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Middle East Oil Realism

TEL AVIV – No matter how important rising oil powers outside the Middle East are becoming, the region will continue to be the world’s main source of energy for years to come. Unlike Russia, the Middle East’s OPEC members act as a cartel that produces well under capacity. At current production rates, Russia will be out of the running by 2020. The conditions are not radically different in Africa.

This means that energy security will remain highly dependent on Middle Eastern politics, with the region’s oil producers continuing to seek to dictate terms to the world market. Of special concern are the links between military ambitions and the transfer of wealth that oil exports can bring. Iran’s nuclear weapons program and Iraq’s formidable military build-up of the 1990’s exemplify the lethal link between hyper-militarization and energy-market power.

Politically-driven threats to oil supplies, as always, dominate energy-security debates. As the Iraqi case shows, wars and domestic upheavals can not only affect the short-term level of oil supplies, but also undermine the long-term productive capacity of a country by hindering maintenance and investment.

Yet, the potential threat to Middle Eastern oil supplies is nonetheless over-stated. Against all odds and predictions, regimes in the Middle East have survived both the failures of pan-Arab nationalism and the challenges of Islamic extremism. Nor are the concerns that terrorist attacks can force the oil industry to its knees very plausible. So far, the damage from such attacks has proven to be short-lived.