Friday, June 1, 2007

Oil Wars (2007)

Book Review from the June 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oil Wars. Mary Kaldor, Terry Lynn Karl and Yahia Said, eds: Pluto Press

The basic idea behind this volume is the distinction between two kinds of oil-related wars. Old oil wars were about achieving security of oil supplies by directly controlling territory or influencing those who ruled it. The new wars differ in that countries with large oil supplies often have weak governments and are characterised by disorder and terror. Case studies of Nigeria, Angola, Chechnya, Nagorno Karabakh, Aceh and Colombia are employed to illustrate this point.

Nigeria, for instance, is a typical petro-state, heavily dependent on oil for taxes and exports. In the Niger Delta, oil exploration and production have aggravated poverty and had a devastating effect on the environment. Various military regimes used oil revenues for their own ends, while protest movements have often been corrupted by the prospects of getting an income from the oil. In Angola most of the oil is produced offshore and the petroleum industry is a true enclave sector, with little contact with the war-torn parts of the country. So it's seen by the big international oil companies as a reliable supplier, since the fighting barely affects production.

In the former Soviet Union, oil has become a pawn in global power politics. A pipeline from Baku to Tbilisi would bypass Russia, which is therefore unwilling to allow an independent Chechen state. In Aceh in Indonesia the industrialisation resulting from the exploitation of oil and gas has led to the dispossession of local farmers and the growth of cities with massive unemployment. The Casanare area of Colombia has seen oil reserves produce great wealth for the local rulers, but this has not trickled down to most of the population: 'Instead, people have lived in permanent fear and insecurity.'

The concluding chapter argues that 'geopolitical competition, which is the key characteristic of "old oil wars", is counterproductive if the aim is to secure the supply of oil.' Instead, cooperative strategies should be pursued - as if this were just a matter of choice rather than an impossible dream within the competitive society of capitalism.

A Socialist conclusion would be that living somewhere with large oil reserves may not be a blessing at all, as you're likely to be subject to violence and massive social and environmental disruption, whether in new- or old-style wars.
Paul Bennett