Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

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November 15, 2008

IEEE and U.S. Hegemony

by tarran

In IEEE‘s flagship magazine, Spectrum, there is a fairly idiotic editorial warning Europeans against buying natural gas from Russia.

Why can’t the European Union just adopt a strategy of energy independence and wean itself from Russia and the “stans”?

Of course, there is no way for Europe to be “independent” with respect to natural gas. There aren’t sufficient reserves in Europe to meet the current demand. A reduced supply of natural gas will necessarily result in higher prices for energy. Higher prices for energy translate to reduced economic development and everybody being poorer. Why should the Europeans impoverish themselves?

Of course, the writer of the editorial, William Sweet, is not really opposed to Europeans purchasing gas from non Europeans; he praises a pipeline being developed to ship it from Nigeria.  Rather, he seems upset with people buying gas from Russian suppliers. Why?

Russia has repeatedly shown its willingness in recent years to cut off gas supplies for political reasons, basically to bring countries it considers its satellites to heel, notably Ukraine. Of course it wouldn’t dare cut supplies to a country like Germany, which gets about half its gas from Russia. But where German and Russian interests and values collide, Russia could manipulate markets to get its way and use the threat of its market power to ward off diplomatic or military action.

In other words, if Europeans are trading with Russians, they might refuse to back some third party who is contemplating some intervention targeting Russia. Hmm, I wonder who this unnamed party might be?

A recent survey by London’s Financial Times found that European mistrust of Russia has increased sharply in the past six months: the proportion of respondents who consider Russia the greatest threat to world stability rose from just a few percent in July to nearly 20 percent in September, putting it well ahead of Iran and almost as high as China. It may come as a shock to many American readers, however, that the United States still ranks in European minds as the greatest threat to world stability, scoring over 25 percent in September.

And here we see the problem. If Europeans are trading with Russians, they might not side with the U.S. in a dispute with Russia.

This article highlights why I have mixed feelings about my IEEE membership. The work it does in developing and maintaining standards is wonderful. But their consistent support for the American military-industrial complex gives me pause. Like IBM supplying Hollerith tabulators to the Nazis with no concern for what they were being used for – there is no U.S. military or security program, no matter how abusive of civil liberties or vulnerable to tyrannical misuse that IEEE won’t support. Normally the IEEE leadership concerns itself solely with the technical problems that are needed to enhance U.S. government power.  In this case, the Spectrum editorial board is going further and demanding that European politicians adopt policies solely for the benefit of the U.S. government (and to the detriment of people living in Europe).

Yes, the Russian government has imperial ambitions. Yes, Putin’s government is a fascistic one. However, if Russians are trading with Europeans, if the Russian economy integrates with the European one, the likelihood of of a Russian millitary attack of Europe is much lower.  Increased economic integration between Europeans and the people living in former Russian satellites will also reduce the likelihood of conflicts between Russia and the satellites as well (especially since it would lead to greater Russian/former satellite integration as well).

Bastiat’s dictum applies:

If goods don’t cross borders then armies will.

The U.S. government’s global hegemony is ending. If IEEE wishes to retain its technical leadership in a multipolar world, it should stop viewing itself as a unofficial arm of the U.S. government and stick to its valuable work in developing standards.

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2 Comments

  1. tarran,

    I agree wholeheartedly… Let me point out another angle, though:

    Why can’t the European Union just adopt a strategy of energy independence and wean itself from Russia and the “stans”?

    While we’re at it, why doesn’t the US just adopt a strategy of high incomes and prosperity? Seems like as long as we believe that all that is necessary to make a change is to “adopt a strategy” — economics be damned — we might as well go for the gusto, right?

    A statement like that of the IEEE belies a very strong technocratic bias, in the belief that if only we adopt the right policies we will make everything better. Not that this surprises me, since IEEE is a standards organization and professional group, so all they really do is have meetings and adopt policies.

    But I think it’s important to point out that life is a lot more complex than just “adopting a policy” and hoping it all works out for the best.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — November 15, 2008 @ 11:11 am
  2. I read the editorial in IEEE Spectrum also and I saw the “Why can’t the EU just adopt a strategy…” comment as a long-range goal that would drive current actions and planning. It didn’t strike me as a “let’s just wish this problem away and it will be gone” statement. I, too, view the leaders of Russia as ambitious and control-minded, both within their country and across borders. I don’t see the IEEE’s advising against being dependent on Russia as “support for the American military-industrial complex.” The editorial seems to say that Russia may manipulate the gas supply to ward off action by the EU nations themselves (whether the Americans had a preference or not). The whole of the editorial did not seem to me as “pro-US” as you view it, but more US-agnostic.

    I have seen IEEE-USA (a branch of the worldwide organization) take on parochial positions on immigration and work visas that I didn’t care for. They probably see that as their role as an advocate for electrical and electronic engineers in the USA. I haven’t see the IEEE (worldwide) be as US-centric in the policies they advocate.

    If you’d rather not see “political” or “social” editorials in an engineering magazine, I respect your right to your preference. IEEE Spectrum has published articles and editorials on the impact of technology on society and I welcome more of these. I doubt the IEEE would suggest you shouldn’t discuss electrical engineering related subjects here at TheLibertyPapers.

    Comment by Mark — November 17, 2008 @ 7:20 am

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