Professor Paul Rogers

Professor Paul Rogers, Bradford University and the Oxford
Research Group
Transcript of a meeting held with the All Party Parliamentary
Group on Peak Oil and Gas (APPGOPO)
Thank you very much. I’m going to concentrate on the whole on
the Persian Gulf because that’s the area I’ve worked mainly on,
and try to do it in a very broad historical context. And then,
because Mary and I haven’t had a chance to chat about what
we’re talking about, we’re hoping it’s going to work when I pass
over to her.
First question: August 1990, the Iraqis under Saddam Hussain
overran Kuwait very quickly. Within about four or five weeks a
very large coalition, which you may recall included eventually an
Egyptian and a Syrian division, was being established to evict the
Iraqis from Kuwait.
In mid-October 1990, after something like 300,000 troops and 500
aircraft were being assembled in the region, there was a visit from
the then-Chief of Staff of the U S Armed Forces Colin Powell with
the then-Defence Secretary, to the Gulf and they decided that
before they would evict the Iraqis they would double their forces.
As a matter of interest, I believe it is true that when Lady Thatcher
resigned in November of 1990, the cabinet which took her
resignation only made two decisions: one was to take her
resignation and the second was to double the British forces going
to the Gulf to 45,000.
So, by January 1991 at the actual start of that Gulf war there were
600,000 troops and 1,000 aircraft in and around Saudi Arabia,
mostly in Saudi Arabia.
A very interesting question: how on earth could that be done? How
could you actually move those immense modern forces, with all
their tanks, into Saudi Arabia without spending two or three years
to prepare the way?
One of the interesting things is the way it had already been
prepared. And that essentially is what I want to talk about.
If you go right back to the 1880s and 1890s, in very broad terms,
oil exploration and development was primarily in very few
locations: in the Caucasus, eventually the Dutch East Indies as it
became, hence Royal Dutch Shell; Pennsylvania in Ohio, and,
when the internal combustion engine came in and you had the real
expansion of demand for oil, then in the United States it moved
down to Oklahoma, Texas and California, and oil was developed
as reserves in other parts of the world.
Essentially, you go right through until the early post-second world
war period, 1945, before there was any clear connection between
issues of oil supplies and security.
And in many ways, the first administration to be concerned with
that was actually the Rosevelt administration, in 1944/45 because,
from an American perspective, the sheer rate at which oil was
being used by the US armed forces towards the end of the second
world war meant that even though the United States had immense
domestic supplies there was a risk they might not be adequate. In
fact the first real American security interest in the Persian Gulf
came in the late 1940s, curiously enough. For the next 25 years I
would say, right through to the end of the 1960s, it really went back
much more to commercial interests and essentially the rise of the
United States oil companies in the Gulf; Aramco in Saudi Arabia;
the Iranian consortium in the old Iran; these were much more
commercially orientated and essentially there was not a great
concern about oil security.
You can date the change in that to one single day quite easily and
that day was 17 October 1973. That was day eleven of the Yom
Kippur-Ramadan War. And if you recall that was the war in which
Syria and Egypt tried to turn around the gains that Israel had made
in the Six-Day War in 1967 by attacking Israel, largely by surprise.
The Syrians over the Golan Heights and the Egyptians across the
[unintelligible] Line, the Suez Canal and into Sinai. With massive
aid from the United States and extraordinary airlifts, the Israelis,
within about eight or nine days, had turned back the assaults and
in fact were starting to threaten the Egyptian Third Army, just to the
west of the Suez Canal.
The end result of that was huge concern, not in OPEC as a whole,
but in the Arab members of OPEC, that inner group, OAPEC (the
Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries). They met in
Kuwait on 16 and 17 October 1973 and decided, remarkably, on a
very strong course of political action.
They did three things. The first was that they put the price of oil up
by 72%, 72% in one fell swoop. It was already a very strong bull
market. The second thing was to announce they were going to cut
back all their production by an average of 15%, to make sure the
new price stuck; and the third thing was that they were going to
embargo all oil supplies to the United States and to the
The United States because the US was particularly strong in
support for Israel, and the whole purpose was to put pressure on
Israel to get an early ceasefire, to avoid the defeat of the Egyptian
army. Why the Netherlands? The Dutch, to put it politely, were
pretty fed up with this. Of course the reason [for this] was that
Rotterdam was Europe’s key oil port and if you can actually
embargo oil supplies to the Netherlands, that blocks supplies to
Germany and some other countries. What was obviously very
significant was that this oil price rise held. In fact, in a further series
of rises, by May 1974 the overall price rise had been 450%. There
was then a slow drop in oil prices and then another surge after the
Iranian revolution in 1979/80. But it was at this point that the US
military got far more interested. In a series of primarily classified
studies done immediately after ‘74/’75 they sought to determine if
the crisis had got even more severe and oil supplies had
essentially been cut from the Persian Gulf, whether the US military
could have intervened. And the result, very clearly, from one key,
non-classified study, was that they couldn’t.
