Sources of Power

Putin has invaded Ukraine and NATO is powerless to stop him. So is the United Nations.

As we watch events unfold, amid the various spins and debates, keep in mind that this powerlessness is intentional. Literally.

Physicists define power as the ability to do work, to move something. The heavier the object, the faster the intended movement, the more power that is required.

For millennia people have harnessed sources of power beyond their own muscle strength. Horses and oxen to plow fields and pull carts, water mills to grind grain, the occasional windmill to irrigate in a few places—these were by modern standards inefficient, but made possible farms, towns, and local sanitation. Sails moved ships, when the weather and routes permitted.

Then the West developed the sciences, including mathematically based physics, and organized chemistry experiments. Inventors and scientists explored electromagnetism. And by the end of the 19th century we had energy-dense coal warming houses and powering trains. By the early 20th century we had internal combustion engines powered by gasoline and diesel fuel—both products refined from oil—and soon travel by air and by car spread widely, as did truck transportation of important goods. Electricity drove industry, lit homes and offices, and contributed greatly to urban sanitation and significant improvement in public health.

Harnessing external energy sources was foundational to military power as well. In addition to planes, tanks, and trucks, the Allies in World War II had the key advantage of radar. During the Cold War, missiles powered by high density fuel bore the major threat of nuclear warheads.

Military power alone did not win the Cold War, however. As President Reagan noted, while the threat of devastating war held the USSR in check to some degree, it was the West’s rapid rise in economic power that finally undid the Soviet Union. The Soviet system could not begin to produce for its people the standard of living whose presence in the West could not be censored for long, nor could the Soviet system produce comfortable lives while also engaged in an expensive arms race.

Without the perceived threat of Soviet aggression, and with western Europe’s own standard of living under EU socialism falling well behind that of the United States, NATO began to hollow out. Germany was happy to have the United States fund most of NATO while allowing its own military to atrophy and playing both sides against each other. After all, it was Germany and perhaps (reluctantly admitted) France who were the civilized, polished, morally superior elites. 

One dimension of Germany’s self-identified elite status was its policies regarding energy production in the name of environmentalism. Although Germany has extensive hard coal deposits, coal mining in that country is very expensive and coal burning is identified as a climate danger.  Germany also began to shut down its nuclear power plants which a decade ago provided as much as 25 percent of the country’s needs. Both moves are part of an ambitious policy of ending all fossil fuel and nuclear power in favor of green sources like wind and solar.

It hasn’t worked out well for them. In the first half of 2021 the Ruhr Valley industry was back to using more coal than wind power. Officials said weather was partly to blame. The winds just didn’t cooperate that year. Fancy that! 

Germany is not alone in its ambitious rejection of both fossil fuels and nuclear power generation. The Left in many countries, including the United States, have actively worked for similar policies across the West.

And so the Biden Administration has shut down drilling on public lands, killed the Keystone 2 pipeline, and tried to put ill-defined authority in the hands of bureaucrats to factor “climate impacts” into a wide variety of far-reaching regulations.

Unfortunately for Germany at the moment, the Biden Administration also withdrew support for Israel to ship its natural gas from off-shore drilling to Europe—a move announced without any consultation with ostensible allies Israel and Cyprus.

The Biden Administration did however give public support to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Europe. 

Here at home, Democrats in Colorado’s legislature killed a proposed study into the feasibility of building modern, self-contained, and very efficient small nuclear power stations in the state.

Meanwhile, China is ramping up its use of coal for energy production, and has announced its intent to purchase 100 million tons of coal from Russia. This while American consumers face soaring costs to heat their homes and travel to work.

All this, as I said, is intentional. The costs for left-wing environmental purity are born by those non-elite Americans who actually have to show up at jobs rather than join Zoom meetings from their homes. It is those people, you know, who use up too many of Gaia’s resources. 

Is it any wonder then that Putin is moving into Ukraine right now? Geopolitical power is fueled by thriving economies as well as military strength, and the West has neutered itself.

Factor in this as well: Ukraine has the largest proven exploitable uranium deposits in Europe. It has the second largest iron ore reserves in the world, along with major coal, shale gas, titanium, manganese, and mercury deposits. And it has wide fertile lands for food production. It isn’t just prestige Putin wishes to restore—it’s control of key resources. 

What do you call an American administration that cripples its own country’s sources of power while opening the door to Russia and China?

Impotent on the world stage. And feckless. And more.

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About Robin Burk

Robin Burk started her career wearing bell bottom jeans in the basement of the Pentagon, where she had the challenging privilege of interacting with computing legend Grace Hopper, and in Silicon Valley, where she wrote one of the first commercially deployed Internet protocol software stacks. The remainder of her first career half was spent in roles through senior executive in small and mid-sized tech companies serving defense and national security customers in the US and abroad. After the attacks of 9/11 Robin taught in two departments at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). Returning to the Beltway area, she grew a fledgling research grant program in the new discipline of complex network systems at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, center of U.S. counterWMD expertise, then led a team that addressed national security and commercial applications at a major R&D organization. Today her passion is helping organizations and individuals make the best responses to disruptive tech-driven change. Along the way she picked up a PhD in artificial intelligence and some DOD civilian medals. She is currently being trained by a young English Cocker Spaniel whose canine appreciation for social compacts rivals that of Confucius and his followers.

Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images