Study: Foreign Intervention 100 Times More Likely in Oil-Rich Countries

A new scientific study shows that foreign governments are 100 times more likely to intervene in civil wars in oil-rich countries.

The study, titled “Oil above Water: Economic Interdependence and Third-party Intervention,” is published in the 27 January 2015 issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and was conducted by leading scholars at the Universities of Warwick, Portsmouth, and Essex.

Researchers analyzed the global civil wars carried out between 1945 and 1999, in 69 different countries, drawing from virtually all of the cases. They found that a foreign country or organization intervened in approximately two-thirds of these, and that control of natural resources was significantly more important than any cultural factor, positing that, throughout recent history, “the decision to interfere was dominated by the interveners’ need for oil over and above historical, geographical or ethnic ties.”

Empirical data demonstrates that

  • the more oil a country has, the more likely a third party will intervene in their civil war, and
  • the more oil a country imports, the greater the likelihood it will intervene in an oil-producing country’s civil war.

Co-author Dr. Vincenzo Bove draws attention to the fact that, 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 Kobani in Syria became a headline and the US sent drones to strike ISIS targets.”

The scientists also speak to how this observation explains “the USA’s support of conservative autocratic states in oil-rich” nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, which have the second-, sixth-, and seventh-largest proven oil reserves, respectively.

In the article abstract, the authors articulate their model and findings, writing

We develop a three-party model of the decision to intervene in conflict that highlights the role of the economic benefits accruing from the intervention and the potential costs. … We find that the likelihood of a third-party intervention increases when
(a) the country at war has large reserves of oil,
(b) the relative competition in the sector is limited, and
(c) the potential intervener has a higher demand for oil.

Materialist Analysis, Not “Conspiracy Theories”

In their press release, the scholars aver that their study suggests that “crude conspiracy theories” may be correct. The Independent continues in the same vein, preposterously associating this position with “conspiracy theorists.”

Such a conflation is misguided, however. This elementary observation is not the product of inane conspiracy theories, but rather of a basic look at the history of foreign interventions. It reflects a philosophical materialist, not idealist, understanding of why nations militarily intervene in civil wars within a global industrial capitalist system: control of natural capital, the most important factor in any economy.

In order to understand military intervention, liberals look at the “intentions” countries purportedly espouse. Marxists and those who employ materialist analysis of political and social affairs, on the other hand, understand that governments have particular economic interests in making any decision, especially one as costly as military intervention.

Critical analysts who look at what countries actually do and not just say when they intervene, such as Nafeez Ahmed, note that contemporary Western leaders’ “Islamist obsession is a smokescreen to defend ‘blood for oil.’no blood for oil

We now know with absolute certainty that such thinkers, anti-war intellectuals and activists who opposed the illegal 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, were in the right when they asserted “No blood for oil!”

The idea that nations use military might to control foreign lands’ natural resources is, by no stretch of the imagination, under any circumstance, a “conspiracy theory.” Au contraire, it is the primary explanatory mechanism of the long history of imperialism. The Akkadians, Assyrians, Macedonians, Romans, Abbasids, Mongols, Spanish, British, and Americans did not create vast empires for the sake of creating vast empires. Nor did they do so in “noble” attempts to spread culture or religion.

Disseminating culture and proselytizing need not be done at the tip of a sword (in fact, such an approach is quite probably counter-productive, as it tends to reinforce the customs and beliefs of those under attack). The truth is empires have only ever existed for material, not spiritual or cultural, reasons. The primary concern of the imperialist has always been to increase their power and wealth — if it were not, they would not have been imperialist. Imperial magnitude happens to bring with it great control over labor and resources, the two primary ingredients necessary for wealth and power.

Anyone with a cursory knowledge of history will know that even the most sacred of empires and pious of rulers, regardless of religion, were plagued by “corruption.” “Corruption,” as it is often spoken of, is by no means a new phenomenon; it is simply what we call the desires of the ruling class laid bare.

The infamous maxim “Gold, God, and Glory,” used to describe the motivations of European colonialists, obfuscates the fact that the interests of God and glory — the immaterial — were subservient to that of gold — the material. Christopher Columbus did not begin the colonization of the “New World” and the genocide of its indigenous peoples in order to spread the word of God. Conversion to Christianity was merely incidental. Unlike the Blues Brothers, Columbus was not on a mission from God, but rather on behalf of the Spanish crown. His goal was to find a faster trade route to the Indies. He was looking for spices — the oil of his day.

Similarly, British colonialists did not spill oceans of blood and build the largest empire in human history, “the empire on which the sun never set,” as an act of philanthropy. Its goal was not truly to “civilize” “backward” peoples. The “White Man’s Burden” was only created after the fact, as a way of constructing a cultural justification for the colonialists’ heinous crimes. It was simply a secular form of evangelism, a means of cloaking nefarious material ulterior intentions in the pleasant guise of immaterial benevolence.

In pre-industrial feudalism, control of natural capital such as spices, silk, drugs, fur, and more constituted the principal instigative factor for most conflicts; just as minerals, rubber, cotton, and more did for colonial regimes; just as oil does today.

This study has only further confirmed what historians have always known.