Last Update: September 2, 2015
There’s a global war being fought over access to the remaining oil supplies in the world. The cost is monetary – the money to pay for troops and bullets – and moral – the human cost of causing pain and suffering and death to other people. The war isn’t being fought openly, and often there are layers of obfuscation between the publicly stated rationale for each phase of this war, and the real reason. The purpose of the war is ensuring The West has access to crude oil supplies, so that the global economy can stay fueled to produce the wealth we’ve come to enjoy.
An example is when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the Western powers joined together supposedly to defend Kuwait’s territorial integrity. The truth, as we see below, is that Iraq needed more oil revenue, had been disputing its boundary with Kuwait for some time, and decided to grab Kuwait to control their oil fields. Then, having control of Kuwait meant that Iraq was in position to also grab Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. Was the West defending Kuwait, or defending access to oil fields? In another phase of this war, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, we were told about fictitious dangers from Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, and that failure to do something about Iraq (and its supposed support of terrorist groups) would result in a mushroom cloud (nuclear weapon) in a major city somewhere.
Since then the Middle East has devolved into a multi-dimensional war that I think nobody understands. Rogue terror groups like ISIS and al Queda in Yemen are threatening the stability of the whole region. The U.S. has warships in constant action, is sending drone aircraft for tactical strikes on a daily basis, and has boots on the ground in some countries. We’re told all this has to do with fighting terrorism, but it’s really about control over the Middle East oil fields.
Modern western society is wholly dependent on fossil fuels. It’s fossil fuel derived fertilizers that give us the food abundance to feed 7+ billion people. It’s fossil fuels that drive all manner of vehicle every day, delivering all kinds of goods and services that make modern life possible. The powers that be are maintaining the dependency on fossil fuels rather than moving strongly to renewable energy sources. At the same time fossil fuel consumption is causing a majorly severe climate crisis, and will inevitably cause major financial difficulties thanks to resource depletion and peak oil.
It’s not much discussed in the press but most of the war action occurring over the last 20+ years has been over control of oil fields.
Climate change as a cause of war
In March 2015, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – lead author: Colin Kelley, a climatologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara – showed evidence that the Syrian Civil War was in part caused by human induced climate change. The situation in Syria is of course extremely distressing, and the complexity of what’s happened in that region makes it difficult to pin the civil war to one cause. However, the researchers found the area’s temperature rose by over 1 degree Centigrade, and they had a 10% reduction in precipitation during the wet season. Additionally, the Syrian regime promoted water-intensive crops which increased desertification. And there was mismanagement of water supplies, compounded by hundreds of thousands of illegal wells, and a growing population which outstripped water supply. These effects led to millions of farmers abandoning their land and descending on the cities, only to not find work.
The cities were already overburdened with refugees from Iraq, thanks to the war there. The Syrian climate refugees ended up creating illegal settlements which became havens for unemployment, crime and eventually political uprisings over government indifference that led to the war.
In other words, climate problems led to a wave of climate refugees making a bad situation (cities overburdened with Iraqi refugees) even worse.
The 2014 IPCC climate change reports clearly projected wide-ranging tough times ahead. Widespread famine, shrinking water supply, growing desertification, flooded coastal areas, deaths from extreme heat, and more. Some of this is already happening, and it’s expected to worsen. Clearly these impacts could be a driver for resource wars and other conflicts.
What about the global oil war?
I brought up wars induced by climate change to make it clear that the wars currently underway do not have simple clear-cut causes. A large part of this oil war is occurring in the Middle East, and while I’m about to point to Western powers greed for more oil as a cause of the multidimensional war in the Middle East, climate change is playing a big role, as is growing population.
A basic factoid of these years is that Western powers (US, Europe, etc) are profligate users of crude oil, fossil fuels, gasoline, diesel, etc, to drive our machines. It’s given us a comfortable life-style, but at the cost of climate change, and a complete dependence on fossil fuels to drive the economy. Without fossil fuels our economic prowess is nothing, and society would collapse. The problem with this picture is that Western powers don’t have domestic sources of crude oil, and have to rely on other countries to provide that oil.
