Oil Wars

28 Pages Posted: 1 May 2014

See all articles by Mamdouh G. Salameh

Mamdouh G. Salameh

Oil Market Consultancy Service / ESCP Europe Business School, London

Date Written: April 29, 2014


The 20th century was truly the century of oil whilst the 21st century would be the century of peak oil and the resulting oil wars. No other commodity has been so intimately intertwined with national strategies and global politics and power as oil. The close connection between oil and conflict derives from three essential features of oil: (1) its vital importance to the economy and military power of nations; (2) its irregular geographic distribution; and (3) peak oil. Conventional oil production peaked in 2006. As a result, the world could face an energy gap probably during the first two decades of the 21st century. This gap will have to be filled with unconventional and renewable energy sources. However, it is very doubtful as to whether these resources could bridge the energy gap in time as to be able to create a sustainable future energy supply. There is no doubt that oil is a leading cause of war. Oil fuels international conflict through four distinct mechanisms: (1) resource wars, in which states try to acquire oil reserves by force; (2) the externalization of civil wars in oil-producing nations (Libya as an example); (3) conflicts triggered by the prospect of oil-market domination such as the United States' war with Iraq over Kuwait in 1991; (4) clashes over control of oil transit routes such as shipping lanes and pipelines (closure of the Strait of Hormuz for example). Between 1941 and 2014, at least ten wars have been fought over oil, prominent among them the 21st century’s first oil war, the invasion of Iraq in 2003. At present, there are at least five major conflicts that could potentially flare up over oil and gas resources in the next three decades of the twenty-first century. The most dangerous among them are a war over Iran’s nuclear programme and a conflict between China and the United States that has the potential to escalate to war over dwindling oil resources or over Taiwan or over the disputed Islands in the South China Sea claimed by both China and Japan with the US coming to the defence of Japan. As in the 20th century, oil will continue in the 21st century to fuel the global struggles for political and economic primacy. Much blood will continue to be spilled in its name. The fierce and sometimes violent quest for oil and for the riches and power it represents will surely continue as long as oil holds a central place in the global economy.

Keywords: Conflict, oil, peak oil, History, Power, geopolitics, invasion

Suggested Citation

Salameh, Mamdouh G., Oil Wars (April 29, 2014). USAEE Working Paper No. 14-163, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2430960 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2430960

Mamdouh G. Salameh (Contact Author)

Oil Market Consultancy Service / ESCP Europe Business School, London ( email )

Spring Croft, Sturt Avenue
Surrey, GU27 3SJ
United Kingdom

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