Abstract of Fueling the Fire: Pathways from Oil to War

The sum total of the political effects generated by the oil industry makes it a leading cause of war.

Belfer Policy Brief Extract

The Oil, Conflict, and US National Interests policy brief is based on “Fueling the Fire: Pathways from Oil to War,” which appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of International Security.

Abstract: What role does oil play in international security? While the threat of “resource wars” over possession of oil reserves is often exaggerated, the sum total of the political effects generated by the oil industry makes it a leading cause of war. Between one-quarter and one-half of interstate wars since 1973 have been connected to one or more oil-related causal mechanisms. Eight distinct mechanisms exist: resource wars, in which states try to acquire oil reserves by force; petro-aggression, whereby oil facilitates domestic political control of aggressive leaders such as Saddam Hussein or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; externalization of civil wars in petrostates; financing for insurgencies, such as Iranian oil money to Hezbollah; conflicts over potential oil-market domination, such as the United States' conflict with Iraq over Kuwait in 1991; control over transit routes, such as shipping lanes and pipelines; oil-related grievances, whereby the presence of foreign workers in petrostates helps extremist groups such as al-Qaida recruit locals; and as an obstacle to multilateral cooperation, such as when an importer curries favor with a petrostate to prevent multilateral cooperation on security issues. Understanding these mechanisms can help policymakers design grand strategy and allocate military resources.

Jeff D. Colgan; Fueling the Fire: Pathways from Oil to War. International Security 2013; 38 (2): 147–180. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00135

Related Articles

Anti-government Libyan rebel in front of oil refinery

Oil, Terrorism, and Violence

By Jeff Colgan

Your story is our history

Give voice to your unique story about how the December 21, 1988, terrorist attack against America impacted your life. Preserve your memories and legacy by helping to create the most extensive curated digital library of personal Pan Am 103 Lockerbie stories for our Historical Archives.