We could just buy crude oil on the open market, right? That’s the way free markets work, supposedly, that someone has a product and other people buy it and the exchange of money makes it all neat and tidy. When it comes to crude oil, that’s not how the game works. Instead, the powers-that-be meddle to gain leverage over the countries that do have significant crude oil reserves. “Meddle” as in, overthrowing governments, installing preferred regimes, using economic leverage, world-wide deployment of military bases and warships, and occasionally waging actual war with boots on the ground.
Peak Oil – shrinking resources means we’re squabbling over a shrinking pie
Peak Oil is a theory saying that as oil fields go past the 50% point, it’s harder and harder to keep extracting oil. Sum together all the oil fields in the world, and a chart like this results showing the potential crude oil production from “conventional” oil fields.
We’re completely dependent on crude oil to power the transportation system that’s vitally important to the functioning of the global economy. What do you think will happen when global crude oil supply shrinks and the oil companies can no longer finagle with technologies like Fracking to bolster the oil supply?
Lots of researchers have predicted global economic turmoil, and a collapse of modern society.
In theory, world leaders already understand this problem, and are acting with integrity to guide governments around the world to avoid the problem. Quit laughing. World leaders may already understand the problem, even if it’s not spoken publicly. Whether or not our world leaders are acting with integrity, they’re working to avoid a shortfall in the global supply of crude oil, and oh by the way that means they’re working to ensure oil companies have unfettered freedom to continue selling crude oil products.
A small piece of evidence is the effort to locate all frackable shale deposits in the world, and the effort to lean on any government whose territory includes frackable shale. Mining oil or natural gas from shale deposits is more expensive, so the only reason “they” would be so keen on fracking every shale deposit is because the easy-to-tap oil fields are beginning to run dry. Similarly, oil companies are taking extreme measures to drill ever-deeper off-shore oil wells, and are even heading to the Arctic to for offshore drilling there. All these are expensive difficult projects that only make sense if cheaper alternatives (easy-to-tap oil fields) are increasingly difficult to tap.
The Carter Doctrine – threats to access to oil are a US National Interest
In large measure, the US involvement with this global war about oil is epitomized by The Carter Doctrine, which was stated in Pres. Carter’s State of the Union address in January 1980. The Doctrine drew a line in the sand, and committed the U.S. to war if anybody threatened access to Persian Gulf oil supplies:
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
It’s not like Carter invented this out of thin air. He was simply stating U.S. policy for years – the U.S. first declared Persian Gulf Oil as a National Interest during World War II, and at the tail end of WWII Pres. Roosevelt met with Saudi King Ibn Saud on the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal. In October 1950, President Harry Truman wrote to King Ibn Saud that “the United States is interested in the preservation of the independence and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. No threat to your Kingdom could occur which would not be a matter of immediate concern to the United States”.
At the time Carter declared this Doctrine, the USSR had just invaded Afghanistan and in that same State of the Union Carter noted “The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Straits of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.”
Examples – Iraq – Ukraine – Libya – Syria – Iran – Romania
Iran: The history of difficulties between Iran and the West predates the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran. Instead the story goes back at least to 1953, when the Shah of Iran was installed following a CIA-backed coup of a democratically elected government of Iran. A government that had unfortunately (for them) decided to negate the contract allowing the precursor company to British Petroleum to extract oil in Iran’s territory.
The details are explained in detail in a book – All The Shah’s Men – written by Stephen Kinzer. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), later known as British Petroleum (BP), signed a contract in 1933 with the Government of Iran for oil extraction rights. Following WWII a democratically elected parliament and prime minister took power, and set about seizing the oil field assets which had been developed by British Petroleum. The British brought Iran’s government to court in Belgium’s International Court, only to lose their case. Afterward the British blockaded the Straights of Hormuz to prevent Iran from shipping oil to the world market.
