One argument I’ve seen peddled by supporters of energy independence is that the USA’s recent military adventurism is entirely the result of its needing oil and putting it above people’s lives; on this blog, commenters who’ve said that include Yoram and Lindsay.
But as attractive as it makes energy self-sufficiency from a humanitarian viewpoint, it’s not true. The US was a net oil exporter until 1948, which didn’t prevent it from treating Latin America as its backyard, invading it continually and installing puppet regimes in it with surprising regularity. While a few of the Cold War’s incursions, like the coup in Iran, were resource-motivated, the rest were a standard exercise in sphere of influence building. Vietnam had no natural resources the US needed.
This is true both in history and in the present. Up until 9/11, American neoconservatism was dominated by fears of China, not of Islam. Even in the last five years, some American foreign policy exercises have been clearly pointed at China; the sphere of influence building in East, Southeast, and Central Asia has nothing to do with energy and everything to do with encircling China.
Although Bush himself wanted to attack Iraq all along, his motivation was likely personal rather than corporate. The broader neoconservative establishment only went along with it after 9/11, which shifted the location of The Enemy westward. And even then, the number one priority was securing pro-American regimes for the purpose of securing pro-American regimes, rather than securing oil flows.
This trend is also true for other belligerent countries. Ahmadinejad’s main concern isn’t oil, which his country is a net exporter of, or any other natural resource. It’s his demented ideology, and the need to make sure the Iranian people don’t see through that ideology and overthrow the entire regime. India’s jabs at Pakistan aren’t about any natural resource, but about historical grudges and another demented ideology.
This establishes that autarky does not prevent belligerence. But in fact, there’s more: autarky spares a country the need to be concerned with the rest of the world. It doesn’t prevent it from starting wars of aggression – the US was perfectly content to keep intervening in Latin America in the interwar period – but does prevent it from participating in just wars and programs of economic development.
I can’t think of a single war in the modern era that took place between two countries that freely traded with each other. It’s partly due to the fact that countries only sign free trade agreements if their relationships are good enough that they’ll not go to war with each other, but it goes both wars: world powers have always needed to secure resource flows before going to war with other powers. Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia, which was intended to ensure food self-sufficiency, was a glaring exception to the general rule, examples of which include post-1949 China, the entire history of the United States, Nazi Germany, the old European empires, and even the modern Middle East.