Geopolitics of Oil and the Middle East

The use of energy sources, such as oil , is not only linked to the availability of resources but also to political issues involving the countries with the largest reserves, the major producing companies and the world’s main consumers.

At the end of the Second World War , there were some significant changes in the world geopolitical scenario. In the case of Western Asia, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves, there has been a rapid process of decolonization.

The weakening of the major European powers has allowed the strengthening of many nationalist movements, largely supported by Islamic ideology, such as Iran, where the state nationalized oil exploration in 1951, including the British company British Petroleum, which operated in their territory.

But with US support, the United Kingdom boycotted Iran economically and threatened it militarily, resulting in the deposition of the nationalist government in the formation of a pro-Western government headed by Shah Reza Pahlevi. But in spite of this, in the other producing countries, the pressure on the big monopoly companies continued.

As its importance on the international stage increased, disputes over the supply of oil intensified. Large companies from the Western world were developing to ensure the growing supply of oil to their host countries. Until the middle of the twentieth century, practically all the production and distribution of the world’s oil was in charge of the so-called ” seven sisters “.

In the same period, as a result of the Bandung conference , the movement of the non-aligned countries emerges as a way to achieve greater independence of the two superpowers (US and USSR) and one of the proposals was to have greater control over natural resources and raw materials . Within this context, Opec (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) is formed, composed of countries of the Middle East , Asia, Africa and Latin America .

From 1960, OPEC began its activities, forming a real cartel on international oil prices.

In 1956, it was Egypt’s turn to strike a hard blow against the Seven Sisters, nationalizing the Suez Canal, which prevented free transit between the producing areas of the Middle East and the European market, as well as increasing transport costs. The conflict involved French, English, Jews and Arabs and was solved only with the mediation of the US and the USSR, which demanded the end of the conflict in the region and the normalization of the oil supply.

In 1967, another geopolitical issue involved the Middle East and again between Arabs and Israelis. It was the Six Day War where, after invading the Arab-rising countries, Israel occupied territories of Egypt (Sinai and Gaza Strip), Syria (Golan Heights) and the West Bank

One of the most well-known episodes, involving the organization, was that in 1973, just after one of the Arab-Jewish wars, the so-called Yom Kippur (Forgiveness Day). The Arab defeat for the Israelis provoked, as a reprisal, the rise in oil prices by OPEC, which became known as the first oil shock.

The intention, in addition to raising the profits of the exporting countries, was to especially hurt the US and some European countries that supported Israel. Since most of the member countries were Arab, it is not difficult to understand the action taken by the organization. The consequence was an immediate supply crisis and a recessive economic situation in most of the importing countries, which generated the need to seek new sources and a proposal that would minimize the crises of capitalism: neoliberalism .

The second wave of international oil price rises, already under Opec’s command, occurred in 1979 as a result of the deposition in Iran of the Shah’s government Reza Pahlevi by Shia revolutionaries commanded by the then exiled religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini. The episode became known as the Islamic revolution   and brought the country back to an anti-imperialist ideological line, which again restricted the action of foreign companies and the supply of oil to the Western world.

The US tried at all costs to cripple the Khomeini government by urging neighboring Iraq and its dictator Saddam Hussein to attack Iran. It was in this context that the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) took place, which did not have a winner.

In the mid-1980s, increased production and declining dependency in many countries forced prices to fall, known as the third oil shock .

In the 1990s, the Gulf War , involving Iraq and Kuwait, again led the United States, the world’s largest oil consumer, to intervene militarily in the region. With the UN endorsement , the Americans landed in the Persian Gulf to expel Iraqi soldiers, rather their allies.

Iraqi soldiers destroyed and set fire to oil wells, causing one of the biggest environmental catastrophes ever recorded in the region. The Americans faced those whom they had traveled when their interests were others.

Finally, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and this time without the UN endorsement, on the grounds that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons , US and British troops invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam Hussein, murdered their children and occupied the country, thus controlling large areas of oil production.

Although reserves are likely to be depleted and their use is still very high, new energy prospects are emerging, such as biofuels , reuse of materials ( recycling ) and exploitation of solar and wind energy .

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