The US CIA and British MI6 worked together to engineer a coup in 1953, after worries grew that Iran was collaborating with Russia. That coup installed King Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the absolute ruler of Iran, who used SAVAK (a repressive secret police force trained by the CIA) to implement his power. The Shah stayed in power for 26 years until the 1979 Revolution which replaced the Shah’s pro-Western government with a decidedly anti-Western authoritarian theocracy.
Every bit of political wrangling over Iran should be interpreted around BP’s contract guaranteeing oil extraction rights. When Iran first tried to negate that contract, the British Navy blockaded the Straights of Hormuz, and then the CIA and MI6 overthrew the government. Do you think the 1979 Revolution was met with acceptance as an expression of the will of the Iranian people? No, it wasn’t, instead Western powers have worked hard to ensure Iran is treated as a pariah state.
Iraq: Western meddling in Iraq predates the 1991 Gulf War. For example, the border between Iraq and Kuwait provided part of the basis of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait which instigated the 1991 Gulf War – that border was drawn by the British decades earlier.
The Iraqi government presented several justifications to the Arab League prior to their invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – Iraq believed Kuwait was really a province of Iraq, and accused Kuwait of producing more than their fair share of crude oil production. Iraq also needed more money to pay down debts run up during the Iran-Iraq war, and saw Kuwait’s oil fields as a potential source of revenue.
The U.S. was afraid that Iraq had also gained proximity to major oil fields in Saudi Arabia, and that Iraq could quickly grab control over a majority of the worlds Oil reserves.
Various diplomatic means were attempted to get Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, but all that eventually failed and instead a U.S. led counter-invasion of Kuwait began in January 1991.
Iraq round 2: Between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War lots of smaller events happened, such a the “No Fly Zone” idea which had American air power continually patrolling Iraq’s skies, and Iraq was under tight sanctions that included tight control on where they could sell crude oil and what the proceeds could be used for. Then there was the Sept. 11, 2001 attack in New York City which somehow got blamed on Iraq even though they had no involvement. Leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a story was spun for the world claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, was developing nuclear weapons, had big stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, mobile chemical weapons labs meant to avoid scrutiny from the air patrols, etc.
It was all a pack of lies – back in August 2003, I went over every claim made in Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations and showed that not only was every point false, but was known to be false at the time of his presentation.
Better people than I have put together evidence about this next claim: From the 1st day of the Bush43 Administration, a major focus was put on toppling the government of Iraq in order that Western Oil Companies would have access to Iraq’s oil fields.
Former Bush43 Administration Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, said the invasion of Iraq and toppling of Saddam Hussein was a top topic of the National Security Council from the first day – 9 months before September 11, 2001. He discussed this in a 60 Minutes interview, and in a book “The Price of Loyalty“. Richard Clarke, who was the Anti-Terrorism Czar in the Bush43 Administration told the same tale in his book, Against All Enemies.
General Abizaid, former CENTCOM Commander, while speaking at a round table discussion on “ the Fight for Oil, Water and a Healthy Planet” at Stanford University in October 2007, said “Of course it’s about oil, we can’t really deny that.” Abizaid also argued that “we” (the West) needs to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq in order to maintain a free flow of “goods and resources,” meaning crude oil. At the same meeting, Thomas Friedman (the NY Times economics columnist) said “We’ve treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations.” (source: ThinkProgress, and the video of the meeting)
Journalist Greg Palast wrote a story in March 2005 saying the Bush Administration launched plans to overthrow Iraq’s government from the beginning, as others have said, but that there were competing agenda’s. One agenda, favored by the Oil Industry, would have forced the sell-off of all of Iraq’s oil fields. The other agenda was to instead use Iraq’s oil reserves as an economic weapon to smash OPEC’s dominance, by having Iraq flood the market with oil.
