Oil, the West and the rise of nuclear race
President Dwight Eisenhower called the Middle East “the most strategically important area in the world” “a stupendous source of strategic power and probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment.” State Department declared the Middle East “a prize that U.S. intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding new world order of the day.” Delano Roosevelt’s adviser, Adolf Berle, said control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield substantial control of the world. Loss of control would threaten America and world domination” – a policy that has not changed since 1945.
Oil changed the whole dynamic of power in the world: the Middle East had the oil; the world needed the oil and was willing to do anything to get the oil. USSR, also for strategic reasons would not leave the West alone in the Middle East. As the western economy tottered because of the increase in oil prices, they needed to check the influence of USSR, while rebuilding its economy. For this, both blocks, the West and the USSR, did all in their power in the Middle East to keep their respective influence, while check-mating each other.
Any arms wanted by countries in the Middle East, they got. From Atoll and Styx missiles, MIGs, 17, 19, 21, and 29 planes were sold to them. Three quarters of military material of India were supplied by USSR; India was licensed to produce military Soviet MIG fighter aircraft while the USSR had denied China from production of this plane.
The USSR signed a 25-year treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with India and agreed to provide economic, technical and military support. If India went one way, Pakistan would go the other way; hence Pakistan went to the United States.
Saddam Hussein emphasizing the importance of oil said “the real moment when Iraq became independent was when it nationalised its oil industries and oil companies began to pay a fair price for the oil.” The Middle East was, at that time, characterised by what was described as an unimpeded unprecedented inflow of cash.
1970s – 1972 – 73, Iran’s oil revenue rose eight-fold; Iraq revenue rose 50-fold from 26 billion USD to 575 billion USD. The more money that flowed into the Middle East the more Islamic it became. In 1973, Syria and Egypt became one country and attacked Israel in Operation Badr. Not only did they become more Islamic they also became dynastic.
1973 was in some ways a seminal year for the United States; that year saw the Yom Kippur war and this fundamentally changed U.S. attitude to the whole of the Middle East because of the Middle East use of oil supplies as a weapon of war. By restricting output it pushed the price of oil up by at least 400 per cent. But more fundamentally it showed a major weak point in Europe and America.
In November 1973, Richard Nixon spoke to Americans on television telling them that the United State was consuming too much oil and had to cut back. He cut the speed limit to 55mph: heating of home and offices was pegged at the maximum 68°F, air conditioners were to be turned off or down, power plants were to be reconverted back to coal from oil, aviation fuel to be restricted; and all Americans were to lower their thermostat by at least 6°.
The United States, President Nixon insisted, must meet its energy needs. These measures saved 150,000 barrels per day; road accidents were reduced by over 15 per cent – partly as a result lowering speed limits.
The new political issue was energy, forcing President Nixon to produce a new energy policy which included solar power, nuclear power and many other theories blossomed.
The rising prices of oil justified prospect for oil in difficult places for example in the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Alaska and so on in an effort to reduce dependency on oil from the Middle East. As usual the West saw a problem and found ways to deal with it. The Middle East on the other hand, saw an opportunity and failed to exploit it to the maximum. Instead they spent money foolishly, lavishly and saved money in western banks which used their money to dig the West out of a hole. The West did what it always did best: promoted discords and instability in the region to their own advantage.
In six months, oil prices had risen from US$ 3 to US$ 12. The West suffered the effects of rising oil prices. But in the Middle East there was a construction boom. The ruling classes were subject to increasing demographic selfishness. The result was a slowdown towards pluralistic democracy. The rise of liberal democracy was stunted giving way in the Middle East to increasing dynastic rule. Liberal democracy virtually, disappeared everywhere in the Middle East. In fact, some intellectual experts have argued that the U.S. actually preferred autocratic dictators and did not want liberal democracy in the Middle East. Each time a nation moved towards democracy the U.S. scuttled that government in favour of a dictatorship.
The 1970s saw decades of opulence in the Middle East: Iran Air ordered Concorde, but could not fly it because countries in Europe would not allow it to fly over them claiming noise pollution. Lavish spending knew no limits. The Arms Race began in earnest. Spending was massive, lavish and even reckless.
The Western nations lobbied aggressively to sell arms to Middle East. In Iran the defence expenditure rose 100 per cent in six years, orders to U.S. companies for military materiel was US$ 20 billion. Which surface to air missile will they buy? The U.S. or the French or the British or that of USSR? Between 1975-1978, Iran spent 40 per cent of its budget on arms.
Iran ordered hundreds of chieftain tanks; the Israelis ordered large number Mirage fighter jets. MIGs – 21, 23, 25 and 29 were ordered by Syria, Soviet 772 tanks and U.S. 5 jets were ordered by Iraq. U.S. sold F5 and F16s to Saudi Arabia. The Middle East arms race was truly on, to the benefit of the economies of Britain, France, the USSR and USA. The up shoot of all these war materiel, the pampering of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait by the U.S. started in the 1970s and still continues today, resulting in the endemic instability of the area which continues today.
A few years ago, Iran wanted to become a nuclear power. Today this is a big issue. It may be said that the handling of the Iranian pursuit of nuclear power defined President Obama’s administration. But it was not so earlier. Western countries were falling over themselves to provide nuclear technology and knowhow to the Middle East.
Iraq’s nuclear potential and the inability of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to locate them led to war and were used by President Bush as a deliberate policy to hoodwink the United Nations (UN). In 2003 the U.S. declared war against Iraq: citing the laboratories for weapons of Mass Destruction, and the facilities, the centrifuges for nuclear weapons. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair gave these facts as a justification for war. Hans Blix, the UN inspector’s team leader could not find any.
Iran’s desire to have nuclear power has provoked similar questions. If Iraq or Israel were to have nuclear weapons, the Iranians did not understand why they should be denied. Moreover, some have argued that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was essentially defensive and as a deterrent.