Peak Oil is You

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Page added on August 1, 2007

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Why oil is the enemy of democracy

The anti-war crowd is right. It is all about oil – although perhaps not in the way it means. Consider some of the current threats to global stability: Russia’s contempt for international norms, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the massacres in Darfur, the descent of South America into Leftist authoritarianism. All these crises are oil-fuelled.

The six-fold rise in the price of a barrel, and the commensurate boost it has given to the petro-kleptocracies, is the central fact of our age.
Russia is ceasing to be a democracy in any meaningful sense: opposition politicians are harassed, independent media closed, journalists murdered. Almost every contiguous state has felt the force of President Putin’s oil diplomacy: Estonia, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine and, above all, Georgia, which is being asphyxiated by a semi-official blockade. Nor does it stop there. Alexander Litvinenko, let us remember, was a British subject living under the Queen’s peace. At best, his murder was an act of terrorism; at worst, an act of war. Yet Vladimir Putin calculates that he can mock us because, as his defence minister cheerfully puts it: “The West keeps buying our energy.”

Russian revanchism correlates remarkably closely to the price of a barrel. When oil last peaked, at the end of the 1970s, the Red Army poured into Afghanistan. When prices collapsed at the end of the 1980s, so did the USSR.

Similarly, see how Teheran is throwing its weight about, sponsoring militias in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the old Silk Road khanates, supplying its Lebanese and Palestinian proxies with rockets, orchestrating attacks on our soldiers in Basra, even seizing Servicemen in the Gulf. Meanwhile, the ayatollahs have given up even pretending to collaborate with the international nuclear authorities. Oil again.

At the same time, largely unnoticed, South America is retreating from the pluralism of the 1990s into a malignant neo-caudillismo.

The modern Latin dictator does not seize power with tanks. Rather, he gets himself more or less fairly elected, then promptly sets about dismantling every check on his power, closing down parliament, nationalising the media, stuffing the judiciary, vitiating the electoral commission, rewriting the constitution. And where has this process gone furthest? In the region’s three hydro-carbon exporters: Bolivia, Ecuador and, worst of all, Venezuela, whose foul-mouthed autocrat, Hugo Chavez, has now decreed that foreigners who criticise him will be immediately deported.

And, while we’re about it, what do you suppose gives the Sudanese government the confidence to defy world opinion in Darfur? Chiefly the fact that its revenue is secure as long as China keeps buying its petrol.


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