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How does oil help authoritarian governments stay in power?

Now a National Security Issue

By Karen Mathis


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President Biden says climate change is the biggest threat to our U.S. national security, echoing many national security and military leaders(


“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”

~Lao Tzu


What do we know for sure?


  • The Pentagon for years led the charge by emphasizing the importance of a secure renewable energy future. Just as it is with the private sector, energy is the lifeblood of the military.
  • Unfortunately, our armed forces continue to be reliant upon fossil fuels. Therefore, when prices go up, it creates budgetary issues for them just as it does for our citizens at the gas pumps.
  • It is killing members of our American military.
    • One in twenty-four fuel convoys ended in casualty(between 2003 – 2007)
    • More than three thousand U.S. military and DoD contractor deaths were due to fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan during same time period (Powers & Wu, 2021)

Putin’s war and attack on Ukraine has scared away many democratic countries’ help and support by threatening their oil supply. Since the EU’s main source of oil is from Russia, we saw on national news how they were handcuffed with just how much help they could offer Ukraine. Additionally, to keep the flow of Russian fuel going, it made bank sanctions against Russia a watered down and complicated issue.

What else do we know for sure?

Large amounts of oil wealth correlate with three bad things: autocracy, corruption, and civil war (Beauchamp, 2014).


  • Oil helps autocrats stay in power
  • No countries with high levels of oil and gas income have successfully become democratic since 1960 (Beauchamp, 2014).
  • Oil gives dictatorships money to buy off their citizens
  • They nationalize their oil industries giving them exclusive control over a resource needed by the rest of the world
  • They extract “rents” used to hand out free cash to citizens to keep them on their side
  • Oil appears to breed corruption mostly in non-democratic countries (Beauchamp, 2014).

Oil helps authoritarian power.

Putin used proceeds from Gazprom, the state-run oil company to build a pretty extensive welfare and patronage network throughout Russa. His brand of authoritarianism became popular. It is exactly why he is so popular even in a dysfunctional economy there. Read more…

Clean energy is a powerful tool.

It is no longer a question clean energy technologies will protect us in the future. The following U.S. Military’s new initiatives are a step to a more secure national security:


  • Marines and soldiers are utilizing solar backpacks and blankets to recharge batteries powering their communications equipment.
  • Army is investing in electrifying it’s vehicles and weapons systems to reduce refueling needs
  • Navy deployed hybrid drive ships to extend time at sea.
  • DoD of Energy suggests electrifying the tactical edge is critical, such as: developing renewable -powered micro-grids and transitioning to new electrically powered tactical vehicles, unmanned underwater and surface watercraft, and remotely piloted aircraft (Powers & Wu, 2021).

Good news Clean energy transition will strengthen our future national security by reducing our dependency on foreign fossil fuels.


“The clean-energy transition is going to strengthen our future national security by reducing our reliance on foreign fuels, diversifying our energy sources and our investments in those energy sources, and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change”

Dan Misch, senior fellow and founder of the Veterans Advanced Energy Project, (Madson, 2022).


“Future military forces must be unleashed from the tether of fuel”

Lt. Gen. Jim Mattis, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force



Karen Mathis

Co-Founder and CFO of NSAI Energy. E:


References:  The Role of Renewable Energy in National Security. Retrieved from

Beauchamp, Z. (2014). The oil curse – how black gold makes countries more authoritarian, corrupt, and violent. Retrieved from

Madson, D., (2020). A transition to renewable energy will strengthen national security, Navy veteran says. Retrieved from

Powers, J., and Wu, M., (2021). A clean energy agenda for the Department of Defense , Atlantic Council, Retrieved from

Seip, Lt. Gen (ret) Norman R., (2014). Renewable Energy as a Key National Security Interest. Retrieved from