Global World – 04

The World and Energy Issue, by K.N. Pandita

A century ago in 1905, the British, for the first time, smelt oil in Southern Iran. That was a period of great rivalry between the two imperial powers, Great Britain and Czarist Russia, struggling for supremacy in Asia.

Sustained researches enabled the British entrepreneurs to explore, extract and exploit this precious mineral wealth in a way that within a short time, it began to control world economy and the destiny of mankind. Today, we are closely bound to the oil and gas that regulate the life of modern human society.

A short survey of oil as the source of energy gives rise to a curious question. Is it a boon or a curse for humanity? Has it made our lives more comfortable or more complicated? At the end of the day will it lead humanity to happiness or to misery and catastrophe? These questions are asked in many circles but the answer is too baffling.

As regards the benefits of this source of energy, there is hardly any doubt in anybody’s mind. The way it has transformed our life is a marvel of research and innovation. Nothing can compare it. Given the space, further researches could be more promising.

But on the negative side, we become apprehensive of the dread that hangs on our heads because of intense rivalry among great powers for exclusive acquisition and possession of this important source of energy. The rivalry is so intense yet covert and indescribable that the entire world is gradually sucked into the vortex of oil diplomacy.

By strange coincidence, three-fourth of the world’s total hydrocarbon reserves remain concentrated in the Gulf area which is mastered by Islamic nations. For one century in the past, the Gulf has remained the most sensitive area of geopolitical strategies with impact on near and distant countries.

However, by the fall of the previous century, a new dimension has been added to the oil diplomacy and its political strategies. Thinking has developed with the Muslims of the world that the western countries have established hegemony over their rich resources and with that, they have held the local states and their regimes into their stranglehold. In particular these ideas are attributed to the US and Great Britain.

It is true that after the World War II, the US expanded its influence in the region to extraordinary limits and directly or indirectly controlled the booty.

This thinking became a catalyst to the rise of Islamic radicalism, which soon accepted the use of force as a means of getting rid of the pernicious influence and interference. The first warning shorts were fired by the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979. Though oil was not the issue at stake at that time and only political arrangement of Iran was at the forefront, yet beneath all that struggle and change lay the crucial question of mastery over the black gold reserves of the region.

Now more issues have been appended to the cause of the rise of Islamic militancy. That may or may not be true in its entirety. The fact remains that energy remains the crucial subject to determine the future course of world order.

Now the west is eyeing Central Asian region after the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union. The US has made deep inroads into oil resource of Central Asia particularly Kazakhstan and the Caspian Shelf but despite that one can call it only a beginning. Where will it end up is a moot question. And what will be the fall out at the end of the day is also worth considering.

It is likely that more complicacies will arise and multi-party rivalry will replace the bi-party rivalry of the 20th century. Russia, China, India and some more Asian countries are deeply involved in hydrocarbon resources of Central Asia. So is the US, perhaps not out of any dire necessity but out of her ambition to be the leading power of the world. Does it mean more disaster for the Asians? There are apprehensions like that.

Therefore, keeping in mind the lessons of the previous century, it is important that great powers begin to think over the energy issue from a new and more enlightened standpoint. Energy sources have to be universalized and not monopolized in a manner as was the case with the Gulf oil. A new strategy must be forged so that the chances of confrontation are reduced, and the power of blackmailing one country or the other is neutralized. The burgeoning population of China and India cannot be refused access to the source of energy. Developing countries are acutely in need of it. The local regimes may not be in a sound economic and technological situation to manage their hydrocarbon resource single handedly. They have the option of looking to such of the developing countries as can provide adequate technical know-how of oil industry.

It, therefore, means that an international body must be formed to discuss and lay out the guidelines for the management of hydrocarbon energy resources all over the world. This is important if we mean to eschew infectious and dangerous rivalry and blackmail of contemporary times. The sooner such an organization is established the better.

It must be accepted that the UN has failed to evolve any mechanism of this type. One is at a loss to suggest if the UN can do anything in this behalf not because it has not the will or the expertise at hand but because the UN is a highly politicized institution being dependent on big powers for its funding. Therefore only an independent body that has the support of all major powers of the world can tackle the world energy issue in a befitting manner because of its accountability to the demands of consumer states.

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