German Bundeswehr report on peak oil

In November 2010 the German Bundeswehr (‘Federal Defence Force’) was embarrassed to find that a study by its Future Analysis department had leaked to the Internet.

Nearly a year on and the report has been published in full, translated into English.

With commendable German clarity and efficiency it reports as follows (direct quotations except where [square-bracketed], emphasis added):

  • It is … difficult to imagine how significant the effects of being gradually deprived of one of our civilisation’s most important energy sources will be. Psychological barriers cause indisputable facts to be blanked out and lead to almost instinctively refusing to look into this difficult subject in detail.
  • Peak oil, however, is unavoidable.

  • This study shows the existence of a very serious risk that a global transformation of economic and social structures, triggered by a long-term shortage of important raw materials, will not take place without frictions regarding security policy… particularly in industrialised countries.
  • Developments in the wake of peak oil will involve major uncertainties for Germany [and presumably other countries]
  • The probably most effective solution strategies are thussystemic “cardinal virtues” such as independence, flexibility and redundancy
  • Not only efficiency but also, to an increasing extent, robustness becomes a criterion of sustainable policy [and strategy].
  • Increased importance of the Middle East, Africa and the Caspian Region for [Germany’s] resource security. [This implies potentially complex new bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations. Russia/Moscow plays a particularly important role.]
  • Transformation towards post-fossil societies depends … on the availability of non-fossil technologies.
  • Sustainable solutions seem problematic. Substituting one dependence for another, such as, for instance, a dependence on rare metals, is not an effective long-term approach.
  • Non-fossil energy and drive technologies will become a key competence in post-fossil societies.
  • Peak oil… holds considerable challenges to mission-critical capabilities of the armed forces.
  • Future changes must be geared towards reducing systemic dependencies and, insofar as possible, at fully avoiding such dependencies in new structures. Uncovering these dependencies requires fundamentally new methods and implicitly needs further in-depth analysis.
  • Peak oil … could reinforce or even give rise to fragile statehood and humanitarian crises. Central African countries that lack resources and are dependent on oil would [be likely] to counter major problems. Partial or complete breakdowns of economic cycles, undersupply, and humanitarian emergencies would very likely lead to major cross-national political upheavals.
  • Parts of the Middle East [on the other hand] are likely to profit from global peak oil and become more significant.
  • The paradigm shift connected with this – less efficiency, more robustness – contradicts economic logic and can therefore only partly be left to market forces.
  • The time factor may be decisive for a successful transformation towards post-fossil societies. In order to accelerate democratic decision processes in this respect, it is necessary to embed the dangers of an eroding resource basis in the public mind.
  • In general, decentralised solutions can indeed be encouraged by centralised agencies, but not developed and implemented. At the same time, Bundeswehr internal options for preparation must be evaluated and exploited.

Re-capitulating the key points:

  1. It is difficult to imagine the significance of being gradually deprived of oil.
    Psychologically we find the idea hard to accept.
    But peak oil is unavoidable — the sooner we start preparing the better.
  2. It is impossible to predict exactly what will happen.
    The most effective strategy is therefore to develop systemic resilience and robustness to cope with whatever does happen. This means: independence, flexibility and redundancy. You might add: lean management, clear focus, adaptability. Decentralisation is a key part of this.
  3. The relative strategic importance of countries (and companies) will change.
  4. We need to be careful that the creation of post-fossil solutions does not substitute one dependence for another.
    Future changes must be geared towards reducing systemic dependencies and avoiding the creation of new ones.
    Non-fossil energy and drive technologies will become a key competence in post-fossil societies.
  5. Peak oil could lead to political upheavals. But some companies and countries are likely to profit from global peak oil.
  6. The paradigm shift needed – less focus on efficiency, more on robustness/ resilience – contradicts current short-term economic logic. If businesses do not get ahead of the game they can expect government intervention.
  7. The time factor may be decisive for a successful transformation towards post-fossil societies and business. “In order to accelerate democratic decision processes in this respect, it is necessary to embed the dangers of an eroding resource basis in the public mind.”

You can download a copy of the Bundeswehr report in English, here or here.

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