[GLOBAL EYE]Much can be explained by oilAs international oil prices have risen to record highs, the price of gasoline in the United States has also risen considerably. But it cannot compare to gas prices in Korea. On Aug. 12, the average price of gas in the United States was $2.49 per gallon ― around 40 percent of Korean prices. Yet Americans are complaining that this is expensive. In a country where cars are practically the equivalent of shoes, national policy cannot help but give priority to making oil available at a reasonably low price.
The United States has about one twentieth of the world’s population, but consumes about a quarter of the world’s oil. It relies on imports for 53 percent of its crude oil supply. If there is a problem with the oil supply, it naturally has a negative effect on the flow of production and on people’s daily lives.
Damage to such key industries as automobile manufacturing and the aviation, construction, petrochemical, transportation and agricultural industries is inevitable when that happens. This is also a major problem for the military that supports the global U.S. strategy.
That is why the United States long ago claimed a stake in the Persian Gulf area, where two-thirds of the world’s oil deposits lie. In 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said that any attempt to take control of the Persian Gulf would be considered an attack on the vital interests of the United States. He warned that any such attack would be driven back by all necessary means, including military force. That is the Carter doctrine, and though the administrations have changed, the doctrine is still adhered to.
Before the Iraq War was launched in 2003, one of the slogans that anti-war protesters often shouted was “No blood for oil.” It was the view of these groups that, although the George W. Bush administration justified the war with accusations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and with the possibility that Iraq had connections to the al Qaeda group that attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001, its real goal was to bring Iraq’s oil resources under its control.
Iraq has confirmed oil reserves of 113 billion barrels ― the second largest in the world, behind Saudi Arabia. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that unconfirmed deposits of oil in Iraq amount to 220 billion barrels. That is an enormous quantity, the equivalent of 98 years of U.S. imports.
On top of that, the unit production cost in Iraq is only 97 cents per barrel of crude oil. Compared to a production cost of $3 or $4 per barrel for Brent oil from the North Sea, importing from Iraq is clearly more potentially profitable. Oil moguls in the United States have long dreamed of a second gold rush in Iraq.
A few days ago, President Bush announced that he would not rule out the possibility of military action over the issue of Iran’s reactivated nuclear production. Iran ranks third in the world in oil deposits. The fact that this oil-producing country, too, is putting its hands on weapons of mass destruction is a nightmare scenario. The reason why Britain, Germany and France are actively involved in mediating the issue is that they can’t concede Iran to the United States, though the United States has occupied Iraq and its oil.
The reason China takes a negative stance on the transfer of the Iran nuclear issue to the UN Security Council also has to do with oil. The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has withdrawn its bid to take over the U.S. oil company Unocal, despite having offered better terms than the U.S. company Chevron did. It did so because U.S. politicians clearly intended to forestall China’s attempt to jump into the competition over securing oil resources.
North Korea is 10 steps ahead of Iran when it comes to nuclear development. But Western media give much more emphasis to the Iranian nuclear issue. Things would be different if North Korea were an oil-producing country. The reason President Bush invited the president of Colombia to his ranch in Texas and showed him a great deal of hospitality is that Colombia is an oil-producing country.
Without oil, it would be difficult to explain why the Untied States has military forces stationed in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries on the pretext of the “war on terror,” and why it has beefed up military cooperation with Georgia, Kazakhstan and other countries along the Caspian Sea.
Looking through the prism of oil, sometimes things that had seemed obscure become much clearer. Sinology and transnationalism are becoming popular subjects within the field of international politics in the United States, but petropolitics still has tremendous power.
Without knowing the international politics of oil, you cannot understand the world.
* The writer is an international affairs writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok