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Prevailing oil politics in West Asia and concerns for India

By Sudhanshu Tripathi - posted Thursday, 18 December 2014


In the unipolar world of politics and multilateral markets of today, there have often been clashes of interests and, thereby, the military has once again become an active agent of arbitration, where markets and diplomacy fails.

The current tensions in West Asia and the war clouds over the skies of Iraq due to rise of ISIS militants, however, have their roots in the economics of oil resources of the Persian Gulf and the politics of American interests to remain predominant in the region.

However, there has been an unprecedented popular upsurge against the establishments in many countries in the Arab world during the last few years, leading to regime changes in certain cases. These developments have been characterised by outside observers as the 'Arab Spring.'

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The essence of the socio-political tumult sweeping the region has been such that the people at large have overcome their fear of the existing regimes and called for drastic and fundamental political transformations, including regime changes. This has led to dramatic changes in domestic political environments in most of the countries of the region. Though, the West Asian region is exposed to a completely new set of challenges, threats and an uncertain future but it is clear that the new political dispensation will not be forced to follow for long the 'Accepted Order' laid down by the West.

However, the newly formed regimes, most of them Islamists, would be quite difficult to deal with. The emerging political order in West Asia is also marked by considerable shifts within individual countries as well as at the regional level. The Islamist parties are on the rise across the region whereas the economic concerns have also risen to the forefront. These changes have implications for both regional and international stake holders including India. Despite these developments to the contrary, the West Asian region continues its struggle to establish a stable political order.

The region has a history of external influence and even interventions in the past. Among several stake holders, the US remains the most prominent one despite loss of influence in the region. Its attitude towards the Arab Spring and it policy of 'rebalancing towards 'Asia-Pacific' has drawn criticism from its regional allies.

Also, the successor Russia of the erstwhile USSR, is emerging as a major player in the region with its support for Iran, stance on Syria and on-going efforts to cultivate stronger ties with Egypt, it could emerge as an important player. Both Russia and China have continued to strengthen their economic leverages in the region.

These apart, the continuing regional instability also raises increasing concerns related to issues of energy security. The emergence of protests led to rise in international oil prices and created apprehensions regarding uninterrupted production and supply. Since the economy of many countries in the region is primarily dependent upon the hydrocarbon fuel sector, any disruption in production and supply of oil may have serious impact not only on the region but also much beyond on those countries which are dependent on oil supply from this region.

Impact of oil and gas in West Asia:

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The discovery of petroleum products in West Asia greatly boosted its economy and resulted in the infrastructural developments etc. especially in the GCC states. Currently this region contains about 65% of the world's oil and it has made the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf quite wealthy. Since the world depends on petroleum as a primary source of fuel, this discovery has obviously created many trading opportunities for West Asia. However, that has changed considerably due to rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.

Economy and politics of oil in West Asia:

Oil nations became aware of the role they are entitled to play in the global economy as the natural owners of this essential economic resource. Earlier, the world oil prices were so low that Iran, Venezuela, and Arab oil producers banded together in 1960 to form Organization of Petroleum Producing States (OPEC), to negotiate for higher oil prices. By the early 1970s, the United States depended on the West Asia for a third of its oil requirements. Foreign oil producers were finally in a position to raise world oil prices.

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About the Author

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor of Political Science at MDPG College, Pratapgarh, India.

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