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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
How does oil influence world politics?
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Oil prices in London have risen to their highest level for 11 months.
Renewed fears of a war in the Middle East and worries about a reduction in oil supply have caused the price increases.
Environmentalists hope that the rise could lead governments to focus attention on alternative sources of energy.
But many believe that maintaining access to oil continues to affect the political decision making of governments around the world.
And the oil industry itself retains huge influence.
In the United States, the president, vice-president, commerce secretary and national security adviser all have strong ties to the oil industry.
How does oil influence global politics? Are you worried about the effect of the Middle East situation on the oil supply? Why are we so dependent on oil? What are the alternatives?
We discussed the oil industry in our phone-in programme, Talking Point, on Sunday September 1. Our guest was Sheikh Yamani, the former Saudi Arabian oil minister. Click on the link at the top of the page to watch the programme.
This Talking Point is now closed.
For all those so concerned about oil supplies, why don't you push for off-world resource development? The solar system is awash with chemicals such as Methane and the elemental products of nuclear fusion, including nuclear energy. Instead of trying to turn-back the clock, try turning it forward!
Shawn, Washington, DC, USA
I find it laughable when an environmentalist says we should switch to wind, solar and wave power. The only way that would work is if we killed off a few billion people and returned to pre-Industrial Age population levels, because wind and solar power wouldn't be able to supply enough power to run all of the equipment currently required to harvest and distribute the world's food supply at current population levels.
Politics is people. People are greedy, I run a car most of us run cars. We all want fuel and are willing to get it at any cost. If you disagree proof it. Give up your car. I'm waiting.....
The USA gets about 10% of its oil supply from OPEC countries; Europe gets about 40% of its oil supply from OPEC countries. At a time when everyone is talking about Blair being Bush's "poodle", perhaps we should ponder this question: would the US have by now attacked a Gulf state had it not been for our European allies? Is the US giving Saddam one more chance out of consideration for Europe and Europe's oil supply?
What if a new field of oil was found in
Pakistan, larger to
that of Iraq, Iran
and Saudi Arabia and
Pakistan took full
control of the assets?
Would George Bush's be
with us or against us and would that put Musarraf in
same equation of that
Sanjay, London, UK
Oil does rule all politics unfortunately. But can I suggest a simple alternative that we could all see as common sense? Use wind or wave power to generate electricity. Use this energy to split water into its prime components. Let oxygen into the air. Burn the Hydrogen in our cars and have water as the resulting by product. You could almost make this work in your back garden! We would only need lubricating oils then which could probably be created from vegetable sources!
The fact that the Jo'burg conference has failed to agree to produce mere 15% of its energy by renewable methods by 2015 should suggest how unbreakable the grip is that fossil fuels have on the industrial-power complex.
Oil does control the world. Look at Kuwait, the moment Saddam moved into Kuwait every man and his dog moved against him yet when the Palestinians ask for help in their own country, we just stand back and let them be murdered! If there was oil there we would all be interested in peace coming to this beautiful country.
Steve Perry, UK
Let's be honest about this - the Americans will not go to war unless oil (Kuwait) or pipelines to oil (Afghanistan) are at risk. The problem is that the US is terrified of a new 'dark age' when the oil runs out. They do not have enough renewable energy or nuclear power stations to cope with anything like the power demands made by their people, and they cannot face up to asking Americans to adapt their lifestyles to use less energy. So they'll keep going to war to protect the last few drops of oil, because when it runs out there will REALLY be trouble.
Too many Americans participating in this discussion. It is you guys who support the many dictators around the world. The only reason many of them are still in power is because of your (US) lavish support including military and financial aid with the only purpose to secure oil supply (or airbases or whatever). This is pure politics in America and is also a direct interference in the political life of so many other states!
Andrew Hoover, Walnut Creek, California, USA
Oil should be replaced by renewable energies like solar, wind and electricity. Now oil has become a major tool in some regions of the world which has played a deadly part in encouraging terrorism. Revenues from oil has had a devastating effect on the world. Today every human being is under constant fear as to when their life will come to an end. And we should also not forget that we are responsible for our future generations to come.
