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Oil Wars

"Let's look at it simply.  The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil." *

US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, in Singapore, 31 May-1 June, 2003

"...for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction." 

Paul Wolfowitz, Vanity Fair magazine, May 2003


SoldiersFor me, one of the clearest proofs that the world is facing an oil crisis was the illegal attack on Iraq by the USA and UK in 2003 (** see below). While much time and hot air was spent on finding alternative reasons for the invasion, the only purpose which seems to have stood up to post-war scrutiny is that of securing future oil supplies. The other proposed reasons – 'humanitarianism', links with Al-Qaeda, threats to other countries, the notorious weapons of mass destruction – have all been refuted or, at least, shown to be seriously flawed. When you realise that the USA's first military objective of the invasion of the country was to secure control of the oil fields and refineries of southern Iraq, and that the US forces in Baghdad occupied and defended the Oil Ministry while allowing the other government buildings to be overrun, suspicions seem to be well supported.

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OPEC v Non-OPEC Production

As shown in Chart W1, it will not be long (around 2010) before more than 50% of the world’s oil production will come from OPEC. (For the purpose of this chart, all of the Middle East countries have been included in the OPEC grouping. When it comes to future conflicts, it will be hard for any Middle Eastern country to remain neutral.)

Opec/Non OPEC Crossover chart

W1. OPEC/Non-OPEC Crossover

Chart W2 shows how the percentages change between the two major oil producing areas and the rest of the world. In the future, the Former Soviet Union will become extra important as, although smaller than OPEC/Middle East, it will begin to equal the rest of the world.

Production by region chart

W2. Oil Production by Region

So, with other major supplies also being in unstable areas - eg. Venezuela, Russia - there is a great fear that the USA could be held to ransom in the future, especially since it uses far more oil than any other country. It is not surprising therefore than the US military and government should think about securing access to the Middle East wells.

But is there any proof of this suspicion? There is and they are quite open about it.

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"Project for the New American Century"

This is a group of highly influential neo-conservatives, many of whom have interests in the USA government and/or the oil industry. Among their members are Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. On their website , they make it very clear their attitudes to the USA, the world and oil. (www.newamericancentury.org)

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organisation dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle; and that too few political leaders today are making the case for global leadership.

It is not difficult to find their attitudes to oil in the Middle East.

In protecting its interests in the Persian Gulf, the United States has always hoped for a regional partner: first Iran, then Iraq, then the Saudis; in their turn, each of these has proven itself incapable of the job. Fortunately, the Saudis probably overestimate the threat they pose to the president’s policy. Denying the U.S. access to Saudi bases will make the war against Iraq harder, but will not stop it. Further, removing Saddam Hussein’s regime from power in Baghdad will reduce the Saudis’ leverage even more - returning Iraqi oil fully to market can only reduce the Saudis’ ability to set oil prices, and make the US bases there superfluous.
25 April, 2002. Memorandum to: Opinion Leaders; From: William Kristol; Subject: Saudi Arabia

or this from a letter to the then President Clinton on 26 January, 1998.

It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard. [My emphasis]

For over a decade, the USA has had a military presence in Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to protect that country against Iraq. After the Iraq War ‘ended’, it was announced that the forces would be pulled out.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia The United States said Tuesday that it would withdraw all combat forces in Saudi Arabia by this summer, ending more than a decade of military operations in this strategic Middle East nation.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, said at a news conference here that the end of the Iraq war and Saddam Hussein’s government meant that America’s military mission here was over. Only a small military training program will remain.…Even before Tuesday’s announcement, American forces in Saudi Arabia, which doubled to 10,000 during the Iraq war, had started pulling out of sprawling desert airbase used by United States warplanes since 1991 to patrol the no-flight zone in southern Iraq.
The presence of American forces since the 1991 Gulf War has been a contentious issue in Saudi Arabia, and has fuelled the terrorism of Osama bin Laden. The Qaeda leader, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has called for the withdrawal of “infidel” American troops from the land of the two holiest sites in Islam.
Tensions between the two allies flared shortly after the air operations centre open in 2001, just before the Sept. 11 attacks. In the first day of the Afghan air campaign, Saudi Arabia did not allow American warplanes to fly through Saudi air space, an American official said. The issue was quickly resolved but the delay rankled American commanders. The Saudi government barred the United States from launching airstrikes against Afghanistan or Iraq from Prince Sultan Air Base. One reason the Pentagon built the back-up air command centre in Qatar was because officials fear the Saudis might deny us use of their site in the Iraq war.
30 April, 2003. International Herald Tribune

Tanker on fire Saudi Arabia is a very unstable country with 38% of the population under the age of 15 (CIA Factbook) and a per capita income which has fallen from $28,000 in 1980 to $12,800 today. There is much unrest and it is noticeable that both Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 11 September hijackers came from that country. It was not an ideal base for US military forces but was rather the best of a bad lot.

