Defense Experts Affirm Importance of U.S. Energy to National Security, Including Alaska’s Willow Project

WASHINGTON—In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last week, several defense policy experts testified to the importance of domestic energy production as a critical strategic advantage for the United States relative to America’s main adversaries, China and Russia. The witnesses were responding to questions posed by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a senior SASC member, who asked whether it serves U.S. national security interests to produce more oil and gas—like the massive pending Willow Project on the North Slope of Alaska—or to seek energy supplies from the regimes in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, as the Biden administration has done. 

Sen. Sullivan also asked the expert witnesses whether it serves American interests for the Biden administration to discourage America’s allies from importing U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG). Sen. Sullivan has previously recounted conversations with senior Japanese officials who told him that White House Climate Czar John Kerry has discouraged them from pursuing the import of American LNG to meet their country’s energy needs.

The witnesses testifying before the committee were Dr. Bonny Lin, senior fellow on Asian Security at the Center for Strategic & International Studies; Dr. Fiona Hill, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Roger Zakheim, director at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. 

Below is a transcript of the senator’s exchange with the witnesses.

SULLIVAN: I'm going to turn to another topic that is all about American strategy. And that's energy. I'm glad to see Senator Manchin, Senator Mullin, they've raised this. A very memorable meeting I had many years ago with our former chairman here, Senator McCain, and a Russian dissident, a very brave Russian dissident who's now in jail, Vladimir Kara-Murza, I had asked him what more can we do to undermine the Putin regime? What more can we do to go after Putin and the oligarchs. He said, “It's easy, Senator, number one thing you can do as a country is produce more American energy.” Number one. Do you agree with that, Dr. Hill, Mr. Zakheim? American energy is a really important tool of American power to deal with great powers like Russia and China?

HILL: Well, I would say yes, writ large, together with our allies and rethinking our energy posture, so absolutely. 


SULLIVAN: Thank you. Dr. Lin, someone else who's very scared of American energy dominance is Xi Jinping. You read the reporting. It makes him very nervous. I was just in the Middle East. 60 percent of China's oil and gas goes through the Straits of Hormuz. If we're in a conflict with them, we could shut that down in 10 minutes. Is American energy dominance important for us—all the above, oil, gas, renewables, but certainly oil and gas—is that important for our competition with China? Is that something we should emphasize?

LIN: Absolutely. And China imports about 70 percent of its oil. So it is a huge dependency that China needs to work around.

SULLIVAN: And so they're scared when they look at American energy dominance. Is that correct?

LIN: Yes.

SULLIVAN: Let me ask another question. We haven't done American energy dominance. We haven't produced more American energy. To the contrary, when this administration came into office, they did three things. They immediately started shutting down their production of American energy. They immediately started shutting down American energy infrastructure. They immediately started pressuring American financial institutions not to invest in American energy. And then when the prices of energy went up on working families, they went overseas, the president on bended knee, to the King of Saudi Arabia begging for more oil, lifting sanctions on Venezuela, a terrorist regime to get more oil, and they make it harder to produce American energy here. Let me ask you this question. Assume that there was a project in America, $9 billion dollar investment, 200,000 barrels a day, 2,500 jobs to build it, 75 percent of which are union, lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, highest environmental standards in the world of any energy project. From a national security perspective, if that was in front of you right now, would you say approve it? Or would you say no, keep begging from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela? What would you do? Dr. Lin? Would you approve a project like that?

LIN: I would approve it. But I would also continue to strengthen our relations with Saudi Arabia and many of our partners. 

SULLIVAN: I agree. I agree 100 percent. But not Venezuela, right?

LIN: No, not Venezuela.

SULLIVAN: You don't need to go begging from them. Dr. Hill, would you approve a project like that from a national security perspective? That's all I ask.  

HILL: From a national security perspective, absolutely. But we also need to look at the domestic versus the export potential. Because I think you know what we've got, what we're talking about here is how much energy that the United States can also export.

SULLIVAN: Yes, 100 percent. But 200,000 barrels a day, that gives us muscle, right, from America.

HILL: Certainly in the short to medium term it does.

SULLIVAN: Yes, absolutely. Dr. Zakheim, what about you?

ZAKHEIM: I agree.

SULLIVAN: OK. Thank you. Now, final question. Assume we had a senior administration official, who goes to Asia, who cautions our allies in Asia, not to purchase clean-burning American LNG. And then tells these same Asian allies, don't help some of the other countries—ASEAN countries, for example—transition from coal to gas, make them transition from coal to wind turbines. Would that be smart American foreign policy, diplomatic policy as it relates to Asia and building our alliances? Does that make sense to any of you

HILL: No, no, but the point is that China is making huge inroads on renewables, and on green energy, including on constructing turbines. So it wouldn't necessarily be the wrong thing to do if we can also have the technology... 

SULLIVAN: China is building a coal plant a week, and in ASEAN, they want to build more coal plants. We have John Kerry, if you haven't noticed—does that make sense for John Kerry to go to Asia and warn our allies not to buy American LNG and tell the ASEAN countries you can't go from coal to gas, you have to go come from coal to windmill, which no industrialized country has ever done. Dr. Lin, does that make any sense? 

LIN: So I think one of the concerns that countries, particularly in ASEAN, but also in the Pacific Islands, have is about climate change and how that affects their national security. So I don't know what Secretary Kerry was thinking behind that. But I think from a U.S. perspective, it makes sense to encourage our allies and partners to buy American.

SULLIVAN: To buy American LNG. Dr. Zakheim?

ZAKHEIM: I associate with Dr. Lin.

SULLIVAN: Thank you. 

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