclear energy, solar energy and natural gas. If the world operated on the basis of co-operation to meet human needs it would be a problem of selection, with due regard to suitability, local availability and safety. But capitalism, which at present dominates the whole world, is not like that at all.
The world is divided into some 150 nations, each with its armed forces, grouped in a number of alliances, each pursuing policies designed to further the interests of the dominant section which for the time being controls each government. And inside each nation there are rival capitalist groups. The result is that schemes to transport energy materials from places where they are abundant to places where they are needed become over-ridden by national rivalries and military considerations. But for capitalism, these would be simple economic and technical problems.
A case in point is the planned pipeline to take Siberian gas to Western Europe and Japan. Inter-governmental discussions of the pipe-lines are ranging over the dictatorship in Poland, Russia and Afghanistan ; American foreign policy towards Europe; disarmament and the continued existence of Nato
The Russian government, which already supplies considerable natural gas to Europe, now plans to build a 3,600 mile pipe-line system from Western Siberia to European borders from which gas will be pumped to West Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland. According to the Financial Times (18 December 1981) it is estimated to cost 15 billion dollars to build and “is the biggest East-West trade deal ever”. Big orders for the steel pipes and compressor stations are to go to German and French companies though, for these latter components, some companies were relying on General Electric of USA.
Critics of the scheme, among them the American government, argue that it will make Europe dangerously dependent on Russia, thus weakening Nato. The argument came to a head when Reagan announced his policy of putting pressure on Russia (over Poland) by banning “high technology” exports and calling on support from European governments. (This would include the compressor parts from American General Electric.) The German and French governments denied the danger of “too great reliance”, pointing out that Europe will also have access to gas supplies from Algeria (which already has a gas pipe line to Italy) and Nigeria. Both governments affirmed their intention to go ahead with the agreement with Russia. The Russian interest is said to be that, with declining oil production and exports, “hard currency” revenue from the gas exports is desperately needed to finance the huge imports of grain needed because of the deficiencies of Russian agriculture and a series of harvest failures.
Japan is also involved, through negotiations to help develop oil, gas and coal resources in Eastern Siberia, to be financed by Japan, with repayment in the form of Russian delivery of the energy materials. But, according to an article in the Observer (21 February) the continuation of this scheme is now in doubt because, among other difficulties, there is conflict inside Russia between supporters and opponents.
There is evidence of a battle of bureaucrats in Moscow, with Gosplan, the supreme planning authority, and some ministries doubting whether Siberian development is worth while . . . it is said that the rate of return on inputs in Siberia is not high and very long-term. These arguments are challenged by a Siberian lobby.
To add to the complications for Japan, “China insists that the development of Siberia threatens its security”. In the meantime Japanese companies are contracting to supply pipes and pipe-laying equipment for the other project, the pipeline from Western Siberia to Europe.
While NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is under strain over conflict of interests about the Russia-Europe pipeline, it is also faced with the other possible aim of American policy, the withholding of food supplies to put pressure on Russia. The British, French, German and other governments have reaffirmed their support of NATO but some of them, particularly Germany, are complaining that the Reagan government pays too little regard to the interests of European capitalism. The British Labour Party, while supposedly committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament, also recently declared its continual support for NATO. It was of course the Attlee Labour Government which, with a complete U-turn of foreign policy, took British capitalism into NATO and embarked on massive re-armament, designed, as they said, to ward off a threatened Russian invasion of Western Europe.
The Times in a leading article “Food is Peace” (26 February) urged Reagan to disregard the lobbying of American farmers and his election pledge not to use a grain embargo against Russia, and to go all out to use food as a weapon to force the Russian government to change its policies. “Raw materials are vital strategical weapons. No raw material is as vital as food . . . The Soviet Union knows perfectly well that its dependence on our food production is a major and constant source of weakness. We should show them that we know that too”.
This is the way the capitalism of America, Europe, Russia and the rest of the powers bedevils the meeting of human needs and turns every issue into one of potential military conflict.