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Oil as a Political Weapon in the Middle East

Oil is one of the most widely used energy products, but at the same time, the overwhelming majority of petroleum consumers (first of all, Western European states, Japan, and the United States) are practically devoid of oil fields. Despite the rapid development of international transportation networks and energy transfer (in the form of combustible gas, coal, shale, and electricity), oil remains the most flexible form of international trade in terms of energy resources.

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The relatively large impact of the oil issue in international relations should be explained by at least several reasons. First, all countries strive to provide energy security. It implies the emergence of long-term alliances that define the environment in key oil-producing regions (Gilbar 21). Second, businesses dealing with oil remain among the most lucrative ones. For example, the discovery of substantial oil reserves in Libya turned the country into a relatively influential player in the international arena in an instant. Third, the oil industry is international in nature, which leads to the formation of large companies that can influence the political and economic situation in the world.

Since the 1960s, many aspects of our life have been influenced by the oil business. During the period from 1945 to the late 1970s, countries of the West and Japan have consumed more mineral resources than ever. In the 1970s, with only 6% of the world population, the United States consumed almost a third of the world’s energy. After the 18-day war in 1973 (when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel), the Arab countries declared an embargo on selling their oil. Prices rose from $3 to $12 USD (Gilbar 73). This had a strong influence on the industry of many countries and provoked them to take drastic measures to resolve the problem.

In September 1980, when Iraq invaded Iran, a grueling eight-year war commenced (Gilbar 108). In 1981, oil prices jumped to a new historical high of $34 USD per barrel, which undermined the stability of many countries immediately. The developed countries responded to the crises by reinforcing their measures to reduce their dependence on oil through supply diversification, the use of alternative energy sources, and energy conservation.

The notion of diversification of energy supply sources appeared when countries were dealing with the crisis, and it enabled them to find alternative energy resources. Moreover, the use of suspended oil wells proved to be effective (Gilbar 43). It should be noted that the use of the Middle East oil embargo as a “weapon” would be effective only in the case where many countries would support this measure, but the solidarity of these countries in resolving political and financial issues is unlikely. Despite this fact, the massive use of oil as a weapon against developed countries has affected their unity.

A significant factor influencing decision-making is the attitudes and the discontent of the population. On the one hand, people see the need to support “brotherly” Arab countries, but on the other hand, an increase in prices would be inevitable; subsequently the government would be likely to meet resistance from citizens. These aspects make the oil conflict in the Middle East unpredictable in terms of size and level of countries’ involvement. In addition, it becomes impossible to foresee the political implications of the crisis. The only predictable consequence is economic losses for both oil suppliers and consumers.

Works Cited

Gilbar, Gad G. The Middle East Oil Decade and Beyond, Abingdon: Routledge, 2013. Print.

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