A key Congressional research service report, carried out for one of
the Senate sub-committees, looked at the security of oil supplies
from an American perspective’ at a time in 1973/74, when in fact
the US was only modestly dependent on imports (about 15% of its
oil came from overseas). But the concern was the damage to the
world economy if the oil tap was actually turned off.
The end result of this was that eventually, by a lot of banging of
heads together, the Carter administration managed to get the rapid
deployment force established in 1979. The full title is Joint Rapid
Deployment Task Force. It was very difficult because it meant the
air force, the navy, the marines and the army all had to act
together to have forces available for very rapid deployment.
Officially, this was anywhere in the world. Unofficially, it was all
about the Persian Gulf. That was almost as far as it had gone until
the end of the 70s, with the new oil price hike in the middle East,
mainly as a result of the Iranian revolution; and the Reagan
administration coming to power were hugely concerned now that
almost a bulwark of the western defence system in the Persian
Gulf was lost because of the Iranian revolution.
The point here is that the concern about Persian Gulf oil supplies
was not so much about any internal crisis but about Soviet
intervention. These are the Cold War years, don’t forget. And one
of the most extraordinary documents in a very long sequence in
the United States (I still have a copy) was the military
[unintelligible] statement for fiscal year 1982. That was the first
[unintelligible] statements for the Reagan administration. Now
many of us will remember those days. I mean, Mary was incredibly
prominent in European nuclear disarmament and many of us
expected with that new [unintelligible] statement, it would be all
about the Soviet nuclear threat. In fact, it was dominated by the
threat to America’s resources; and page after page was about the
importance of the Persian Gulf oil supplies and what the Soviets
might do if there was a major crisis and they moved in there. Of
course with the Iranians having gone through a revolution, you
really had [a lot of] paranoia.
It was because of that, that the rapid deployment force was
expanded to US central command in 1984. The end result of that
was a singular programme not to base big forces in the area. That
was not generally allowed, certainly by the Saudis, but to build
facilities for very rapid deployment. So the big air bases that were
built in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s were all four to six times
bigger than the Royal Saudi Air Force needed and the end result
of all of this [was] the very large wharfing facilities built at Al Jabile
on the Red Sea. All these were available if there ever was any
crisis involving a Soviet attempt to actually take major control of
the Persian Gulf oil supplies.
One of the people who was very prominent, one of the key
American analysts pushing the idea of expanding the rapid
deployment force to the central command level, a much bigger
level, was a guy called Jeffrey Record, well-known analyst of
Middle East affairs. He wrote a fascinating pamphlet in 1980,
advocating the expansion of the rapid deployment force and he
said: OK your main reason [for this] would be the possibility of
Soviet intervention but another possibility, for example, would be
the Iraqis invading Kuwait. And that was published 10 years to the
month before it actually happened.
So essentially, you get an idea of this very key importance. And of
course when you did get the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, it was
Norman Schwarzkopf who was the Commander in Chief in central
command, who led the operation to evict them. A very big
Let me just continue, I’m two thirds of the way through and I just
want a few more minutes to bring you up to date.
One side-effect, in fact in many ways in the current context not a
side-effect, of the results of that Gulf War was that the United
States did indeed maintain its troops in Saudi Arabia from 1991
onwards. You have the huge airbase at Dhahran and many other
facilities. And that in turn was one of the key motivations in the
development of the al-Qaeda movement. You have the movement
which had its origins in the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the
Soviets and from their perspective they had pushed the Soviets
out of Afghanistan, indeed had crippled a superpower. From their
point of view, you now had ‘crusader forces’ in not just Afghanistan
but the kingdom of the two holy places.
And if you see the pattern of the development of al-Qaeda in the
1990s, it flowed very much from that US decision, leading on
eventually to things like the Kobal Towers bomb towards the end
of the 1990s, and all that has followed since. So there is a
connection there.
