In a speech with themes paralleling her foreign affairs work as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice spoke about an array of nations, from those in the Middle East to China during her lecture on campus yesterday.
Rice gave the annual College of Engineering Goff Smith Lecture titled “The Interface of Energy and Geopolitics,” discussing topics centered on the economic and political implications of the oil industry. Addressing a crowd of several hundred people yesterday afternoon in Rackham auditorium, Rice spoke primarily about countries that play major roles in the international oil market and how they impact the United States.
Rice served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush until 2009 and now works as a professor of political science and political economy at Stanford University.
Rice said during her tenure as Secretary of State, oil prices began accelerating and at one point reached a high of $140 per barrel. While this directly affected gas prices and indirectly impacted the availability of goods in the United States, they also had a negative effect on foreign policy, Rice said.
“During that period of time I said to my colleagues that I had never seen anything warp diplomacy like high oil prices,” she said.
Rice outlined the energy perspectives of Russia, Venezuela and the Middle East — three of five major oil exporters to the United States. Russia is currently a “commodities giant,” brimming with emerging industries that may eventually lead the Russian economy away from the oil market, Rice said. Currently, 80 percent of Russia’s exports are commodities, mostly related to oil and gas, she said.
“(In) Russia you have a significant marriage of politics, personal fortunes, political rivals, statism and therefore an economy that is based more on 19th century principles than 21st century principles,” Rice said.
Countries like Russia experience what Rice called “the resource curse” — a phenomenon that occurs when oil exporters avoid diversifying their economies. Rice said that Middle Eastern oil giants such as Iraq and Kuwait are even better examples because they are characterized by excessive reliance on oil to support their economies.
“(This dependence) is very volatile,” Rice said. “… It’s not a good thing to be so dependent on these countries.”
Rice also discussed the role of energy dependents like the United States and China, which has foreign policies linked to its oil access. Though China’s economy has experienced significant growth in recent years, Rice said the country’s vast development has made it increasingly oil-dependent.
“You can be absolutely certain that the Chinese are never going to do anything in their foreign policy — no matter how important to us or to anybody else in terms of stability — that affects their access to the oil and gas that they need to fuel their economy,” Rice said.
Any type of international energy treaty is unlikely to materialize in the coming decades because such an agreement would be unsuccessful, Rice said.
Though many Americans believe China will soon surpass the United States as a world superpower, Rice said China has other concerns it must address before any real shift in the international balance of power occurs. These issues include recent episodes of civilian dissent, which contradict the Chinese government’s claims of having a “harmonious society,” Rice said.
Similarly, the United States may face its greatest threat from within its borders due to problems surrounding immigration law and unequal educational opportunities that may hinder the country from moving forward, she said.
Andrea Olive, an adjunct assistant professor in the Program in the Environment at the University, said though she enjoyed the lecture, Rice ignored aspects of the oil trade that are closer to home.
“I’m sort of surprised that there wasn’t more discussion about dependence on oil from Canada and the major environmental ramification that’s happening in these two countries,” Olive said. “This whole decision to move away from foreign dependence has meant turning to Canada, which is still a foreign country.”