IOP Panelists Simulate Oil Shock

Summers, Rubin role play impact of major oil disruption

Unnamed photo
Amanda J. Guzman

Panelists examined the consequences of a rapid increase in oil prices yesterday evening at the IOP. The roleplayers on the right are former University President Lawrence H. Summers and Corporation fellow Robert E. Rubin ’60.

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers and Harvard Corporation fellow Robert E. Rubin ’60 were among the participants in a Cabinet simulation that performed a mock response to a major disruption in oil at the Institute of Politics (IOP) Forum last night. =

The simulation, called Oil ShockWave, was developed jointly by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School. The exercise consisted of a U.S. Cabinet responding to a worldwide oil crisis following terrorist attacks that hampered the global oil supply.

The scenario, which was set to take place in December 2009, moved forward through information from three sources: news clips from a cable news network, full Cabinet briefings to which audience members were privy, and secret memos addressed to the various Cabinet members.

Rubin, a former U.S. treasury secretary, played the role of national security adviser on the panel and acted as a moderator addressing the different viewpoints expressed by the panelists on how to handle the short- and long-term effects of the crisis.

Meghan L. O’Sullivan, a former deputy national security advisor, acted as secretary of state and dealt with some of the demands placed on the U.S. in exchange for an increase in production by oil-producing nations.

“I just spoke with the Saudis and had an unpleasant conversation about how they want us to change our position and negotiate with Hamas,” Sullivan said. “Meanwhile, the Turks are demanding that we help them speed up the [European Union] membership process in return for expanding oil production.”

Some of the other issues that panelists addressed included creating a national speed limit and raising gasoline taxes to decrease domestic oil demand, opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to deal with the shortfall in supply, and working with allies to coordinate a strategic response to the global oil crisis.

In an interview after the event, Summers expressed his view that a long-term solution to U.S. reliance on oil would depend on prices, and that higher prices would induce greater economic efficiency.

“A crisis like this one provides government with the energy to get things done,” Summers said, “but looking for long-term solutions within 24 hours after a terrorist attack is too early to get things done on long-term issues.”

Summers added that it would be valuable to develop simulations for government classes, which he said would benefit tremendously from the hands-on learning environment.

Audience members seemed to enjoy the event on the whole.

Jarret A. Zafran ’09, president of the Harvard College Democrats, said he found the event to be both interesting and important.

“The next administration will have to deal with these geopolitical issues, which will be among the top three or four issues that the new president will face,” Zafran said. “We’re on an unsustainable course right now, and we are threatened by the imposition of other countries’ interests on our economic independence.”

—Staff writer Prateek Kumnar can be reached at