Hydrocarbons - the prize in modern wars

September 21st, 2008 - 11:11 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Sep 21 (RIA Novosti) Many analysts tend to view most 20th century wars as wars for energy. The role and significance of energy resources and the part energy plays in wars is worth examining.As industrial society forges ahead, energy and energy resources play an increasingly significant role in the affairs of nations. Eventually, a nation reaches a point where accessible energy resources become vital to its existence, and any shortage in these resources may result in serious consequences for its economy.

Control over energy production was not the ultimate goal for Germany, Italy or Japan - the aggressors in World War II - but it was one of their overriding objectives.

The significance of that can be understood from the objectives set by the armed forces of the three countries. For Germany and Italy, one of the aims of the 1942 campaign was to capture the oil resources in the Caucasus (on the Soviet-German front) and on the Arabian Peninsula (on the African front).

This was the result of a severe fuel shortage experienced by both, which could not be met either by oil fields at Ploesti in Romania or synthetic gasoline plants in Germany.

For Japan, the embargo placed on oil in South East Asia triggered a war for vital resources.

Throughout the war, oil fields, coal mines, ocean going oil tankers, oil storage facilities, fuel-filled freight trains, and power plants were regarded as targets of utmost importance.

For the submarines of all warring nations, tankers, for example, ranked after aircraft carriers and battleships, while oil refineries, synthetic fuel factories and power plants in Hitler’s Germany were prime targets for Allied bombers.

The situation did not change much after the war. Oil-bearing regions have become the scene of rivalry between leading nations of the world which rushed to seek allies with the holders of the black stuff.

The attractiveness of oil among other energy resources is easy to explain: it is a very calorie-rich fuel which means a small amount yields a large volume of energy, its production, transportation and storage are simpler than that of other resources, and it is these advantages that have ultimately led oil and petroleum products to become the main resource of our machine-based civilization.

Soon natural gas joined oil to become a near ideal source of energy for thermal power plants.

The history of the Middle East conflicts bears testimony to the role of oil. The interests of the great powers have turned the region into a theatre of conflicts, with “the oil barrel of the planet” being the main prize.

There used to be an equally sharp debate about Vietnam, whose economic zone (in the sea) includes large stocks of hydrocarbon reserves. The debate still continues - leading South East Asian countries are hotly vying for oil-rich parts of the shelf but have avoided an open clash.

Within the next few years, the Arctic is likely to become another area of conflict in the drive for energy. Global warming, which is opening up long-term access to the Arctic shelf, combined with large proven hydrocarbon resources, is bound to make the leading world powers challenge neighbours’ rights to some parts of the shelf.

Meanwhile, energy resources have turned from an end into the means to an end. If before World War II, restricted access to oil meant no more than slow development (coal, peat and wood were more important), now such a restriction spells an economic collapse for a large state, involving stoppage of transportation, outage of industry and, especially during wintertime, a heavy toll of life and the evacuation of mega cities.

Awareness of these factors lends to one’s understanding of why the European countries worry over fuel supplies from Russia. The hydrocarbons from the North Sea, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere are running out and cannot meet the needs of the European economy.

Such interdependence of the sides works well in bringing them closer together and softening their stance over disputes - regardless of the fine words in which politicians and diplomats couch the description of the process.

Energy is not only a great divider, it is also a gap bridger.

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