Oil wars

We would like to point out to you the dossier of L'Histoire: Les guerres du petroleum (September 2003).
A historian's point of view on these crises that have shaken our world for 150 years.

It was in 1859, in Titusville, Pennsylvania, that the first well with industrial vocation, intended for lighting. The success was immediate and speculation, the race for production and transport were already at work. In 1870, Rockefeller founded the Standart Oil Company and built a real empire using his radical methods.

At the turn of the century, the United States provided two-thirds of production, ahead of Russia, Mexico and Romania. In Europe resources were relatively scarce and prospecting was carried out towards new countries, in the Middle East, in Iran, Turkey. Electricity is gradually replacing kerosene lamps, but the internal combustion engine and then the diesel engine will give new outlets for oil exploitation. The tanks, planes and submarines of the 1914-18 war prove the superiority of these engines over other means of traction. Consumption will increase further with the acceleration of post-war industrialization. Finally, with the beginnings of petrochemicals and the diversification of applications, oil is becoming essential.

At the start of the second war, it was already the subject of all the issues. When they go to war, Germany and Japan are disadvantaged from the point of view of access to oil resources and this is what determines the strategy of the Blitzkrieg, this "lightning war" intended to quickly obtain victory. on producing countries. This is success in France, Poland and the Balkans, but the defeat of Stalingrad will cut the Germans' route to the oil fields of the Caucasus.

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The 50s saw the intensification of influence struggles in the new producing countries. Example: in 1951, Dr Mossadegh had the exploitation of oil wealth nationalized in an Iran until now under British influence. Two years later, a “popular revolt” mounted by the CIA dismisses and imprisons him while the new power entrusts the exploitation and refining of its resources to a consortium in which the Americans figure for 40%. The Suez Crisis in 1956 marked the end of European influence and everywhere the preponderance of the United States.

In the West, throughout the 50s and 60s, keeping prices low allowed for growth and considerable tax deductions. But the industrialized world has thus made itself totally dependent on this unique resource and the rest will be less glorious ...

In September 1960 in Baghdad, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is created, comprising Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait. They will be joined later by Qatar, Libya, Abu Dhabi, Ecuador, Nigeria, Indonesia and Gabon. It was to unify the petroleum policies of member countries to ensure they stabilized prices and a steady income. In practice, this meant struggle against the companies. In the early 70 years, the minimum rate of royalties is set at 55%. Crude prices are increased and revised according to international inflation. This price offensive is accompanied by actions aimed at increased control of their country on production: in February 71, President Boumediene decided unilaterally that Algeria is the majority shareholder in French companies are operating in its territory and transforms pipelines and natural gas deposits in State property. Similar measures were taken in Iraq and Libya while elsewhere contracts are renegotiated.

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Price of a barrel of crude oil reduced in 2000 dollars. Click to enlarge

In October 73, the Yom Kippur War rages on. Six countries in the Persian Gulf decide on a 70% increase in the price of crude. Then they (without Iran but with the other Arab oil-exporting countries) decide on a 5% drop in production every month "as long as the international community has not forced Israel to evacuate the territories occupied in 1967 ". Finally, they proclaim the embargo towards the United States, protectors of the Hebrew state, then extend the measure to the Netherlands, Portugal, Rhodesia and South Africa. In two months, the price of a quadruple barrel (from $ 3 to $ 11,65).
Thus the war 73 can permanently reverse the balance of power between exporting countries and large companies. But above all, this economic crisis reveals the latent economic crisis and the urgency of the energy debate.
Yet the United States, the main target of the embargo, are only slightly affected. Indeed, the exporting countries can not always control the destination of tankers leaving their shores and then 1973, 5 only to 6% of the oil was imported from the Gulf. For cons, the US enjoy what Europe and Japan, not having their own fields, are hard hit because of declining competitiveness.
After the second crisis 1979-80, OPEC will gradually lose its influence. Alternative energy (the "all-nuclear" in France), the exploitation of new deposits (the North Sea, Africa ...) and individualism producing countries will weaken.

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From 1975, the USSR seeks to increase its influence in the countries concerned by the large arteries of oil transport (East Africa, South Yemen, Afghanistan), probably in anticipation of future conflicts. But with the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the end of the Cold War in the late 80 years, ended this strategy. This failure and the fall in production in Russia is probably the cause of the fury that makes this country to maintain its sovereignty in Chechnya.

Since 1990-91, the United States are to have hegemony. "Should we be surprised that, in these circumstances, the hyperpower be tempted to impose to the world his vision of an international order which coincides -in the name of morality and law- with its own interests? ". In 90-91, she managed to gather around it a coalition, with the UN's blessing. In 2003, she is past.

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