Role of Oil in States National Security: US’s Position in the Middle East - Yüksel Yasemin Altıntaş


World nations all depend on hydrocarbon resources to a different extent. Any incidents, changes related to hydrocarbon resources, especially oil, directly affect global politics. The likelihood of the occurrence of new territorial, maritime disputes, and the escalation of ongoing conflicts increases when states explore further hydrocarbon reserves. Regional countries may find themselves in inter or intrastate disputes in such cases. Even if they are do not experience the war within their borders, they will face the risk of possible invasion or involvement of a war. This situation will create an automatic security threat to regional states. When it comes to global effects due to ongoing wars, oil production and securitization of oil transportation will be reduced. This means globally, nations will be economically affected by the dispute even though they do not share the same region. Countries with lower oil energy intensity will be less sensitive to changes in the price of oil. Such changes affect states either economically or politically. They may feel the consequences directly or indirectly based on their geographic position, energy consumption, and dependence.


When a nation’s economy heavily depends on oil, severe supply disruptions significantly damage that state’s economy. In such cases, to protect its prosperity, states can use military force. Charles L. Glaser indicates that in energy-driven regional security conflicts, the likelihood of –large scale- US military involvement (to protect its vital energy interests) increases because even a slight change in the oil market’s regulation severely damages the US economy. Due to its weak political structure and precious energy resources, the Middle East is a highly risky region. A small scale conflict can quickly turn in to a regional war. To keep the region stable oil depended developed states, primarily the US, continually subsists its existence in the region.


States priorities changes based on the regional dynamics if the state feels secure; it invests less on its military capabilities and tends not to attack other nations. If a state concerns that its neighbor is planning to attack him, to get the upper hand, that state may attack its neighbor even to it was not wishing to start or engage in a war. In the Middle East to minimize their possibility of getting contested states either have to be run out of hydrocarbon resources, do not serves as an energy transit state, should not control any of the geostrategic locations like choke point or they have to have an active military to serve as a disincentive factor. An oil-rich or energy transit state sovereignty and bargaining power hanged by a treat if it does not constitute a reliable military power. In the lack of strong military capabilities, these states bargaining position becomes weaker, and they become more likely to make concessions. If a war occurs, it’s surrounding region due to its vulnerability; it has to seek stronger allies to secure itself and becomes dependent on that protector nation.


Moreover, regime types and personality of the leaders play a crucial role in Middle Eastern politics. Oil-rich states which ruled by revolutionary governments or leaders are more likely to engage in wars. Due to the financial flow that they receive from oil, such leaders can expand its military capabilities quite easily. On top of that, if they own a persuasive domestic political authority, they can easily take risks and attack other nations to expand their resources, power, as we see in Saddam Hussein’s case in the Iran-Iraq war. Existence of US troops in the Middle East, unreliable-unpredictable governors of the states, and regional states’ defensive motived militarization creates a security dilemma in the region and complicates the existing problematic structures.


If China becomes an active player in its region, Chinese domination could benefit the United States. Annual spending for securing Persian Gulf transit routes costs between $30 billion to $80 billion to the US defense budget. If another state emerges as a protector state in such regions, then the US would spend less money to guarantee the securitization of the oil and gas routes. As a counter-argument emerge of a strong protector state in the Middle East or Asia could pose potential risks to the US too. Because in such an environment, the likelihood of engaging in a conflict over the control of the same territory would increase. To eliminate the possibility of the regional states’ potential of participating in a dispute, hegemons have to have different priorities but supportive policies. According to the current political US-China relationship, the rise of China would be more likely to create security concerns for the US. To re-balance Chinese domination in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East, the US has to increase its military spending. Also, current hostile bilateral relations among China and US-allied Japan are another reason to concern for the US. China already involved in different maritime – territorial disputes in its region. Expanding its resources or controlling areas directly makes China a potential treatment in the eyes of the Washington government.


Protecting one’s land is not enough in the energy sector. States have to protect international transit routes as if they are protecting their territorial integrity. If they cannot safeguard trans-national offshore pipelines, choke points, and maintain maritime security, they can face up with severe national energy crises. Defining land borders and keep their safety is easier in comparison to providing naval protection for hydrocarbon vessels and offshore pipelines. In the high seas, maritime borders of states, their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and continental shelf’s (CS) can only be drawn by regional states consensus. In general, due to the blue economy (fishery, tourism, usage of marine resources, right to extract hydrocarbon resources, etc.) concerns, states try to expand their continental shelf’s as much as possible. Due to overlapping on states’ EEZ or CS declarations, many countries find their selves into complex disputes. States have to find a way to cooperate in such regions to maintain the security of energy transportation.


As a region due to its political instabilities, the Middle East is a risky region. Yet, due to regional states’ natural resources and geostrategic position, it is a vital region for all nations. For instance: Saudi Arabia accounts more than 15% of global oil exports. Any attack that Saudi Arabia can face will significantly affect global energy dynamics and market regulations. Hormuz Strait is a crucial passage for the majority of the LNG and Oil tankers. As a result of ongoing resource and territorial disputes, lack of trust among the states, militarization of nations, and expansion of nuclear energy usage in the Middle East vulnerability of the region increases. Reliance on oil has widened the state’s national and economic security implications. Due to financial concerns, countries need to guarantee the flow of energy resources. To ensure the securitization of energy transactions, powerful states involved in Middle Eastern politics. Considering the ongoing issues, regional instabilities, these nations’ existence continues in the problematic regions. To release the burden of securing and stabilizing the Middle East, the US can look for reliable allies. Currently, China is the most suitable state for this power share. China depends on Middle Eastern hydrocarbon resources as much as the US does. With it’s a rising economy and technology, China can easily contribute to the stabilization of the Middle East. However, the rise of China also possesses certain treats to the US-dominated world order. Thus with its current political discourse and agenda China cannot be the balancer that the US is looking for. In either case, to secure unclaimed (unshared) energy transit routes like strong states like the US and China need to learn to work together if they want to ensure maritime energy roads and choke points.


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