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How Oil Has Driven Global Conflict For The Past 100 Years

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Michael T. Klare recently gave a presentation titled “The Geopolitics of Oil: Old and New” at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference in Vienna, in which he speaks about how no other substance in the world is as closely aligned with geopolitics as oil is.

Klare describes the geopolitics of oil — the intersection of state policy and the pursuit of oil — over the past 100 years, then looks at current and future conflicts zones.

His first point is that oil is crucial to warfare and his last point speaks to how the issue of America’s energy future will be pivotal in the upcoming presidential election.


The geopolitical importance of oil became clear in 1912 when the British converted their warships from coal to oil.

The UK nationalized oil in southwest Persia and made the area a key part of the British Empire after World War I

The U.S. followed suit, forming an alliance with Saudi Arabia and others so that they could support its military forces after the war

Eventually America felt it needed to play a more direct military role in securing sources of oil, so it created the Carter Doctrine

Klare believes the Carter Doctrine “remains the dominant factor in American thinking in the Middle East today, and it makes it very clear: … the flow of oil must must be preserved at all costs”

President Carter created US Central Command (CENTCOM) to carry out the policy and ensure the safety of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz

In 1990 President H.W. Bush invoked the Carter Doctrine to justify the invasion of Kuwait, but when citizens began crying out “No blood for oil” the emphasis in his speeches changed to weapons of mass destruction

The same tact was used in 2003 by President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney when justifying the invasion of Iraq

Despite the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, President Obama continues the Carter Doctrine by placing more troops in Kuwait and strengthening America’s offshore presence in the Persian Gulf

Now that Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz and nuclear talks have broken down, Klare thinks “we are headed for a crisis in the Persian Gulf” with military force around the Strait likely

Klare sees conflict over oil spreading to other places because so much oil production will have to be replaced by 2035

Klare is skeptical that these are the areas where new oil production will come from, but if they are then they take on new geopolitical importance as conflict zones

Klare expects a competition between the U.S. and China for the world’s remaining oil, along with the diplomatic and military actions implications involved

The U.S. now provides assistance to major African oil suppliers in the form of arms transfers, military training, naval support, etc.

China is taking the same diplomatic and military actions with its African allies

Russian comes into play when looking at the Caspian Sea region because even though it doesn’t need the oil, it wants to dominate the flow of oil for geopolitical advantages

Klare thinks that the situation has been playing out in Georgia and South Ossetia

Russia wants to limit U.S. influence and control over the area

China wants to avoid places like thePersian Gulf that are under U.S. control, so they are also a player in the Caspian region

So they are building pipelines and bulking up its military presence in the region to exclude the U.S.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) allows China to deploy its military in central Asia through annual “peace missions” in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan

Klare posits that American officials see an opportunity in the future of oil to “gain strategic advantage at China’s expense” as the U.S. becomes less dependent on imports and China’s reliance increases

So the U.S. is playing on China’s weakness by building up naval power in the Pacific as China becomes more dependent on U.S.-controlled sea lanes to receive their oil

Klare calls the strategy “exceedingly dangerous” because of all of the contested areas in and around the South China Sea

Klare considers the area to be the biggest flash point on earth besides the Strait of Hormuz

The disputes involve several nations at a time with obvious disputes over contested resources

And they will become exceedingly violent as long as nations are dependent on new oil production

With each new area of oil exploration entailing the same vicious cycle of military buildup and constant potential of violence

For this reason Klare concludes that converting away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which is not as limited and doesn’t have the same constant tension, is essential

Klare said that the choice in the U.S. presidential election is between moving backwards towards greater reliance on fossil fuels (Romney) and embracing fossil fuels along with a little bit of green energy (Obama)

Oil isn’t the only commodities that nations will soon be fighting over…

Business Insider

3 Comments on "How Oil Has Driven Global Conflict For The Past 100 Years"

  1. BillT on Fri, 29th Jun 2012 2:05 am 

    Nothing new here for those of us who live in the real world. But soon, wars will be fought with rock and clubs as the sources of energy will not support more than that. I think that by the end of this century war will cease to exist. We will not have the capacity or desire to pursue it. Living will have all of our attention.

  2. Norm on Fri, 29th Jun 2012 3:18 am 

    hmmm well, a little gloom & doom goes a long ways. The cannon and the gun were used in mass quantities, before any large fossil fuel production. Armies used to get to their war zone, using wood ships and canvas sails. Therefore, even if oil production vanishes, the war should at least have plenty of cannons, guns, and maybe a few vietnam style flame throwers. After all, we gotta keep the wars going, thats how Cheney stays rich.

  3. eyeball on Fri, 29th Jun 2012 11:42 am 

    war will always exist whilst humans populate the earth

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