Help Is Not on the Way

Sorry, Congress, America can't save Ukraine by selling it natural gas.

The Russian invasion of the Crimean peninsula and the haunting fear that Moscow will use its energy exports to bludgeon Ukraine and the European Union into compliance have unleashed a cavalcade of calls for the United States to use its own energy bounty to rescue Europe. Gazprom's threat on Friday to shut off gas supplies to Ukraine, which owes the company almost $2 billion and is late with the payments, has added fuel to the fire.

There's just one problem: While there is one abundant U.S. energy source that could help Europe in the short term, it isn't natural gas. The United States won't be able to export significant amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for years, much of that gas has already been snapped up by customers with long-term contracts, and Europe must compete with Asia, which is willing to pay far more money for the little that is left.

That may come as news to Congress, where top lawmakers are arguing that stepping up gas exports to Ukraine would be an easy way to boost the country's new, fragile, and pro-Western government. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took to the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal to call on the United States to "liberate" its "natural energy" as a weapon against Russian strongman Vladimir Putin by accelerating a sclerotic permitting process for natural gas export terminals. Numerous members of Congress are rushing to introduce, or reintroduce, legislation meant to fast-track exports of U.S. gas. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), for instance, introduced a bill on Thursday, March 6, that would expand U.S. gas exports to all World Trade Organization countries.

Late Thursday, the ambassadors to the United States from Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia sent letters to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) urging Congress to unshackle U.S. gas exports and help allies in Europe.

Jason Bordoff, a former energy advisor to President Barack Obama, argued on that the United States can turn gas to its advantage against Russia. The Heritage Foundation wants U.S. gas to bolster allies in the Baltics. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported on the frenzy in Washington to turn energy abundance into geopolitical leverage, including the State Department's push to use natural gas as a diplomatic tool. The basic thrust: Awash in natural gas, the United States needs to release the hounds, as it were, on Russia.

Those calls miss a fundamental point: Simply making it easier for the United States to export gas won't automatically translate into help for beleaguered friends, especially because customers in Asia are willing and able to pay higher prices for gas than anyone else.

"You can issue all the permits you want. Gas companies still won't lose money on purpose to help the United States achieve geopolitical gains," Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy. He wrote about the limits of U.S. gas diplomacy earlier this week.

That isn't to say that energy exports wouldn't serve U.S. interests over the longer term, as Bordoff noted. The hydraulic fracturing revolution over the last five years has unleashed a gusher of natural gas supplies that have already reshaped the U.S. electricity sector and reinvigorated certain manufacturing sectors and that hold promise as an alternative fuel for transportation.

Shipping some of that gas, and eventually oil unleashed by the same process, overseas would certainly help the U.S. trade balance and add liquidity to global markets. More supplies of oil and gas sloshing around the globe would reduce the likelihood of supply shocks and buffer economies against price spikes. Greater global supplies also make certain foreign-policy objectives, such as slapping sanctions on Iran's oil exports, easier to do with less pain.

But that doesn't mean that the United States is in a position to use its gas supplies to ride to Ukraine's or Europe's rescue right now, when Moscow is jacking up prices of the gas it ships west and hinting at a supply stoppage to Kiev.

First and foremost, it takes years and billions of dollars to construct the specialized terminals needed to convert natural gas into a liquid and then cram it into specially built tankers. The Energy Department has approved six of the 30-odd applications it has for LNG export terminals to sell gas to countries with which the United States does not have a free trade agreement. But only one project, Cheniere Energy's export terminal in Sabine Pass, La., has passed all the regulatory hurdles and secured final authorization. It hopes to begin exports late next year; few if any of the remaining terminals waiting in line will be operational before 2018.

"We only have one approved license actually, and the molecules still aren't going to flow for a while," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at a conference this week in Houston, Bloomberg reported.

