As more and more oil wealth piles up in petrolist countries, it could really begin to distort the whole international system and the very character of the post-Cold War world. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was a widespread belief that an unstoppable tide of free markets and democratization had also been unleashed. The proliferation of free elections around the world for the next decade made that tide very real. But that tide is now running into an unanticipated counter-wave of petro-authoritarianism, made possible by $60-a-barrel oil. Suddenly, regimes such as those in Iran, Nigeria, Russia, and Venezuela are retreating from what once seemed like an unstoppable process of democratization, with elected autocrats in each country using their sudden oil windfalls to ensconce themselves in power, buy up opponents and supporters, and extend their state's chokehold into the private sector, after many thought it had permanently receded. The unstoppable tide of democratization that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall seems to have met its match in the black tide of petro-authoritarianism.
Although petro-authoritariansim does not represent the sort of broad strategic and ideological threat that communism posed to the West, its long-term impact could nevertheless corrode world stability. Not only will some of the worst regimes in the world have extra cash for longer than ever to do the worst things, but decent, democratic countries -- India and Japan, for instance -- will be forced to kowtow or turn a blind eye to the behavior of petro-authoritarians, such as Iran or Sudan, because of their heavy dependence on them for oil. That cannot be good for global stability.
Let me stress again that I know that the correlations suggested by these graphs are not perfect and, no doubt, there are exceptions that readers will surely point out. But I do believe they illustrate a general trend that one can see reflected in the news every day: The rising price of oil clearly has a negative impact on the pace of freedom in many countries, and when you get enough countries with enough negative impacts, you start to poison global politics.
Although we cannot affect the supply of oil in any country, we can affect the global price of oil by altering the amounts and types of energy we consume. When I say "we," I mean the United States in particular, which consumes about 25 percent of the world's energy, and the oil-importing countries in general. Thinking about how to alter our energy consumption patterns to bring down the price of oil is no longer simply a hobby for high-minded environmentalists or some personal virtue. It is now a national security imperative.
Therefore, any American democracy-promotion strategy that does not also include a credible and sustainable strategy for finding alternatives to oil and bringing down the price of crude is utterly meaningless and doomed to fail. Today, no matter where you are on the foreign-policy spectrum, you have to think like a Geo-Green. You cannot be either an effective foreign-policy realist or an effective democracy-promoting idealist without also being an effective energy environmentalist.