Oil, War & Geopolitics
Michael Klare is a political scientist who specializes in the study of war and peace. He is the author of Blood & Oil - The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Dependency on Imported Petroleum..
From his perspective, while there is some "debate at the margins" on when global oil production will peak, he begins his address at the Sustainable Energy Forum’s Peak Oil and the Environment conference by stating, "I think we should all assume we’re there, maybe the summit is a few feet higher up and we’ll be getting there in the next few months; maybe we’re there. But we can see what’s on the other side now, and it’s the other side that I want to talk about, what’s life going to be like on the other side."
"You have to aware," he stated, "that there will be geopolitical implications of [oil scarcity] on the other side of the peak… and that geopolitical considerations may prove, at least in the short term, to be the most significant in how we experience this new, post-peak moment."
For Klare, who is a Professor of Peace and World Security Studies in a joint-appointment at five northeast colleges, global warming is likely to overtake the more immediate concerns about peak oil.
"But between now and then, it’s the geopolitical effects of oil scarcity that will affect us the most."
Setting the overall theme of his address, he stressed that "oil is not just another commodity", contrary to what many economists preach, believing that "market forces [will] solve the problem."
"That’s perfectly fine and good in the class room and in text books and economic theory, but there is no resemblance, whatsoever, to the world of oil. Oil is different! And it’s its difference that you have to grasp more than anything else.
"What makes oil different is that it is viewed as a strategic commodity, a commodity that bears on the survival of nations, the well-being of nations; and because it bears on the survival and well-being of nations it has been securitized [sic]. It has been made a matter of national security, and when you say that something is a matter of national security, when you formally state that oil is a matter of security as President Carter did in 1980, that means you’re prepared to use force to protect your access to that vital resource."
It is the "Carter Doctrine," first announced in the State of the Union address in 1980, that gave rise to what eventually became U.S. Central Command or CentCom, which is responsible for military action in the larger Persian Gulf, much of Africa and now central Asia, where coincidentally, most of the rest of the world’s oil is located.
"The purpose [of Centcom] is to protect the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf," he stated. "So, the use of military force to protect the flow of oil has been institutionalized by the U.S. military….
"This is what makes oil different. And I want to make clear that this is not a new phenomenon, " he stressed, pointing out that the United States is simply following the lead of Great Britain, who in 1912, under Winston Churchill, then Lord of the Admiralty, decided to convert England’s warships from coal to oil, necessitating the need to acquire secure foreign supplies, a move that ultimately led to the development of Iran’s oil fields and the artificial creation of Iraq out of three feuding religious groups and their allied tribes.
Continuing the brief lesson in oil history, Klare explained that it was Franklin Roosevelt who pledged to protect the House of Saud during World War Two in exchange for access to their oil, knowingly anticipating, Klare suspects, the advent of Hubbert’s Peak in the United States.
Roosevelt "determined that the United States had to have a foreign source of oil that would be safe and under American control, just as the British had under their control: Iran, Kuwait and Iraq… His geologists told him that the one place that wasn’t under British control and had the promise of great oil was Saudi Arabia.
"And so, it was Roosevelt that made the determination that the United States should form a military protectorate over Saudi Arabia and offered to provide military support for the House of Saud…" as well as become the principle developer of their oil.
It was during a private, four-hour, one-on-one meeting with King Ibn Saud, the father Saudi King Abdullah, the current ruler, and the U.S. President that the bonds were forged for a partnership that has lasted more than half a century.
"This embrace of Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most central feature in the history of the United States over the last fifty years, in all of its manifestations, and certainly in the past twenty to thirty years", especially in the wake of both the peaking of U.S. oil production in the early 1970s and two economically-crippling oil embargoes, the last one resulting from the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. It was, Klare reminded the audience, the CIA’s overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected president and the imposition of the Shah in 1953, that has engendered much of the hatred of the United States in Iran, especially among the clergy.
"It is hardly surprising that the current rulers of Iran bear this intense hatred towards the United States. If you do not understand this past, the legacy of oil imperialism in Iran, then you cannot understand the intensity of the hostility among Iran’s current leaders towards this country, which has made it so difficult to resolve what is arguably the most dangerous international crisis we face at this moment in time."
How the Iranian crisis will be resolved, what will happen to U.S. involvement in Iraq and the distancing of the Saudis away from the United States and towards China, all remain to be seen. But clearly, great economic, social and military consequences loom ahead if the United States, Europe and China make any missteps in this virtual minefield.
You will want to listen to Michael Klare’s entire address, which are 30-minutes in length by using one of the two MP3 players to the right, or by downloading the 8MB file to your computer hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 player.
EV World expresses its thanks to the Sustainable Energy Forum for permitting us to record this event and make it available to EV World listeners and readers.