On paper, there is enough potential gas included in the pending export applications to meet two-thirds of Europe's annual gas consumption. Even if only a handful of terminals are finally built, the potential gas volumes available for export could still theoretically meet a significant part of Europe's needs, which are estimated at about 18 trillion cubic feet of gas per year.

In reality, exporters need to secure long-term supply contracts with dedicated customers before they can secure the billions of dollars they need to build the advanced LNG terminals. Terminals that have already won conditional approval have supply contracts with power companies in Japan, South Korea, and India. Japanese firms, for example, have secured supply deals with four of the six terminals that have won Energy Department approval so far. Only a handful of European firms have signed long-term contracts with U.S. LNG exporters.

And only a small portion of the contracts are for so-called portfolio gas sales, where the buyer can ship gas wherever it's needed -- which is what Europe would need as a safety valve to replace Russian supplies. In other words, even when the U.S. export terminals are up and running at full speed in four years or so, most of their gas will be earmarked for Asia.

Another complication is the price of exported gas. Until recently, natural gas was cheap inside the United States because of a sheer glut of supply, not the fracking revolution. For the last couple of years, natural gas cost between $2 and $4 per million British thermal units (Btu) at Henry Hub, the main U.S. pricing point. But a vicious winter has sent gas use and gas prices soaring; in the first week of March, Henry Hub prices topped $7.

That matters for exports, because gas has to be liquefied and transported thousands of miles, which adds to the market price of the gas. Shipments from the United States to Europe are expected to add about $4 to the price of gas, while the longer route to Asia will likely add about $6 to the price. As natural gas becomes pricier at home, it becomes harder for U.S. gas to undercut gas overseas. Much of Europe pays around $10 to $11 per million Btu for Russian gas, for example -- which would already make it tough for U.S. gas to compete.

In Asia, LNG fetches higher prices than in other parts of the world -- about $15 per million Btu. That does provide a market for U.S. exports, especially since Japan needs gas to replace its shuttered nuclear fleet, and China hopes to boost the use of gas to clean up its power sector. But it also means that gas exporters will look first to customers in Asia that are willing to pay a premium rather than to the ones in Europe that aren't.

The United States does have one energy arrow in its quiver that could meet some of Europe's needs, but it isn't one the Obama administration is racing to embrace, or one that thrills European greens: cheap, abundant, U.S. coal.

In recent years, the gas boom has knocked King Coal off its perch in the U.S. market; overseas markets became a natural replacement. The United States set a record for coal exports in 2012, and despite an apparent drop-off in 2013, it still had one of its biggest export years ever. Despite all the talk of China's insatiable thirst for coal, Europe was -- and remains -- the biggest export market for U.S. coal.

Unlike with natural gas, coal-export facilities are already up and running. Unlike the convoluted regulations governing natural gas exports, coal can be traded freely. And there's no need for European countries to build expensive new terminals to handle coal imports.

There is one problem, of course: Coal is a lot dirtier than gas, with about twice the emissions of greenhouse gases when burned for power. For years, Europe has tried to curb its emissions and make its energy sector cleaner, even though expensive local gas and cheap U.S. coal have made that tough the last couple of years.

But as Europe grapples with long-term questions of energy security, climate change goals, and fears about economic competitiveness, coupled with short-term fears about a sudden end to energy supplies from Moscow, coal might just be the one U.S. energy export that makes a difference.

Photo: Andrew Burton - Getty


Unarmed and Dangerous

With civilian rape on the rise, the war on Congo's women comes painfully, pervasively home.

BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo -- Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa is a petite, tired-looking woman whose life has been punctuated by violence. She bears a sizable keloid scar on her upper arm where her flesh was once badly torn during an arrest for her work educating women about their rights. This activism was inspired, in part, by her survival of multiple acts of rape: She is one of thousands and thousands of women who have been targets of sexualized violence perpetrated by men over nearly two decades in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But unlike the majority of cases reported in Western media, Wangivirwa (pictured above) was violated not only by combatants, but also by so-called "ordinary civilians." This group includes men who have been in the military or a militia at some point but now have left or been discharged. It also includes men who have never been in armed ranks. Men who are married. Men who have children, even daughters. Men who, in some cases, are neighbors, friends, or perhaps even partners of their targets.

