When Bullets Meet Oil: Today's Middle East

A pro-Gaddafi fighter makes his evening prayers in the desert as a plume of smoke rises from the burning oil refinery in Ras Lanouf, Libya.

"The reality is that we do not know what will happen and we have only limited ability to assess and adapt to a rapidly changing situation," said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley on accessing oil in a region of massive political upheavals. It is not just an American problem. Both regional instability and resource management are again putting international democracy under the spotlight, as happened in Iraq and now via oil-rich Libya. 

On the one hand, Middle Eastern instability is a major concern of oil-dependent democracies of the West. On the other, the region's unpredictable political situations reflect the inadequate regulative authority of the world's political systems. The Middle East is at the heart of it. Oil, defense and nuclear energy all converge counteractively against U.N. legislative affect here. More often than not, military measures are used to address the consequences of the trade and industry in these resources, all of which are undertaken by Western democracies as well as local systems. The process reflects a political void in the state system through the regional absence of resource regulation geared to common security.

Oil and military interventions


Middle Eastern oil particularly reflects the problems of managing energy resources in global terms of general sustainability. It's like coal in the ASEAN region. The trade and manufacture of this product now concern planetary consequences embodying ad hoc political regulation. With oil, international trade has largely involved military sales, auguring bilateral defense deals instead of regulatory practices of terrestrial relevance. And so it goes with the nuclear industry. Our international legislative network isn't cohesive enough to control the nuclear binary industry of defense, nor address the geological safety of nuclear power plants at the continental level. It hasn't prevented underground nuclear testing. As things stand state-wise, there's no common security with any of these industries. Developing the political strength to realize it could now be a geopolitical equation of resource management.


This is also a question of how established democracies operate internationally. The requisite progression of our systems transcends local uprisings in the Middle East. Broader-ranging coordination is now critical for planetary survival. From the local to the regional to the international political levels, an all-inclusive system geared to global responsibility is not in place. Global capitalism hasn't engendered general sustainability. Whilst the progression of free trade may well have realized economic gains all around, unforeseen consequences are now globally manifest. The laissez-faire nature of expanding markets allows for unsustainable productivity rates, uncontrolled defense industries as well as military regimes to the detriment of progressively accountable systems. The growth rates are proving neither sustainable, responsible nor comprehensive. The democratic system itself is ad hoc.

Internationally, democracy seems to operate via open-ended economic rationale or underground strategic reasoning. Whilst the former is transparent, political cohesion derives through deregulation, and with the latter covert intelligence, thereby leaving much to chance within politically insecure systems. Applied together, the rationale undermines any open network of comprehensive authority.

"The West had been slow to diagnose the contagion that has gripped the region. ... An energy-dependent world has comforted itself with the perception—perhaps delusion—that Saudi Arabia is the most benign of Middle East autocracies," wrote Sydney Morning Herald's Simon Mann recently. Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel—so many Middle Eastern states subjected to the military assistance of superpower defense industries are now riddled with conflict. Military assistance hasn't forged systemic accord. It's resourced wars.

The Libyan crisis shouldn't have come as a surprise. But it did. This is the deeper concern of international democracy. "The [Libyan] government can field warplanes and helicopters and tanks ... to turn a revolution into a civil war' wrote Abigail Hauslohner and Vivienne Walt in Time magazine, also noting that the rebels want to fight to the last bullet. As with all conflicts in the Middle East, the only predictable outcome is their well-oiled capacity to continue.

The Arab world and regional bodies

Regional stability is evidently a matter of how democracies interact in the Middle East and on what basis political systems cohere. Neither military interventions nor "Arab world" distinctions have resolved the region's political divisions. Pan Arab nationalism hasn't breached the cultural and theocratic fissures to the level capable of general resource security. And the region's two main political bodies are based on such distinctions.

The Arab League was formed to unify Arab nationalism, directing measures for security accordingly. Whilst the greater Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), comprising all League members, arose from the Al-Aqsa Mosque arson after the Arab-Israeli War. The moral authority of both seems chartered towards mono-cultural responsibility beyond terrestrial obligation. Sub-bodies such as the Gulf Co-operation Council look the same: formed as an up breach of the Iraq-Iran war rather than for marine resource management.

