Multinational Monitor

NOV 2001
VOL 22 No. 11


Pentagon Spending Spree: The Wartime Opportunists on High Alert
by William Hartung

Too Cheap to Deter: The Nuclear Power Industy Pushes Ahead Post 9-11
by Charlie Cray

Fear of Flying: The Political Economy of Airport Security
by Todd Paglia


The Great Game: Oil and Afghanistan
an interview with
Ahmed Rashid

A Resource War
an interview with
Michael Klare

A Corporate Tax Break Feeding Frenzy
an interview with
Nancy Watzman

The Corporate Attack on Electronic Privacy
an interview with
Chris Hoofnagle

Insuring a Fair Deal
an interview with
Robert Hunter


Behind the Lines

The Corporate State and the Public Interest

The Front
The Cipro Rip-Off

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


A Resource War

An Interview with Michael Klare

Michael Klare is the author of numerous books including Resource Wars (Metropolitan Books). He is Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Multinational Monitor: Is the conflict in Afghanistan a resource war?

Michael Klare: The conflict in Afghanistan derives from American efforts to dominate the resources of the Persian Gulf. Afghanistan itself is only peripherally related to resource conflicts. The origins of the current conflict lie in Saudi Arabia — in the efforts of anti-government extremists like Osama bin Laden to overthrow the royal family and install a more doctrinaire Islamic regime. And since Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil producer, and the United States has no intention of allowing Bin Laden to overthrow the Saudi regime, by extension it’s a resource conflict.

MM: To what extent are U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia a cause of Osama bin Laden’s anti-U.S. activities?

Klare: They are both a provocation and an invitation.

They are a provocation in his eyes and in those of his militant followers, because they represent what they view as a sacrilege of the Muslim Holy Land. They view the Arabian Peninsula as the home and Holy Land of Islam and they view so many American troops — most of who are non-Muslims, and therefore considered infidels — as an insult to their religion. And they blame the Saudi royal family for bringing those troops in.

Their real argument is ultimately with the Saudi royal family. I think the principle aim of Osama bin Laden is to overthrow the Saudi royal family and establish a Taliban-like government in Saudi Arabia. That’s his number one objective. But one of his complaints against the royal family is that they invited American troops to come and stay.

U.S. forces are also an invitation in the sense that they are terrorist targets. U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia have been attacked at least twice before in terrorist attacks; the 1995 attack on the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) headquarters in Riyadh, which killed 5 American soldiers; and the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers that killed 19 American soldiers.

MM: Are U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia to protect against external or internal threats?

Klare: The U.S. has two kinds of forces in Saudi Arabia. It has regular military units — mainly Air Force units, whose job is primarily to protect Saudi Arabia against external enemies — primarily Iran and Iraq. But the U.S. also has military advisers and military contract personnel who work with the Saudi Arabian National Guard to provide internal security for the Saudi regime, for the royal family. This has put the U.S. in a direct clash with Saudi dissidents who have had periodic clashes with the SANG, and so have come to despise the U.S. for being associated with a repressive force.

MM: When did U.S. deployment in the Middle East and in Saudi Arabia begin, and how did it evolve?

Klare: All of this goes back to the March 1945 meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the father of the present king, and the founder of the modern Saudi regime. They met in Egypt after the Yalta conference and worked out a bargain, a compact whereby the U.S. would have privileged access to Saudi oil in return for a pledge to protect the royal family. That agreement remains the basis for U.S. ties to the Saudi government.

The nature of U.S. protection has evolved over time. Originally it was provided in indirect forms of support such as military advisers and arms aid. Over time the direct presence of U.S. military forces has increased to the point where the U.S. now has between 5,000 and 10,000 soldiers on Saudi soil, and a much larger number offshore, on ships and the island of Bahrain.

MM: What are the internal threats feared in Saudi Arabia? What opposition forces exist?

Klare: The first thing that has to be borne in mind is that the Saudi government does not permit legal forms of dissent. There’s no parliament. There’s no free speech or assembly, no political parties. So there’s no opportunity for people to voice their grievances against the regime.