Let me finish though by just putting the current and possible future
situations in context. The best way to do it is if you can imagine a
rectangle of 1,000 miles north to south and 400 miles east to west.
Imagine it’s put down over the North Sea, from the Dutch coast
right through to north of Shetland. Under that imaginary rectangle
you had, at the peak 15 years ago, about 3.5% of all the world’s oil
supply. Quite a decent puddle by most standards and it kept
Britain going for a while. It made Thatcherism survive, you might
say; the Norwegians are still doing pretty well out of it. But imagine
if you could take that imaginary rectangle and put it over the
Persian Gulf, it would stretch from the Emirates in the south, it
would take in the Saudi fields, the offshore fields, the west Iranian
fields, all of the Kuwaiti fields, the huge Rumaila oil field and all the
Iraqi fields right up to the [unintelligible] axis.
Under that rectangle you have about 62% of all the world’s oil.
62%. And of course it is high quality, easily exploitable oil. The
only reason that the Iraqis, when they were retreating from Kuwait
in March 1991, could set fire and burn the Kuwaiti oil fields was
because they [the oil was] were coming out under natural
pressure. They didn’t even have to pump the stuff out. It actually
came out under its own gas pressure. So, essentially, this is pretty
high quality oil and most of the world’s oil is there.
I’m not arguing that the United States went in to terminate the
Saddam Hussein regime five years ago simply because of Iraq’s
oil. It’s true that Iraq has four times the reserves of the US but
there were a complex set of motives. What I am saying is if you
have an immense concentration, you add to that the changes in oil
use. Now almost of all of western Europe is a very strong oil
importer, as is Japan, as is South Korea.
The United States is rather different. As I said, until the early
1970s the United States did not import much oil. It’s now almost up
to the 60% level and will rise to over 70% by 2020, and that’s even
allowing for the large reserves in north-east Alaska.
The interesting one though is China. In 1993, as recently as that,
just 15 years ago, China was entirely self-sufficient in oil. In two
years’ time it will be importing half of all the oil it requires. And this
does much to explain the very large agreement the Chinese have
signed with the Ahmadinejad regime in Tehran over the last two or
three years. Some of the biggest single oil export and production
deals that we’ve seen anywhere in the world.
So the trend very much is in a sense for the Persian Gulf to
become more and more important in terms of oil strategy. Our dear
friends in the Ministry of Defence are not very keen to say that the
reason we’re going to construct the largest warships ever in the
Royal Navy, the two big super-carriers, is because we will then
have a capacity for worldwide expeditionary warfare, which
currently is really only held by the United States. Those are the
only size of carriers that could match the [unintelligible] super
carriers of the United States. So Britain certainly will have that
capability, and has not had anything equivalent for about 35 years,
to actually be involved in major conflicts, specifically I think in the
Middle East.
So I think where we are now is clearly a very important point in that
the security of the Persian Gulf, from an oil perspective is
extremely high - one takes the point that you have the Orinoco
heavy oil deposits, you have the Canadian Tar Sands. But one
must also remember that when I say 62% of the oil’s in the Gulf,
most of the rest, another 18%, is in Russia, Khazakstan [and]
Venezuela. And so when you put that all together you see this
extraordinary preponderance. That doesn’t mean necessarily that
you have enduring wars in the Persian Gulf but it’s absolutely
critical to factor this in among all the other factors involved.
What I would say is that there are far different, much more
powerful arguments for moving away as fast as one can from oil
addiction and those relate very much to climate change. But the
key thing is, if you do actually diminish the dependency on oil for a
country such as the United States, then in fact not only do you
make a contribution to climate change control but also you reduce
your reliance on a key strategic part of the world.
One of the most fascinating papers I’ve seen in the last few years
came from The Committee on the Present Danger, a very
‘hawkish’ group in the United States historically; and this was on oil
security. When I saw it and printed it off, I looked at the heading
and thought this is going to be all about bulking up the American
forces in the Gulf but it was the complete opposite. What it said
was that the dependence on Gulf oil, as it developed, and that’s
quite apart from all the African and Latin American issues, as it
developed, was actually a vulnerability to the United States. And
this was The Committee on the Present Danger saying the US had
to embark on a rapid programme to go into alternatives to oil.
So it’s interesting where that thinking comes from at this present
Thank you.
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