High Risk, High Reward

What is most central and focal to international affairs at the moment – and the one concept or issue which is perhaps as contemporary and relevant to international affairs as it can possibly get – is encompassed by an analogy that was employed by one scholar, which is that uranium is to nuclear weapons and war as oil is to modern industry and modern life. But as mentioned before, both the ‘potency’ and ‘utility’ of war has diminished in the 21st century for three main reasons, namely, the “rapid attrition” of war as a result of modern conventional weaponry which in turn renders war much more costly than in the past, the advent of nuclear weapons, and cyber capabilities. 

As one scholar noted, oil-rich nations require risk-averse leadership mainly because of their revolutionary and revisionist ideologies. Thus, a built-in and inherent characteristic of leadership in oil-rich nations such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia is risk-averse leadership. In turn, the aim and goal for Western consumer nations becomes one of balancing the need for energy with the revisionist and revolutionary ideologies of the world’s major energy brokers. Any attempt at disturbing that delicate balance between the need for energy and the revisionist and revolutionary ideology of oil-rich nations translates into war and inflation for the Western consumer, and the combination of war and inflation is a death spell and the recipe for a failed and lame duck presidency in the United States, as is being experienced by Joe Biden at the moment. 

As Jeffrey Sachs indicated, energy is the main ingredient for an overarching and logical chain that defines modern life, namely, the transition from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy which occurred about two or three centuries ago, and this transition in turn led to increased incomes and increased food production. In turn, the increased incomes and increased food production led to an increased population. Hence, energy is deeply intertwined with a modern society’s ability to feed a population which has grown manifold over the course of the last couple of centuries. 

Rashid Khalidi also noted the importance and strategic significance of energy and oil in modern warfare, in the sense that the denial of energy and oil to one side of a conflict by another side of the conflict translates into victory, given that the war machine comes to a standstill in the event that the war machine is denied the energy it needs to function and operate. Aside from the Gulf Arab region and Russia, Iran is one of the top three energy brokers and energy producers in the world market. In a sense, Iran’s state ideology today is the culmination of a modern history that is largely defined by Iran’s struggle for political independence and sovereignty amidst major power competition and conflict. Therefore, while revisionism and revolution are part of the character and identity of oil-rich states, energy and oil can flow easily to the Western consumer, as long as there is respect for the oil producer’s political independence and sovereignty on the part of Western consumer nations. 

The background or context for today’s energy politics or “energy wars” is one of declining risk and declining punishment for “noncompliance” with “old imperial governing arrangements” of the Western consumer nations on the part of the world’s most energy-rich nations. Why there is an inclination towards noncompliance which has not been fully stamped out by Western powers is because of a political and social phenomenon in the Third World that has existed for decades but has continued even to this day, namely, decolonization. As mentioned before, Western colonialism has both a cultural and economic dimension, and one reinforces the other. And one of the three major “historical trends” alongside decolonization and American economic power in a postmodern age is the “demystification” of colonial and European culture, which in turn has an impact on the process of decolonization. 

Because decolonization is “entangled” with the reality that energy “is shaping the international landscape of today” to borrow from Meghan O’Sullivan, it follows that energy security is in fact “the end or objective of the grand strategies of consuming countries.” In turn, a denial of this reality by Western politicians and talking heads – namely, the reality of energy security being the primary end or objective of Western grand strategy – amounts to both self-delusion and the attempt to delude others of this reality. 

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