The Multinational Monitor

October 1990 - VOLUME 11 - NUMBER 10


Roots of the Gulf Crisis

We are in the Mideast for three letters, oil, o-i-l," stated Bob Dole, Senate Minority leader, from the Senate floor on October 16. "That is why we are in the Gulf. We are not there to save democracy. Saudi Arabia is not a democracy. Neither is Kuwait."

Dole's analysis is simplistic, but essentially correct. Democracy is not the real issue in the Gulf. Economic interests and power are.

Aside from the domestic political gains--now mostly worn off-- which the Bush administration hoped to achieve, several related factors explain the massive U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia. First, the oil-dependent U.S. economy needs guaranteed access to the oil supplies of the Middle East, which constitute two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves. U.S. economic managers are less concerned with low than stable prices--the oil companies usually benefit from higher prices--but they are preoccupied with maintaining control over the region's reserves.

Second, U.S. dominance in the Middle East has given the country a lever of control over industrial rivals Europe and Japan. The U.S. military build-up in Saudi Arabia--which the Bush administration hopes to transform into a smaller, permanent outpost--secures that control.

Third, the end of the Cold War was generating popular expectations of a "peace dividend." But the peace dividend would have been spent on programs to which the Bush administration is ideologically opposed, and, perhaps more importantly, would have come at the expense of government subsidies of the politically powerful defense industry.

Yet, though the military-industrial complex is anxious to maintain excessive levels of military spending, the scope of Operation Desert Shield would be inconceivable were access to oil not at stake.

The appropriate short-term response to Saddam Hussein's brutal invasion of Kuwait is to let the United Nations-imposed sanctions do their job and use them as a backdrop for negotiations with Iraq. The idea that the worldwide embargo against Iraq has been given a chance and has proven ineffective is ridiculous. There is no reason to expect sanctions to work in a few months. Nor is there any compelling reason the world cannot wait for them to take effect.

Most U.S. troops should be brought home. A comparatively small number should be incorporated into an international military presence which will be more than enough to deter whatever threat Saddam Hussein's troops may pose to Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf crisis does highlight, however, the continued oil dependence of the U.S. economy. It is primarily because of oil that U.S. business and government planners maintain their obsession with the region and primarily because of oil that the U.S administration is willing to take the country to the brink of war.

The United States's long-term response to the crisis must be to develop an environmentally sound energy policy structured around energy efficiency and alternative energy sources.

First, Congress should set an automobile fuel efficiency standard of 50 mpg; this would reduce automotive gasoline use by 30 percent. Budget appropriations for mass transit should be dramatically increased. And public and private research into cars which run on alternative fuels must be undertaken.

Second, the government should launch a major campaign to promote widespread conversion to existing energy efficient technologies. Japan uses half as much energy per dollar of gross national product as the United States; the United States could do as well. For example, the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that electricity use can be cut in half with existing technologies-- at a savings of $50 billion a year. It is not necessary to rely on hi-tech innovations; simple changes such as installing insulation, using fluorescent instead of incandescent lights and employing energy efficient refrigerators and freezers offer tremendous potential energy savings.

Third, the government must encourage the development of new technologies and renewable energy sources, most importantly solar power. Under the Reagan and Bush administrations, the federal research and development budget for renewables was cut 90 percent. It must be restored and raised. The solar tax credit, which gave tax breaks to users of solar technologies and was abolished by the Reagan administration, should be reinstated. And the government should use its procurement power to support burgeoning solar technologies, purchasing solar products to make possible the economies of scale which will bring the technology's costs down.

The development and implementation of a sustainable and environmentally sound energy policy runs against the interests of the oil and other energy companies which have worked for so long to ensure that the United States maintains its fossil fuel addiction. To overcome the energy cartel's immense political influence, angry citizens will have to take to the streets and protest loudly and relentlessly for the United States to achieve a rational energy policy.

Table of Contents