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    Burning oilfield during Operation Desert Storm, Kuwait

    Petropolitics 101: Why Waging Oil Wars is a Bad Idea

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    The past century has seen countries make fateful military decisions, which revolved around black gold, but history warns that oil wars could be devastating for those who start them, defense analyst Michael Peck wrote for the National Interest.

    Iraq's invasion of Kuwait is often cited as a prime example to support this idea. It is also often considered to be the first oil war the world has ever seen but conflicts over the precious commodity, which runs in the blood vessels of industrial economies, are known to have emerged even before 1990.

    In fact, one of the first oil wars took place in the mid-1930s. Known as the Chaco War, the conflict saw Bolivia and Paraguay engaged in a three-year-long struggle for control over the northern Gran Chaco region, believed to be rich in oil. The conflict is said to be the bloodiest Latin American war of the 20th century.

    A female operator working on Baku oil fields during the Second World War.
    © Sputnik / Ria Novosti
    A female operator working on Baku oil fields during the Second World War.

    Hitler's Stalingrad Gambit

    When thinking about World War II, oil does not immediately spring to mind. Yet oil was one of the key factors behind Hitler's strategy for the Soviet Union.

    Nazi Germany failed to defeat the USSR in a blitzkrieg offensive in 1941. By 1942, Hitler focused his limited resources on southern Russia to carry out Operation Braunschweig, which was aimed at crashing Soviet forces in Stalingrad and capturing oil fields in the Caucasus.

    Germany's forces succeeded in reaching Stalingrad and capturing several oil fields. But the Nazi leadership wanted its Army to pursue both goals simultaneously. As a result, the months-long battle for Stalingrad ended in the destruction of Germany's 6th Army, which was also forced to withdraw from the Soviet oil-rich region. Moreover, the battle also marked a turning point in World War II.

    Japanese invasion of Java
    Japanese invasion of Java

    Japan's WWII lesson

    The Empire of Japan decided to attack the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to prevent Washington from ruining Tokyo's plan to capture oil fields in the Dutch East Indies and Southeast Asia. Japan badly needed petroleum since the US, Tokyo's main oil supplier, and Europe introduced an oil embargo earlier that year.

    Tokyo succeeded in taking the oil fields under control but was unable to ship oil back home since the US imposed a naval blockade of the islands and bombed Japanese waters.

    "Attacking America was supposed to guarantee Japan unlimited oil, but instead it led to the destruction of the empire," Peck noted.

    Aerial view of the Kuwaiti oil fires.
    Aerial view of the Kuwaiti oil fires.

    Iraq's Invasion of Kuwait

    In 1991, Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, which at the time had approximately 10 percent of global oil reserves.

    The decision to occupy the Arab country is believed to have been sparked by Baghdad's inability to repay the 100-billion-dollar debt incurred during the Iran–Iraq War. Kuwait's oil overproduction and Baghdad's ambition to capture the country's vast oil reserves have also been cited as a reason for the operation.

    "The result was 500,000 US troops in Saudi Arabia, the American-led blitzkrieg of Desert Storm and the devastation of Iraqi military power. Iraq had previously been one of the major powers in the Arab world; Saddam Hussein's quest for oil left it broken and isolated," Peck observed.

    US soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, ride on a military vehicle as they leave their base on a mission in Tikrit, 180 Kilometers (110 miles) north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, 30 December 2003.
    © AFP 2019 / JEWEL SAMAD
    US soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, ride on a military vehicle as they leave their base on a mission in Tikrit, 180 Kilometers (110 miles) north of Iraqi capital Baghdad, 30 December 2003.

    Washington's military engagement in the Middle East has also revolved around petroleum.  

    "American oil wars have not been about establishing direct control over oil fields nor about liberation or freedom, at least not political freedom for the peoples of the region. Instead, they have primarily been about protecting friendly oil producers," Toby Craig Jones wrote for the Journal of American History in an article titled "America, Oil, and War in the Middle East."

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    Tags:
    Oil, oil wars, petroleum, natural resources, war, geopolitics, Nazi Germany, Kuwait, Japan, Iraq, United States, Stalingrad, Soviet Union
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