Oil War

Significant Trends in the Historiography of Oil and vis-à-vis Rise of Unipolar World

By Md Irshad Ayub

If there is any price of any commodity in the world that determines the growth or slowdown of economy, it is the price of crude oil.  Moreover, one must understand how the oil is powerful and strong and its immense contribution in the terms of the world GDP because of the fact that it currently makes up something between 2% and 3% of the global economy. It is said to be the lifeblood of the industrialised nations. Oil has become the world's most important source of energy since the mid-1950s. Its products underpin modern society, mainly supplying energy to power industry, heat homes and provide fuel for vehicles and aeroplanes to carry goods and people all over the world.

The term Oil refers to the part of fossil fuel and it is believed, was formed by  animals and plants organism that had died and further decomposed, and converted into solid rock, may be millions of years ago due to immense level of heating. Moreover, it also ascertains the bullish or bearish nature of money, which is the blood of economic of a country which works as fuel for the development and prosperity of the state. Therefore, it is considered to be a major propeller of economic growth and progress. Oil is primarily referred to as ‘liquid gold’ and a full valuable resource. It was given a tremendous importance in every country of the world. Besides it serves as a gateway of foreign exchange. As a result of these attributions, oil always has been a source of conflict in international politics. Despite the fact that the oil has increasingly been instrumental in designing, reshaping and redrawing the world map, international politics, and global diplomacy as well. 

The 2nd industrial revolution which commenced around 1870s, witnessed a new phase of industrialisation. This phase differed from the 1st industrial revolution (1760s), because the 1st was powered by steam engine whereas the 2nd was powered by internal combustion engine (using petrol as a fuel). Oil was first discovered in the U.S. in 1850s. By closing period of 1st IR, crude oil had been successfully extracted near Pennsylvania, America in 1859. And the first U.S. oil refinery came to light in 1861 when the U.S. exported its first shipment of refined oil to London. When the massive amount of oil was used in the production process, the 2nd IR commenced. After that the importance of oil received a boost body and soul in Europe and America in immediate sense and in the entire world in the long run.

In Middle East region, oil was first discovered at Masjid-e-Suleiman in Iran in 1908 followed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iran’s oil field was discovered by the British whereas Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s oil fields were discovered by America. Afterwards, vast reserves of crude oil were discovered in the Middle East region between 1930s and 1950s. The discovery of petroleum products in West Asia greatly boosted its economy and resulted in the infrastructural developments and economic prosperity etc. especially in the GCC states. Currently this region contains about 65% of the world’s oil.

     In 1870, John D Rockefeller founded an oil refining company, name, Standard Oil Company, Cleveland, in state of Ohio (America). This was the first oil company in petroleum industry in America. And by the 1880s, John D Rockefeller’s standard oil owned 90% of the U.S. oil refineries and pipelines and the world’s largest oil tanker fleet.

Henry Ford set up his Motor Car Company in 1886.  Ford’s invention of the Model T type car came to light in 1908. This type of car was powered by IC engine, which used petrol for running it. This was the world’s first inexpensive and mass produced car. This helped to foster America’s economy and paved the way for a great increase in US’s automobile industry. Mass scale production of oil as well as car affected socio-cultural life of Americans and it resulted in the emergence of new social classes in the form of capitalist class and working class. By 1927, the United States became the most motorised country in the world, with one motor vehicle for roughly every five people whereas other major industrial countries like Britain, France, and Germany had about one motor vehicle for every forty-four people. The United States still continues to lead the auto industry supremacy in terms of auto ownership per capita for the next century as well. Refined motor fuel has become America’s indispensable necessity. The US could not have been meet both domestic and war demand. The emergence of concept of Petrodollar is a reflection of same, to maintain hegemony over the world.

Most importantly, it determines the hegemony and supremacy of any country over the world. Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state of the US, said, “Control oil and you control nation; control food and you control the people”. The emergence of the concept of Pax Britannica (hegemon or preponderance or political ascendancy or partial international order of Britain over the world) was the necessary outcome of the discovery of oil in the mid-19th century. It continued till 1956 (the Suez war), when the British invaded Egypt in October, 1956 for controlling the Suez Canal. At once, on 5 November 1956, the Soviet Union came in support of Egypt and threatened to use missiles to defend Egypt. After that, the British surrendered and withdrew its troops from Egypt and on 7 November, 1956, the British led operation came to an end. As a result, Britain lost her dominant power or hegemon strength over the world. The Suez Canal crisis resulted in the termination of Pax Britannica in the world. But at the same time, it must be emphasised that it paved the way for the emergence of Pax Americana. Ipso facto, it was commented that “the war to end all wars, instead of bringing peace, resulted in many more wars in future.” Pax Americana began around the middle of the 20th century and continues unabated till date. Now, oil has emerged as the most potent weapon within the global economy and one of the strong determinants of the ‘value of Dollar’ in international market, alongside the arms and narcotics trade.

Oil became the dominant fuel of the 20th century and part and parcel of the American economy.  Oil also played an important role in the world war one and because the demand of oil had been increased immensely during ww1. With the emergence of ww1, oil became vital for modern welfare, fuelling ships, land vehicles, and military aircraft. It proved that future of oil became obvious, that oil was going to be a crucial resource in warfare for the foreseeable future. The German faced rout was credited to oil. When Germany was marching triumphantly forward against its rivals, the USA entered the war on the side of the Allied powers, which resulted in the defeat of Germany.

The USA played a decisive role in the war, because of the fact that the USA was a dominant power in petroleum industry as well as responsible for more than 65 per cent of the world’s crude oil production and refining. During the US war effort, the US herself produced oil about 30 million barrels a month. Moreover, it was five times more than Mexican oil imports. That is why, it is commented that entering of the US in the First World War resulted in the commencement of the process of American ascendancy. This process continued for more than 70 years and culminated in the emergence of USA as the supreme monolithic power in the world on 25, December 1991, after the disintegration and collapse of the USSR and can now dominate the international landscape almost without any challenge. This doomed the fate of bipolar order and strengthened the unipolar order in the world. The Soviet Union’s collapse transformed the international system from bipolarity to unipolarity. Oil, after all, is the reason the world is truly globalized and greatly unipolar.

The author is freelance writer and English Editor at Millat Times.