A documentary, The Oil Factor behind the War on Terror, takes a deep look at the real reasons for the Iraq War. Lt. Col. Karen Kiatkowski (ret), who’d worked in the Office of Special Planning in the Pentagon, laid out some reasons for the Iraq War: 1) Geo-strategic regional dominance, which does relate to “energy supply”, 2) there’d been pressure to lift the sanctions against Iraq, following 12+ years of sanctions and regular bombing campaigns against Iraq, and the lifting of sanctions would have prevented the West from taking any further action against Iraq because there’d have been a flood of Westerners into Iraq, 3) Iraq had switched to trading oil for Euro’s rather than trading oil for Dollars.
At that time (2000-1) some projections suggested that U.S. and European oil reserves would simply run out by 2010 or so, and that other countries like China would run out shortly afterward.
Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham told a National Energy Summit on March 19, 2001 that America was going to face an energy supply crisis in the next 20 years. He believed that if America was not adequately prepared for those demands then the foundations for the prosperity of the country would be threatened.
One effect of the intense interest on Iraq from day 1 of the Bush43 Administration was the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG). This was VP Dick Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force that met in secret with Oil Industry officials, and others, to secretly craft national energy policy. One section called for diversification of the foreign sources of crude oil, to give more energy security. The report included maps of all the oil fields in Iraq, around the Persian Gulf, and lists of the companies involved in the Gulf.
MSNBC aired a pair of documentaries about the Iraq War – Hubris: Selling the War, about how the war was sold to us, based on a book by Michael Isikoff and David Corn – and Why We Did it: The Invasion of Iraq, about the motivation for the war. Where the Hubris documentary laid a strong case that the war was launched under false pretenses, it didn’t give a motive. Why We Did It lays a strong case that the Iraq War purpose was control over access to crude oil resources. Not, that the U.S. wants to directly control Iraq’s oil fields, but that whoever ends up in control of those fields makes the oil freely available to the global oil market.
The latter documentary summarizes evidence from a string of documents prepared within the Bush43 Administration both before Sept 11, 2001, and between that day and the 2003 Iraq Invasion.
- Strategic Energy Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century [ amazon.com]
- “The Future of Iraq Project”, a US State Department group [ National Security Archive]
- “Energy Infrastructure Planning: How to Spend Proceeds from Iraqi Petroleum Production”, November 6, 2002, Energy Infrastructure Planning Group
- “Planning for the Iraqi Petroleum Infrastructure: Briefing for the Secretary of Defense” 11 January 2003
The point of these documents appears above – gaining control over Iraqi oil reserves, and using that as an asset in a geopolitical power game. At the time, Iraq’s production was lower than it could be – because of inefficiency and corruption – and that a concerted effort to properly commercialize could increase Iraq’s production.
Syria: This country also has oil fields, though nowhere as significant as Iraq’s. What’s been happening in Syria has more to do with Geo-strategic regional dominance and just plain incompetence. First, the Neocon’s (Project for a New American Century) pushed for the overthrow of Iraq, followed by the overthrow of either Syria or Iran, beginning in the mid-1990’s. The Neocon’s are important because they became the leaders of Bush43’s foreign policy team – Wolfowitz, Rumsfield, Cheney, Jeb Bush, etc etc etc
Their plan was to remake the Middle East into a realm of friendly moderate democracies beginning by installing such a democracy in the middle of the Middle East – Iraq. Then this altruistic activity would move on to either Iran or Syria, depending on which country looked like the better target.
Of course it’s disingenuous to install moderate democracy by pointing guns at people, after invading their country and overthrowing their government. Which is what we learned from the last 12 years, isn’t it?
Journalist Mark Danner wrote a predictive piece in July 2003, published in the New York Review of Books, about the likely result of the then- newly launched Iraq War. He predicted what’s now ISIS – a rogue group operating independently of any government and threatening the stability of the whole region. What created ISIS is the Bush43 Administration policies in Iraq. This included the de-Baathification of Iraq, which pushed a bunch of people out of government and military jobs pushing them into an insurgency role, as well as the horrors of how the US Occupation of Iraq like Abu Ghraib which simply serve as a recruiting poster for people angry at the U.S.