A lot of opposition to the regime includes the sort of grievances you would expect to find in a country ruled by a feudal dynasty, especially issues about the distribution of the nation’s oil wealth and how it is spent. There’s a lot of anger that excessive amounts of money are spent on things like palaces and Mercedes while not enough is spent on public welfare. There’s also dissent from women who object to the second-class status that they’re forced to endure. And there are objections from those who want to democratize the country, who want human rights and democracy like you have in any modern state. Those people are not allowed to voice any grievances.

What happens is that the only real opportunity for dissidence is in radical fundamentalist movements, which are tolerated by the regime because they are based in the mosques and in the religious seminaries that are protected by the government. And they’re expressed in Islamic terms. So the royal family has closed off legitimate forms of dissent, and the only option therefore is extremist Islamic movements, some of which have turned violent. If there were democracy in the country, my guess is that there wouldn’t be much to worry about, because a lot of these grievances would then take the form of parliamentary opposition, as they do in [the United States] and other countries. But because that option doesn’t exist in Saudi Arabia, those with grievances have increasingly turned to extremist factions which advocate the use of violence, including terrorism and, ultimately, armed revolt. As people’s anger grows — and it’s growing in Saudi Arabia because of the war — the fear is that people will turn to these extremist movements and stage a revolt of one sort or another.

MM: Why do U.S. planners view the extremists in Saudi Arabia as a threat to U.S. interests?

Klare: Because of fears for the survival of the Saudi monarchy. The royal family has always provided U.S. interests a privileged position with respect to Saudi oil supplies, in terms of both the access to oil and the pricing of oil. The Saudi royal family has been the most friendly to the U.S. in OPEC in maintaining prices at a level that do not produce a heavy burden to the U.S. economy. The fear is that if the extremists took over, they might deny U.S. access to Saudi oil and/or push prices up, and therefore produce an even worse economic situation than we have today. Either way, it would cause great harm to the U.S. economy.

MM: Is U.S. entanglement in resource wars inevitable so long as the nation relies so heavily on oil?

Klare: I think resource wars are inevitable so long as we rely so heavily on imported oil to make up for the shortfall in our own production and to the degree that we do not engage in some kind of international system of resource allocation that’s reasonably equitable. The problem is that we use a vast amount of oil and we also want to engineer local politics in other countries to be friendly to serving that need. We want local governments to be amenable to providing the U.S. with as much energy as we want at low prices. That means we get involved in local politics, and very often we get involved in local politics in areas where there are a lot of pre-existing divisions — religious, ethnic and political. We wind up taking sides and we get enmeshed in conflicts, which is what has happened in Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. has also risked getting involved in local conflicts in other countries because of its interest in their petroleum resources. We’ve been enmeshed in the internal politics of Iran — we were very close to the Shah, and when the Shah was overthrown, there was a backlash against us. Historically, we’ve been involved in conflicts in Mexico over oil. We’re now involved in Colombia in a conflict that’s as much about oil as it is about drugs.

It’s not just the demand that is important, but the fact that the U.S. has historically viewed oil as a national security concern and organized its foreign policy and military policy around the protection of that oil. That gets us involved in local messy situations that often turn violent.

MM: Do you think there will be a fundamental reexamination of the notion of defining national security in the United States as a result of these issues?

Klare: I think in the short term that people aren’t giving this a whole lot of thought, but I do think that there’s a growing awareness that the conflict we’re currently involved in has roots in the Middle East. I think it will lead people to examine those roots more carefully. Some of that will involve looking more carefully at the Israel-Palestinian conflict to see whether there shouldn’t be changes in how we address that conflict, perhaps to be more even-handed in our response. I think it’s going to force the U.S. to reexamine its relationship to Saudi Arabia. I hope that will lead to the U.S. putting greater distance between itself and the royal family, leaving greater room for democracy in that country. But I think that’s a long-term process and could be overtaken by events that we can’t foresee yet.



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