All countries are dependent upon oil and its source. The world economic mobility especially agriculture and industry, is solely dependent on oil and its by-products. So, any political developments which have direct impacts on the production, distribution and movements of oil have consequences throughout the world.
Mark Harrison, Cambridge
Shawn, Fact: Europe does not get their oil from Iraq! Correct Oil is politics, why do you think the US supported the Gulf War, if Kuwait did not have oil, no one would have given a damn about the Iraq invasion! People do not want Saddam Hussein because he has oil and will undercut everyone to make more money. Is the US going to invade Russia because it does not keep prices up too?
There is no doubt in my mind that the oil lobby affects US foreign policy and has a lot to answer for in the Middle East and former Soviet states. Iraq is another example. As for the high price of oil, our own governments are to blame, US has the lowest tax and UK the highest ranging from 40% to 90% worldwide so it isn't just the Arab oil states.
James, London, UK
It is evident that the West is panicking about the prospect that oil production will slump within the next decade or two. Can't say I blame them given that alternative fuel sources don't exist in abundance. Oil is the current choice due to its ready availability in abundance. Science advisors have persistently pointed out that oil reserves are rapidly diminishing due to exponential consumption.
It is remarkable that all the comments are from the readers from Western countries (except one Indian guy). And no need to read the postings, the politicians know all too well that a human nature will justify any despicable deeds as long as it suits its nature...
Oil is like a cursed black precious jewel. That we are all running after it despite what it does, is testament to our lack of intelligence as a species. Oil is the root cause of some of our worst problems, air pollution, sea pollution, land pollution, global warming, endless wars and death. It also perpetuates terrorism, who would care less what the Middle East, or Al Qaeda or Saddam did if we didn't need their oil...
Jon Livesey, USA
Until there is a true incentive to move away from fossil fuels, the world will continue to revolve around oil.
Oil is global politics. It's time Americans wake up and see that before we have another Gulf War that leads to WOW I (World Oil War I)
After all this time arguing about oil, it amazes me that none of the other countries in the world have not been searching for an alternative so that we won't need their oil. That would put a stop to all this greed and wanting to have a war.
David Yap, Perth, Australia
The US only gets 10% of its oil from OPEC; Europe and Japan get 40% and 60% of their oil from OPEC respectively. So the US is far from being dependent of middle-eastern oil. Besides, if there was a sudden end to the world's oil supply, the US would have enough resources to build new renewable plants in a couple of months to meet its energy needs. However, this would come at great cost.
Oil is global politics!
Oil ranks amongst the top 5 causes of conflict in the world alongside religion, drugs, economics and starvation. A perfect illustration of this is the apparent political tolerance of the USA towards the Saudis - who are renowned for their disregard of human rights, possibly more so that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. If they are so concerned about Iraq, why don't they threaten the Saudis? After all, it is a breeding ground for fundamentalist terrorists. But no, because Saudi Arabia supplies the USA with the oil it needs to satisfy its gas guzzling and pollution loving society.
Oil is everything to the world's large economies. Without it, their economies would be devastated. The world's large economies give enormous amounts of aid to the poorer ones. Without that, there would be even more starvation and poverty. So the next time you hear someone complain that their fighting over oil again, keep this in mind.
It is common to cite US energy needs as the primary thrust behind the country's foreign policy. However, if this is the case, then why is the US disinterested in becoming a world-leader in renewable energy resources? It has the technology, skills and capacity to do so, yet its commitment to the World Summit on Sustainable Development this week has been meagre. Diversifying into renewable energy would also cut off the main source of funds to 'rogue' states such as Libya and Iran. No, the US under its Texan leader George W Bush would not be short-sighted and stupid enough to make oil profits central to its foreign policy.
Derek Still, Gladstone, Qld, Australia
Its very interesting to note that the European countries opposing attacks on Iraq are the ones without any substantial oil or gas reserves of their own. They are not bothered what happens to Iraq per se. Just taking care of some selfish motives. There's politics and oil for you.