Wangivirwa's story, in other words, does not fall neatly into the narrative of "rape as a weapon of war" so often used to describe the plight of women in Congo. And hers isn't the only one.

In a recent interview, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in eastern Congo said there has been a drastic increase in civilian rape since 2011: More than 77 percent of all the attacks registered in 2013 were perpetrated by civilians. (UNFPA said it will release a report on the subject this month, but did not give an exact publication date.) Going back in time, a 2010 Oxfam study found that civilian rape in Congo increased 17-fold between 2004 and 2008. It's hard to parse, however, whether such statistics mean that rape by civilians is actually on the rise or whether reporting of it is.

"It's very hard to give an estimate," said Sandra Sjögren, the Congo coordinator of Physicians for Human Rights, of the devastating problem of civilian rape. "It's very big. It's so big that the cultural components that are related aren't even imagined."

Sjögren, who estimates that maybe just 2 percent of women report rape in Congo, said the country's ongoing war is being used as something of an excuse at this point -- a way of gesturing toward an end to the epidemic of violence against women without recognizing how deep its roots run. "It's easier to say the conflict has big shoulders almost because, if you blame it on the conflict, then it helps makes it look erratic: 'If we have peace, we have no more sexualized violence,'" Sjögren said.

Other experts agree that the "weapon of war" frame is obscuring what is truly going on, and that there has been little deep analysis about what causes unrelenting violence against women. In reality, the idea that sexualized violence is somehow acceptable -- or at least to be expected -- has become deeply embedded in the national psyche. "There are many people that could say, 'Yeah sexualized violence is being committed by armed groups or the Rwandans.' But there is a lot of sexualized violence by Congolese against Congolese," said Alejandro Sanchez of the Sexual Violence Unit of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Congo (known as MONUSCO).

Sanchez said, too, that there is currently a "huge rise in rapes of civilians committed by civilians" and that "this is result of gender inequality roles of women. People are experiencing sexualized violence because of impunity. There is very little chance of getting justice."

Wangivirwa was first raped in 2006, one of six women targeted by as many men, some wearing National Park uniforms, as she farmed beans in her field in Beni, about 20 miles from the border of Uganda. The men were arrested but released quickly. Fearing for her safety, Wangivirwa fled to Oicha in North Kivu province to restart her life. Three years later, however, she was raped again. While farming around 6 p.m. one evening, a group of men in civilian clothes approached her.

At that point in her life, Wangivirwa was doing what is commonly called "sensitization" about International Women's Day, which falls on March 8. She'd collected $50 from local women to purchase cloth to create matching outfits that the women would wear at an annual celebration of the holiday. The men who came to her that evening in the field came for this money: "We know you have it," they said.

Slapped to the ground and dragged into the bush, Wangivirwa was told she was about to be killed. One of the three men, she recalls, said, "Let's rape her instead."

They took turns holding her down by her neck and forehead while raping her. She lost consciousness. When they thought she had died, the men dragged her out to the side of the road, fearing that the grandfather of one, who owned the land they were on, would find her body in the morning. Hours later, a man discovered her in the rain and mud and took her to a local chief, who gave her some money. She was escorted to the local office of SOFEPADI, a national organization that provides medical, psychosocial, legal, and other care for rape survivors. Wangivirwa had heard about SOFEPADI on the radio.

Still pained years later by the violent displacement of her hips during the rape, Wangivirwa said she wonders whether the men who violated her -- after taking her money -- did so because "I was doing this campaign for women. Maybe it made them angry or jealous."

"In my culture, women can't stand up and speak out," she added.

Wangivirwa said she felt during the attack that she didn't "deserve to be alive. You think that you are nothing. You don't have any value in this world."