It is likely that the US military and government saw the 11 September atrocities as the excuse they needed for attacking and deposing Saddam Hussein. They no doubt hoped that they would easily be able to defeat his weak army (which they did) and establish a puppet government which would 'ask' the US military to stay on to maintain security, therefore creating a secure military base for future operations. Unfortunately for them, the people of Iraq have not taken kindly to occupation and the country is now turning into a new Vietnam, but a Vietnam which the White House cannot afford to abandon.

Considering the amount of resistance that has followed the invasion of Iraq and the civil war that has now broken out there, one possibility is that the country will be 'Balkanised', that is divided into three new countries. In the north would be Kurdistan, in the south, an area for the Shiites (Shiastan?) and the Sunni remainder becoming the new, smaller Iraq. Kurdistan and Shiastan may permit or ask the USA to remain on to 'maintain peace'. Hence the US government would have military forces permanently in the Middle East and close to the oil fields of (old) Iraq. Their hope would then be that the new Sunni Iraq would cease its attacks on the American military.

New Iraq

How Iraq may be divided

Evidence that the USA intends to stay long-term in Iraq is abundant, such as this report from the Daily Telegraph (3/1/2004):

America is to establish a 3,000-man embassy in Iraq, its largest mission anywhere, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, revealed yesterday. The move is part of urgent steps being taken in an attempt to shore up the US post-occupation presence in Iraq. The giant embassy will wield considerable sway over the new Iraq, not least because Washington expects to maintain a garrison of more than 100,000 troops in the country, even after the occupation formally ends.

Proof of these views will come in the future. If the USA withdraws its military forces from Iraq (not just turning the government over to Iraqis) or turns over security to the United Nations or an Arab coalition, it will suggest that I am wrong and the invasion of Iraq had other reasons. But if it is broken up or they stay on despite losses and the hostility of the Iraqi people...

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Future Oil Wars

It is not unusual for countries to go to war to secure something that they need and do not have. It looks now as if we have had two modern oil wars (can anybody doubt that the USA and Europe would have bothered to liberate Kuwait, or Iraq invade it, if it did not have the sixth – depending on statistics – largest oil reserves?) It is probable that there will be many more in the decades to comes.

There are four countries which will decide future wars: Europe, Russia, China and the USA (for the sake of convenience and brevity, Europe is considered a country here). Europe has high energy use but its federal structure may not be strong enough to use its armed forces to secure supplies. Russia has the advantage of having its own large reserves of oil and gas, and its military will probably be concerned with stopping others getting access to it, rather than obtaining other countries' resources. China does not, as yet, require large amounts of energy (although they are growing fast) and its future attitude could depend on how it could restrict the growth in energy needs. The USA is the kingpin. It is not only the highest energy consumer in the world, it has the strongest military forces and is not reluctant to use them. But it is the third factor which is vital. Unlike the other three, it has no land access to the two largest oil and gas sources – the Middle East and the Caspian. Transporting oil and gas by sea is a very vulnerable method of supply. It is much easier to replace a length of pipeline than an oil tanker. It is easier to bury a pipeline underground than to design a submersible tanker. If the USA continues to create enemies around the world, its vulnerability will make it likely to be centre stage in future wars.

Four blocs

W3. Comparison of the Four Countries

Oil wars seem inevitable. Even if the OPEC countries wanted to be ‘fair’ and allocate the oil evenly when production declines, it would mean that major users would face shortages and high prices. Will an American or Chinese leader stand back in the face of rising prices and domestic unrest or will they resort to military pressure, maybe on the pretence of terrorist threats or instability? We have grown used in the latter half of the Twentieth Century to major countries fighting economically or by proxy, forgetting the thousands of years of near-perpetual conflict that occurred before. The wars of the Twenty First Century could be the first sign of a return to a historical way of life, a regression in civilisation.


Middle East

Flashpoint of World War III?

Note: There is some argument that the Afghan war was also about oil. Bin Laden and most of the 11 September hijackers came from Saudi Arabia yet the USA attacked Afghanistan, not the former country. Also, Afghanistan sits neatly between the two main oil producing areas – the Middle East and the Caspian Sea (see the map above). A very convenient place to base troops.

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* In context this quote does not refer to what you think but to the reasons why the US government could not impose sanctions on Iraq. (So what were those 10 years of sanctions that caused so much suffering in Iraq?) But I like it as it neatly encapsulates the real reasons why the USA and UK invaded and occupied that country.

** Actually there are two reasons why the USA would want to invade Iraq. One is the fear of oil depletion per se, the other is the fear of the increasing OPEC/non-OPEC production ratio. As chart W1 shows, it will not be long before most of the world's oil is coming from the Middle East and that could be what the US fears – a dependence on Arab governments rather than a disastrous loss of oil in general.



OPEC v Non-OPEC production


Future oil wars


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