In this era of technological and industrial progress, one cannot disentangle the effect of oil prices and availability on overall economic growth and development. Countries endowed with greater oil reserves (the middle east) almost always use it as a political tool. Therefore I strongly believe that an attack on Iraq will trigger a spill over effect - an increase in the world market price of oil. It's high time mankind started thinking of gradually introducing the use of solar energy, hydrogen fuels, methane gas, etc, as alternatives to crude oil. This is necessary for us not to be taken by surprise in the event of a critical scarcity of oil.
Here In Alaska we understand oils importance and could ramp up production to new areas if the need arises due to mid east turmoil. Alaska could, if political roadblocks were removed, triple its output capacity due to the large undeveloped areas of our state. We Alaskans are ready to meet the challenge of supporting our brothers in the lower 48 states. We run on oil in the US. If it was so easy to switch to renewable sources, we'd be doing it. Lets give thanks for oil and the good it has done man kind and we'll keep working on a source of fuel that is better, but that's the challenge of our civilization
Don, Detroit, USA
A wide variety of natural resources have always affected the political decision making of governments. Currently it is oil that fuels economies and enriches its owners and/or importers. Previously, this list included coal, cane sugar, salt and spices. While the items may change, and the demand has become increasingly global since the mid-1600's, it is the people of the world that create this supply and demand, not businesses and governments.
The oil industry is a funder of the Bush administration. It is undeniable that the interests of the Oil companies are stuck to in International Politics by the USA
Reading the previous comments, I am once again confronted with myths. Such as the pipeline in Afghanistan: that project has been abandoned now that the pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey is being built. And no, there are no "vast quantities" of oil fields left. And no, the United States is not so self-providing in oil, but very much dependent on the Middle East, where the oil reserve is about 645 billion barrels. The fact that the US and West-European nations are doing everything in their power to gain a foothold in the Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Sakhalin oilfields, only proves that they wish not to be so dependent on Middle East oil.
Stephan Okhuijsen, Netherlands
Strange how most comments out of the US seem to imply that the US government is not interested in oil in the Middle East. You may have access to your own supplies outside of the Mid-East but what you seem to ignore is that your government want control of the oil in the Mid-East so to expand the US global controls. Oil is money is power.
I can't remember the exact statistic, but I remember hearing that Iraq has something in the region of a third of the world's un-tapped oil reserves, to which the US have no current access. Does this have anything to do with America's wish to install a puppet government? Let us not forget that America's involvement in Somalia 10 years ago was due to the black gold.
As far as energy is concerned, the world has both the know-how and the means to make the switch from oil. Sure, it may be expensive, but who says so? The oil industry and administrations with links close to the oil industry. Is solar and wind really an alternative? Yes. But as mentioned below by others, it does not represent a big profit. But the change will only happen when ordinary people stop using the worn out phrase : 'but everybody does it.' to justify consumption and waste.
K Budden, UK
Any time that action in the Middle East is suggested for any reason the complaint is that it's all about oil. It was raised when we went after Iraq the first time in spite of the fact that Hussein had crossed the border into Kuwait in violation of all international law. There's no doubt that oil is a factor in our relationships in the Middle East but it's not the only factor. There are other considerations that aren't negated by the fact that oil happens to come from there.
The US does import a lot of oil, but only about 10% comes from the Middle East. Within the next ten years, if Bush has his way, it will be a lot less than that.
Mirek Kondracki, Alexandria, USA
The fuel protests across Europe last year simply indicated how dependent the world is on oil. Oil is the roots of economy, it affects us all directly and indirectly. The middle east crisis can only worsen the current volatile world economy. The only alternative is to develop other sources of energy but that will take decades. So for now, we are at the mercy of the OPEC nations.
Politicians have a strong affinity to the oil industry because, like oil, they too are generally wet and slimy!
Oil is not just used for energy - it is the raw material for all those products which have now become essential; mainly Plastics and Chemicals. Without these, how would we make computers, cars, medicines, aeroplanes, paint, telephones, lifeboats, shoes, toothbrushes?