Libya: For decades Libya was run by a supposedly lunatic dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, or so we’re told to believe. It may be true that he was a lunatic, I don’t know. What I do know is that a couple years ago the U.S. finally overthrew Gaddafi. This was Obama’s possibly illegal war – no Congressional authorization was granted, while the Obama Administration claims it wasn’t needed because the action took less than 60 days. What’s important, however, is the question of whether the overthrow of Libya’s government was about oil supplies.
Evidence that Libya’s overthrow was due to oil supplies sits within a Congressional Research Service report discussing Europe’s energy security.
The CRS report makes a case that Europe is under threat from Russia because Europe doesn’t have domestic natural gas or oil resources. Russia, on the other hand, has extensive sources for both primarily in Siberia. Russia has a stereotype based on decades of actions by Russian governments that they’ll grab everything they can – you give them a pinky, and they’ll rip your arm off. I’m talking about Russian governments, not individual Russians.
With that in mind, the CRS report states it is in the U.S. National Interest to ensure Europe’s energy security – meaning that the U.S. is willing to go to war, if necessary, to protect Europe. The report then goes on to document all the potential resources from which Europe could extract natural gas or crude oil.
One of those sources is Libya. The problem with Libya was that oil and natural gas production was controlled by a national oil company, and Western oil companies could not operate in Libya. The CRS report said about Libya: Libya may have the greatest potential to increase natural gas exports to Europe once a new regime is established and possibly a new state oil and natural gas company in a post-Qadhafi Libya.
The same report said similar things about Egypt and Algeria.
Ukraine: And, the same CRS report had a lot to say about Ukraine. Ukraine is the bottleneck through which a large majority of the natural gas sold by Russia flows to its customer countries in Europe. Why? Ukraine and Russia built many natural gas pipelines through Ukraine that connect to the rest of Europe. Over the last 10-15 years, disputes between Ukraine and Russia have resulted in natural gas deliveries through Ukraine being shut off with allegations flying both ways about misbehavior.
But Ukraine could play a big role in Europe’s independence from a Russian natural gas stranglehold. Ukraine has several shale deposits that are thought to be frackable and could deliver mega-whatever’s of natural gas. Conveniently if Ukraine could frack it’s shale deposits and reap natural gas riches, the country already has natural gas pipelines to the rest of Europe. Instant solution to the problem, eh?
Unfortunately that dream has fallen apart. Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell – the Western Oil Companies who’d signed drilling agreements with Ukraine – have pulled out, citing the ongoing war between Ukraine, the Separatists, and Russia itself.
Romania: In the 1800’s this country was either the first or second in all of history to launch commercial crude oil production. The Romanian oil fields near Ploiesti, and towards the Danube Delta, were significant. So much so that one of the first steps of World War II had Nazi Germany make a beeline to Romania, first taking over Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc. While Germany had a range of reasons to take over those countries, one purpose was having access to Romania’s oil fields. That oil was crucial for Germany to power their war machines.
Then to have access to even more oil resources, Germany made an ill-fated plunge across Ukraine into Russia trying to reach the oil fields around the Caspian Sea. But the Russian Winter famously ruined Germany’s plan and proved to be the turning point for World War II.
Back in Romania, the US Air Force launched an air war, a series of bombing raids, targeting the Romanian oil refineries. Prior to WWII, America and Romania had been the greatest of friends as they are today. But, the vagaries of war meant they had to fight each other. To an extent the successful bombing campaign against Romania’s oil fields hampered Germany’s fuel supply.
In other words, access to crude oil was crucial to the outcome of World War II. It caused Germany to over-extend, proving to be their downfall.
By the way, the first of those air raids was launched from Allied bases in Benghazi Libya, a town more infamous today for “rebel” activity following the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government as we discussed above. In WWII, there’d been a Germany-versus-Allies tank war raging across Northern Africa resulting in Patton’s army kicking Rommel’s army in the behind. Once that was accomplished they set up an air base in Benghazi and set about the task of bombing targets in Europe that were unreachable from the British Isles.