By Miaad Hassan
July 31, 2013
For centuries, the Middle East has been the place that empires and world powers competed to control, for geographic, strategic and political reasons, as a source of fossil fuel and the presence of the Israeli state stability. But are we witnessing a historic change, as the global needs for resources have shifted?
For a very long time, the world relied on the Middle East — most notably, Arab Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia — for crude oil. Oil has been used as a “weapon” when it comes to foreign policy in many parts of the region, including Iraq. Hence it is shocking for oil-producing countries to learn that the United States’ ability to generate energy is in fact larger than expected. The United States has grown oil production to its highest levels since 1990, after it was in decline for many years. And it is now on the rise even more, due to discoveries of natural gas fields that are expected to cover and probably exceed local demand. This will allow the United States to become self-sufficient sooner than anticipated and make an enormous impact on the Arab world and its economic stability and security. The price per barrel of oil, now $107, will decline by half or more.
If my theory proves to be correct, the next five years will bring the historic collapse of oil prices in the Arab world and likely lead to changes of deep political dimensions. As a result, the largest oil-producing countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will lose the endowment and “special treatment” that Washington has granted in the past. Historically it has always been a top U.S. priority to keep the price of energy under control and oil flow unhindered. This policy has cost the United States dearly and forced it to tolerate the Saudi misbehaviour. Although the Kingdom is the main sponsor and funding source for terrorism, including al Qaeda; and despite the fact that 15 hijackers of the September 11 attacks were Saudi citizens, Washington chose instead to wage two costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in retaliation, turning a blind eye to human rights violations in the Kingdom.
For those who are sceptical of this analysis, who believes that the Arab oil is indispensable and that the United States will not give up Gulf relations it has worked on improving for decades, I say that variables change. The same Middle East the United States is dealing with now may not exist in the next five years. Arab oil will still be important, but not be as strategically crucial as it has been for the past few centuries. And why is that? Here are some short-term and long-term reasons:
- As the United States becomes energy self-sufficient, Arab oil will lose its strategic importance.
- The havoc of the Arab Spring and the Islamist movement will continue to weaken states and create conflicting semi-states.
- Security challenges in the region will spread, as it will be preoccupied with internal wars. Tribal or sectarian conflicts will alarm foreign investors.
- Current governments or countries may disappear, once a new geographical map is drafted according to the changes that will occur.
- Imminent climate and environmental changes and water scarcity will threaten the region with extinction.
In the midst of these momentous changes, which might be just around the corner — and while the world is busy making progress in energy research to cope with demand — the Arab world is cosily sleeping, unprepared and indifferent for what is coming, leaving its fate to be decided by the strongest.
Miaad Hassan is a native of Iraq, and recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, Miaad earned her Master's Degree at the Monterey Institute of International Policy Studies, California, USA, specialising in Conflict Resolution& International Negotiations. Maintaining special interest in the Middle East and North Africa, the author focuses on various issues including post-conflict development, peace building, human rights, women's rights, resource conflict, terrorism, democratic governing, Islamic movements, and gender conflict.