Oil and conflict

Global greed currently manifests as corporate greed in the uniquely lucrative oil and gas industry that mobilizes governments at best as its tool, and at worst as its weapon in the face of resistance by indigenous and other cultural groups protecting their land and water resources because agriculture is their primary livelihood. Women are largely invisible in the global economy insofar as much of their work is unpaid domestic labour, including crop production to provide family food security, that has no place in traditional economic reckonings (Waring 1988). Yet the global South cannot feed its people without women’s subsistence crops. In Africa, a policy contradiction is well underway as countries develop fossil fuel resources to pull themselves out of poverty on one hand while on the other, developing policy to support women’s substantial contribution to food security that is in decline because of climate impacts (Glazebrook 2011). Fossil fuels are accordingly central in the nexus dynamics of forced migration.

Fossil fuel interests are also at the heart of global conflict. For example, Dick Cheney was focal in planning and launching Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 invasion of Iraq after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and a number of controversies connect him with the later 2003-2011 U.S. Iraq War when he was U.S. Vice President (VP). He gave up his position as chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company, the world’s second largest oil field service multinational corporation, in order to take up the VP position, and apparently received a $33.7 million USD separation package (Finnegan 2000) from Halliburton during the 2002 presidential campaign, along with almost S400,000 USD in deferred compensation and stock options. Just before the invasion of Iraq, while Cheney was VP, Halliburton received a $7 billion USD oil extraction contract with Iraq for which it was the only company allowed to bid (Corbin 2008). Months before the U.S. military bombed Iraq, the Department of Defence was secretly working with Halliburton on a deal to give them control over Iraq’s oil fields, according to Halliburton executives (Leopold 2003). Halliburton presumably profited from Iraqi oil, and Cheney certainly profited well from his relationship with Halliburton. This example clearly exposes the synchronicity of individual and corporate greed with government promotion of corruption and violence for wealth acquisition in a system that was at best opportunistic and at worst intentional in causing deaths, displacement, and other horrors of war.

The larger picture is not, however, just corruption and individual profit. Rather, Cheney’s and Halliburton’s exploitation of Iraqi oil is symptomatic of deeper conflict generated by the role of oil in global economics, known as the Petrodollar because of long-standing U.S. influence on oil prices. This influence was undermined by oil in the 1960s, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was formed whose member-states together controlled 40% of global oil production (OPEC 2020). The U.S. has consistently considered OPEC an economic threat. For some time, however, the global economy was also underpinned by the Eurodollar market in which the wealthy from around the world stored their money in U.S. dollars outside the U.S. By 1985, 75% of U.S. dollars were in foreign accounts outside U.S. control, thereby challenging U.S. capacity to influence global economics through currency exchange (Vatter and Walker 1995). Fracking, however, rapidly strengthened U.S. influence on oil prices at the centre of global economics as, for example, by 2019, the U.S. was producing more than 12 million barrels per day (Sharma 2020), despite OPEC’s control of almost 75% of reserves and 42% of production. In 2016, however, OPEC had created OPEC+ to amalgamate with other high oil-producing nations, including Russia, that together control over 50% of global oil supplies, and about 90% of proven reserves. As of December 2019, global leaders in oil production are the U.S., Russia, and Iraq, in that order, though Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iraq lead in export volumes (Sharma 2020). This emergence of states into oil development that seem willing to collaborate with OPEC threatens once again to displace newly recovered U.S. influence on global economics.

In early 2020, the U.S. killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani after several disagreements over U.S. incursion of intelligence-collecting drones into Iranian territory and Iranian downing of a U.S. drone in June 2019 (Glazebrook 2019). MG Soleimani’s murder has been identified as a ‘worrying picture’ of ‘a desperate U.S. lashing out’ at a world that seems to favour collaborative oil management over single-state economic power: ‘the Petrodollar ... [grants] the U.S. a monopolistic position from which it derives enormous benefits.. .To threaten this comfortable arrangement is to threaten Washington’s global power’ (Pieraccini 2020). Emergence of Russia, China, Iraq, and Venezuela, for example, into global oil economics plays an increasing role in global markets, especially in consolidation through an organization such as OPEC. Venezuela, Russia and Iran’s oil and gas holdings can increase OPEC’s influence. These countries have ‘elevated relations’ with China, especially Russia that wants to consolidate with China allegedly to grow the Eurasian supercontinent peacefully (Pieraccini

2020) The remaining countries holding the majority of oil and gas reserves are Iraq, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia that could be swayed to China-Russia solidarity for both military and energy reasons, i.e. U.S. aggressions in the region, including the 2003 Iraq invasion and current drone assaults on Yemen. In less than one month in 2017, For example, forty strikes allegedly based on shaky intelligence killed hundreds of non-combatants in Yemen, including children (Glazebrook 2019).

Concerning the 2003 invasion of Iraq, moreover, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Saddam Hussein, allegedly because she was so instructed, that the U.S. had no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts such as the disagreement with Kuwait, and the State Department also told him that Washington had ‘no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait’ (Walt 2011). It seems Iraq was set up to invade Kuwait so the U.S. could in turn invade Iraq and take control of its oil resources. There is therefore good reason to believe that in the case of both the 2003 Iraq invasion and the killing of Soleimani, a message was being sent that the U.S. is not prepared to relinquish its singular authority over oil-based global economics. As a corollary, U.S. benefit from the Petrodollar potentially explains its on-going climate denial.

As a small group of oil company executives and politicians reap massive profits off oil revenues, and nation-states battle for control of the global economy through oil, millions of people lose virtually everything. Antonio Guterres, then UNHCR, reported in February 2017 that 2 million people had fled Iraq (NPR 2007) in consequence of the 2003-2011 conflict and another 1.7 million were internally displaced (O’Donnell and Newland 2008). The death toll of civilians was over 100,000 (BBC News 2011). That is, in contemporary global economics, profit trumps life.

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