Oil, War and Capitalism

For someone to state that the recent war in Iraq was essentially about oil is to have them labelled by their opponent as a “conspiracy theorist”. Conspiracies do occur in politics but conspiracy theorists constantly dismiss counter arguments which they will just explain away. Nothing offered to the conspiracy theorist in the way of evidence will dissuade them from holding their irrational position about the world.

This is not the case with the relationship between oil and war. Empirical studies exist to show that governments go to war over strategic interests, trade routes and raw materials like oil. War is a necessary outcome of the conflict between and within nation states where a specific capitalist country has to survive in a highly competitive and aggressive world market.

Those who reject the shallow and facile claim of former Prime Minister, Tony Blair and the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw that the motivation for war in Iraq was moral considerations not ones of securing oil and oil supply now have solid research to back-up their position. Conspiracy theorists we are not. Academics from the universities of Portsmouth, Warwick and Essex, have recently shown that foreign intervention in a civil war is 100 times more likely when the afflicted country has high oil reserves than if it had none.

In a paper Oil above Water, Economic Interdependence and Third Party Intervention (JOURNAL OF CONFLICT RESOLUTION, January 27th 2015) the authors, V. Bove, K. Gleditsch and P. Sekeris confirm the role of oil as a dominant motivating force in conflict within and between nation states. The researchers modelled the decision-making process of third-party countries in interfering in civil wars and examined their economic motives. They show that hydrocarbons were a major reason for the military intervention in Libya by a coalition which included the UK, and the current US campaign against ISIS in Northern Iraq.

The study analysed 69 civil wars between 1945 and 1999 noting that civil wars have made up more than 90 per cent of all armed conflict since World War Two and that two-thirds of these conflicts have seen a third party intervention

The academics believe that Western capitalist intervention in the Middle East will scale-back over the next decade as the price of oil falls and shale production in the US gathers apace. However, given that no economist predicated the rapid fall in the price of oil and the continuing strategic importance to Western capitalism of the Middle East to block the influence of Russia and China in the region, the belief of reduced conflict held by the academics is just that; a belief.

Although the struggle for raw resources is a cause of war under capitalism by far the most important cause of war is strategic spheres of influence and the protection of trade routes. The Middle East is a vitally strategic communications hub providing a land bridge between three continents while global air routes constantly pass over the region.

The US, for example, has a number of bases in Saudi Arabia whose regime is just as barbaric and ruthless as ISIS. In an Orwellian twist, atheism is deemed to be a terrorist act not the Wahhabi religious ideology the Saudi government exports around the world; political dissent leads to a public flogging, women are unable to drive and one cleric recently tried to stop the construction of snowmen on the grounds that they were “unislamic”. Let us also not forget that the Saudi’s print and distribute anti-scientific pamphlets attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as the anti-Semantic tract, The Elders of Zion.

Given the crisis in the Ukraine there are military and naval bases at Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, at Adana in Turkey, at Habbaniyah in Iraq, and in Cyprus as well as the proximity of the aircraft carriers of the US sixth fleet in the area within striking distance of Russia. Strategic influence and access to ports for military reasons is just as important to Western capitalism as access to oil.

Nevertheless Dr Petros Sekens of the University of Portsmouth said:

We found clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil war erupts

He went on to say:

Military intervention is expensive and risky. No country joins another country’s civil war without balancing the cost against their own strategic interests and what possible benefits there are.

In a press release to launch their findings two conclusions of their paper were summarised:

* The more oil a country has, the more likely a third party will intervene in their civil war
* The more oil a country imports, the greater the likelihood it will intervene in an oil-producing country’s civil war (http://text.www2.warwick.acuk/news/pressrelease)

Yet government pretend they intervene for moral purposes rather than naked self-interest. They write off opponents as “conspiracy theorists” for actually telling the truth about capitalism and the motives of nation states. What does that make the politicians?

Another of the authors, Dr. Vincenzo Bove remarked:

…before the ISIS forces approached the oil-rich Kurdish North of Iraq, ISIS was barely mentioned in the news. But once ISIS got near oil fields, the siege of Kabani in Syria became a headline and the US sent drones to strike ISIS targets

This is not what is found in the media or from politicians like Obama and Cameron. They tell us that the conflicts against ISIS is one between “Good and evil” yet see nothing inconsistent in prostrating themselves to the House of Saud and the terrorist regime in Saudi Arabia in order to secure multi-billion arm sales. Nevertheless, both politicians are not averse to the use of state terror as they order the use of jet fighters and drones to rain down death and destruction on the enemy below. No one knows how many civilians in Afghanistan and along the Pakistan have been killed by rockets fired from jets or drones. No one appears to care.

So do the academics give a solution to global conflict? How do they think military force under capitalism can be resolved? They don’t. There is complete silence. This is not the case with socialists. We not only understand capitalism and what causes capitalism’s wars but we also offer a solution; socialism.

The world’s resources need to be held in common under democratic control. There needs to be a world without artificial national boundaries, politicians, trade, an exploited working class and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Until the working class consciously and politically organise to replace world capitalism with world socialism, conflict and war will continue from one decade to the next just at it did in the 20th century.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.