During the interview, I asked our interpreter, Micheline Muzaneza, a project coordinator at the South Africa-based Sonke Gender Justice Network, why the men would rape women like Wangivirwa on top of stealing from them. "Why do people smoke in your country?" she retorted. In other words, it's as incomprehensible but also as common as ingesting something known to kill you.

The deprecation of women and girls starts at birth in DRC and traditional beliefs combined with the horrors of war have created an overflowing petri dish of corrupted gender roles. Wangivirwa's father rejected her, she says, because her mother was only giving birth to girls. "I grew up with that trauma," she said.

Carine Novi Safari, a lawyer and spokeswoman at SOFEPADI, shakes her head when asked why there is such brutality against women. She and Muzaneza list a series of traditional beliefs they said contribute to why civilian men are raping. This includes beliefs in witchcraft, which teaches men that sleeping with a virgin will make them rich or cure HIV or empower them to be able to kill. There's also the idea that rape can "refresh your kidney" and that sperm "must come out of you or you become infertile." But the main reason Safari and Muzaneza point to, as do others working to combat sexualized violence, is that men are trained at a young age in Congo to fight and be dominant over the weak or vulnerable in order to get what they want -- whether that is power, money, or women's bodies.

Other factors also appear to be in play. Men who have fought in the country's conflict seem to have "interiorized" the extreme violence they've witnessed, according to both experts and Congolese citizens. A 2012 study by the Sonke network and the Brazilian non-profit Promundo in the Congolese city of Goma found that 43 percent of men interviewed had been directly involved in some way with armed groups or government forces. When they stop fighting, there is little or no reintegration from battlefield to home, no counseling, and no relief from trauma. After killing and witnessing the horrors of war, the tipping point toward violence is never far. A study commissioned by the World Bank and published in September 2013 found that "a significant proportion of former combatants showed higher than normal signs of aggression." Of the interviewees, 44 percent said they felt a feeling of satisfaction when harming others, and 35 percent said they still felt the urge to fight.

On top of that, there is a lack of male leadership and role models in the country, according to Muthaka Ilot, director of an outreach group called the Congo Men's Network, which works to end violence against women and promote positive forms of masculinity. "You try to find a model to follow, you can't even find one. You try to find one they tell you, 'Everyone rapes.' The governor rapes, the neighbor rapes. What do you do?"

"It's like family and society itself burst after the war -- it just fell apart," said a journalist in the city of Bunia who asked that his name be withheld. There has been an overall breakdown of respect within communities and families, he explains, "a lot of social valves don't exist anymore." Before the war, sexualized violence was commonly punished within the community, adds Julienne Lusenge, head of SOFEPADI. "The village chief had power among the population and the community, but really now, with impunity reigning everywhere, it's allowing this [problem] to grow."

It is not known whether women targeted by civilians in Congo generally know their attackers or not. But intimate-partner violence is certainly far from unheard of. In the global context, a survey published in Science in June 2013 showed that 30 percent of women worldwide have experienced such violence. And in Congo specifically, the Sonke/Promundo study showed that 65 percent of women reported having experienced violence, including sexualized violence, from a male partner.

Overcoming impunity is the key to stopping civilian rape, but that means more than just creating more laws. The 2006 constitution already requires a 20-year minimum sentence for rape, but enforcement is a joke. "We can start to punish the perpetrators in a meaningful way," the Bunia journalist said. "If we just do it in one place, people will see they can't get away with it."

In addition, community-level activism is critical to changing attitudes, and so is personal and peer-to-peer empowerment of both women and men, who need to feel as though they do not require guns or weaponized bodies to survive.

When asked what would help her heal, Wangivirwa said she wants to sit in rooms full of men who have committed sexualized violence and facilitate conversations with them about rape. "If I contribute to the education of these men," she said, "I will feel better."

"I'm fighting for other women," she added. "I want the world to know this. I won't stop."

Photo of Leonie Kyakimwa Wangivirwa by Lauren Wolfe