The Arab League, though, covers two continents—Africa and Asia—and the OIC four. That's a fair sweep of geological diversity involving deserts, forests, the Atlas Mountains and major parts of the world's longest river. Plus the Fertile Crescent's covered. And that stretches from Iraq to Israel, meaning Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine are all physically in it. Nevertheless, even with so much natural authority, a fair whack of the terrain has become wasted war zones.

The predominantly cultural aspect of political direction in these bodies hasn't protected the terrain sustaining the region's inhabitants. The OIC is placed as the second-largest inter-governmental organization (IGO) after the United Nations and the collective voice of the Muslim world, yet its political direction has been unable to uphold international peace and security according to its principles, notably on members' sovereign obligations to settle their disputes via peaceful means. Not going by Libya and Yemen.

Whether in the fields of science, technology or relative security, without the regional powers of Israel and Iran, how viable is any Middle Eastern IGO? Only Egypt and Jordan have treaties with Israel, and Iran is sidelined into loose alignments based on U.S. animosity and sectarian allegiances rather than general security, rendering the geopolitical framework ad hoc and diffuse. And generally, being on the same page as international democracy hasn't made it right. The regional system keeps undermining the efficacy of U.N. resolutions, thereby increasing its reliance on force to address the political consequences. Where's the inclusive legitimacy in these resolutions when the region's resources keep translating into Western weapons? This is the beast of democracy's lack of international compliance, and a root cause of war.

Fortunately the importance of regional cohesion is becoming evident. Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa recently made the recommendation to the U.N. General Assembly for a Middle East IGO of all nations "without exception." "Let them all sit together in one group," he said. "This is the only path to solve our problems."

Inter-regional accord

Sitting there to strategize defense measures on security, though, hasn't proved a viable basis for resolving political, resource and environmental problems. It doesn't reach into the causes of political problems and allow for systemic measures in terms of general sustainability. Strategic defense doesn't breach sectarian and theocratic divisions. Nor does it embody a universal direction in respect of all cultures and religions.

It's the same with free trade. Along with strategic defense, commerce hasn't produced regional political stability. China, India and Russia are opposed to the Libyan no-fly zone. All three, however, rely on Libyan oil and defense industries. Russia's Vladimir Putin recently told workers at a missile factory, the U.N. resolution authorizing force against Gaddafi "resembles medieval calls for crusades."

As Hindustan Time's editor Pramil points out, when it comes to China and India, regional relationships are driven by commerce and private companies. If industry directs state policies when it comes to the Middle East, why should the Russian industry of defense be any different? And if that's the case, how effective can any "democratic" intervention in Libya be while the state's oil keeps translating into weapons via U.N. security members?

Geopolitical stability

This is an issue of Western systems alongside rapidly changing Middle Eastern regimes. Any constitutional progression via geopolitical resource management in the Middle East concerns international trading arrangements of both state defense and regional resources. With state security a generally relative matter of global resources and border defense, the systemic framework is vital for regulative authority. No single region can assure that level of systemic accord.

As Iran's Payvand Daily News reports, in the wake of Japan's nuclear crisis the Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian announced that a safety review would be conducted on Armenia's nuclear power plants. "We will once again discuss this question and invite international experts to get their assessment of what measures we must take in order to raise the safety standards at our nuclear power plant," Sarkisian told his cabinet after the Japanese crisis. Streamlining the data for regulatory efficacy is subject to geological mechanisms of political accord. The process can transform the uncertainty of nuclear safety, military interventions, resource access and climactic disasters into surer avenues of security by applying the all-inclusive global basis.

"What we are touched by now, with a mixture of pathos and concern, is the planet itself; its wholeness, the inter-dependency of its creatures ... a global environment—the connection between vast tracts of the Earth between small happenings and larger ones ... in an age of large-scale management," wrote Paul Malouf.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Laurelle Atkinson.