Many viable and workable alternatives to oil exist, and have done so for years. For example, the internal combustion engine will happily burn renewable alcohol based fuels, and diesel engines will even burn vegetable oils. Wind and solar energy are just as capable of heating and lighting our homes as fossil fuel power is. The problem is, big corporations can't profit from sunlight and wind, and governments can't realistically tax it! Alternative fuels which could be grown or made at home suffer have the same problem. This is why we will continue to be dependent on oil until the day it runs out, and although I begrudgingly pay the tax, I refuse to be made to feel guilty about what is a totally manufactured problem.
The basis of all modern economic activity is energy, and oil is the dominant source for most nations. In order for a nation to switch it's reliance on oil to renewable sources of energy, a massive effort would be required, of the same sort of magnitude as going to war. However, unlike war, there would be very tangible long term returns, especially environmental and economic. Sadly, it seems that those with vested interests in oil production and arms manufacture, are also influential enough to ensure the continuing dominance of oil and war.
Oil is the alpha and omega of our current economy. If we choose to give it up, we will lose most of the world's population from hunger. We need alternatives that are viable. As it is, America must do everything it can to ensure the supply of oil because oil is life.
Oil is life? It is this type of refusal to see beyond the current system that has locked the world into such a desperate economic and political situation of exploitation, corporate power and massive social and environmental injustice, especially in poor nations. The West (the US & Europe) effectively takes the oil resources of other countries by force (implied, economic or more or less explicit), and combusts it to fuel a consumerist economic system where human rights are utterly subordinate to the profit principle. Who loses? Virtually no benefits accrue to the populations of the source oil countries (beyond a powerful elite), and great, uncontrolable damage is done to the planet's ecosystems in the process. This is madness. Wake up and smell the photochemical smog.
It's difficult to argue that experience with oil suppliers and markets is a negative quality in a modern American leader. After all, America is more than 50% dependent upon foreign oil, mostly from highly unstable parts of the world. The Middle East situation will not dramatically affect the oil supply because the Saudi economy is even more dependent on oil sales than the American economy is on oil procurement.
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK
The less dependent we are on oil, the more coherent our foreign policy will be.
It is in our interests to promote democracies around the world. We, in the civilised West, would be insisting on democracy and human rights in the Middle East and CIS but since oil is involved, we only ask that our cars have enough cheap petrol.
A diplomat once opined that the Kingdom of Heaven runs on Right and Wrong; the Kingdoms of Earth run on oil. It is well past time for us to kick our oil habit and acquire a foreign policy of enlightened self-interest.
Those who have oil to sell have, obviously, a diametrically opposite point of view from others. Mid-East oil economies use the USA as the USA does likewise. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia says it all. I'm really glad that Russia and Iraq can cause panic in the oil market now on their own. That should shift the centre of oil power from Mid-East and US hands more than anything else. Even if to a very small extent.
Yes, in the price we pay for every gram of food we eat, there is a component of oil used, to haul the food to us. Yet, why isolate oil alone? Like every other dominance, oil ALSO influence the world politics. The dominant American war machines, the large Chinese production machines and powerful Jewish lobbying machines all have indisputable influence on world politics.
In the way we all succumb to Arabs for oil, we also accept whatever other big guys say. That is the way of life, not today, for centuries! We have BBC talking point today to discuss about it - that is the only difference.
The policy of the United States is that it will go to war in the Middle East to protect the oil supplies, it did before it will do it again. This is what is taking place now in Afghanistan. An oil pipeline to the riches of central Asia.
John from Scotland. Your comments reflect the growing rift between Europe and the U.S. over many matters. Yes oil does play a part in politics but to suggest the US went to Somalia to gain gold is ludicrous. I invite you to come live or visit here for a while and discuss politics, etc with Americans. We are not the former Soviet Union.
I anticipate much hand-wringing from the United States, a country which has bucked the world trend and actually increased the average fuel consumption of its cars in recent years.
As a cyclist, may I just say: "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
This American will be happy when our oil needs are met through a combination of renewable and domestic energy sources. Then we can leave the duplicitous Arabs and hypocritical Europeans to trample each other.
Fact: European leaders do not support an attack on Iraq because it would greatly diminish their oil supply. Oil IS politics.
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