FORT WORTH, Texas – China and Russia each pose “great danger” to the U.S. as a global superpower, and the way to shore up the country’s national security is more cooperation from the federal government and the domestic oil and gas industry, said retired U.S. Army Gen.Wesley Clark.

“Today, we're in a really tough international situation, a multipolar competition with two nuclear superpowers,” Clark told a packed house at the Fort Worth Convention Center at Hart Energy’s SUPER DUG conference on May 23.

“And I don't [know] if the politicians will tell you–I'm not wearing a tie; I'm not a politician–but I'm going to tell you the United States is in great danger.”

The precarious current position of the U.S. is much of its own making, Clark said, adding that beginning in 1991, the country promoted the “rise of China.”

“We started educating its students, giving away critical technologies, opening markets…We permitted the theft of billions of dollars’ worth of technologies, including [those of] the oil business,” he said.

The idea at the time was that China would become increasingly democratic, more open and more engaged with the world.

But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, two decades of U.S. fumbles opened the door for both China and tangentially, Russia, to gain power – so much so that Russia now believes “it can take back Eastern Europe by force,” the general said.

On the ‘bubble’

The months following Russia’s February 2022 war on Ukraine has demonstrated the limits of American power, he said.

Wesley Clark
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark shared his blueprint for how the U.S. can regain its geopolitical clout during a speech at Hart Energy’s SUPER DUG conference. (Source: Hart Energy)

“Russia hasn't conquered Ukraine, but neither has its economy collapsed under sanctions,” Clark said. “This war's a long way from being done, and Europe’s energy situation is a long way from getting resolved in Ukraine.”

Russia’s weaponization of energy in its battle for Ukraine put in full view its stranglehold on EU gas supply. The net effect has disrupted global markets, spiking inflation now permeating commodities markets around the world.

"We need to get Gazprom out of Europe. We're missing the bubble on this," he said.

"We've become more and more stay-at-home," Clark said, adding that both China and Russia are developing resources around the world.

The ‘hard way’

Isolationist practices originating from OPEC’s 1970’s oil embargo still infect some policies.

"We learned the hard way then that the U.S. must move toward energy independence," Clark said. “Oil and gas production is U.S. national security. It’s that simple. It's been that way for a long time and it's not going to change anytime soon.”

Former U.S. allies are distancing themselves. Rival nations led by Russia and China are “coalescing into a rival power center,” working against U.S. interests and seeking a foothold in key parts of Africa.

Meanwhile, “we Americans are at each other in a bitter rivalry not seen since the American Civil War.”

This discord makes it more difficult for the federal government to work with the industry to promote its interests, develop resources and secure the country, he said.

And then, there’s another problem.

“Our government can’t make up its mind,” Clark said.

The Biden administration wants more oil and gas but refuses to engage domestic producers.

“Do we think we can give up on domestic production of energy and just focus on renewables, rely on friends like OPEC+? If so, we'd be dead wrong again.”

“This is the strongest, most vibrant, longest lasting industry in America. There's no replacement for it. You're on the front line of American national security. Let's win this next battle.” –Army General Wesley Clark

The ‘enemy right now’

But the industry needs "stronger U.S. governmental support" to develop international resources.

“We’ve got to understand, China wants to take over the world. This is good for us; we need a challenge,” Clark said, adding it would be good for “humanity” for the U.S. to work with China on resources and other issues.

“We're still getting job operations, we're still getting economic growth. We look pretty darn good,” Clark said. “That's what China's afraid of–that and our technology.”

Moreover, the U.S. must restore China’s respect by helping Ukraine beat back its invaders, he said.

“With Russia, they're the enemy right now. And we've got to take the risks to give Ukraine what they need to win,” he said. “This is not the American security environment of 30 years ago; it’s not the environment [in] which most of you entered the oil business.”

Clark laid out a roadmap for bringing domestic industry and the federal government together in a way that puts this complex geopolitical environment in order for business:

  • Streamlining permitting in recognition of the domestic oil and gas production that is fundamental to both the U.S. economy and global stability;
  • More investment for new technologies that locate and recover, refine and transport oil; and
  • Encouraging oil companies to be more active abroad–“not pulling back, but rather being out there seeking new sources,” Clark said.

“We need a new partnership between the oil industry and the U.S. government,” that will allow the domestic industry to roll back efforts by China and Russia to gain a foothold in Africa’s energy industry, he said.

Such an effort is key to shifting Europe’s energy supply from Russia and the Middle East to the U.S. and Canada, Clark said.

Moreover, the U.S. needs to work with China on LNG and crude exports to diminish its dependence on Russia.

“And we need to do all we can while we're doing all this to decarbonize our continuing efforts, minimize our environmental footprint. We need to capture and monetize methane emissions, sequester carbon dioxide,” he said.

That’s a mountain of tasks ahead, he said.

“But oil and gas is not going away. We need them as the fundamental underpinnings of the United States energy system, the United States economy, and really, global economic stability,” Clark said.

The oil and gas industry is not just a business that is about making money; rather, it’s fundamentally about U.S. national security, Clark said.

“This is the strongest, most vibrant, longest-lasting industry in America. There's no replacement for it. You're on the front line of American national security. Let's win this next battle.”