American Oil Diplomacy in the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea
by Gawdat Bahgat
Gainesville, Fla: University Press of Florida, 2003. 214 pp. $39.95.
Reviewed by Brenda Shaffer
Caspian Studies, Harvard University
Middle East Quarterly
Energy will be a defining issue in international relations in the twentieth-first century, yet few political scientists have tackled the geopolitics of oil and gas. Bahgat's welcome addition to this short list will be of special interest to policymakers and journalists. His study examines trends in the global energy market, focusing on the U.S. strategy for global energy security, and Washington's relations with Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea region states. The overview chapters are particularly valuable to assign to students, who will also benefit from the book's excellent glossary.
Some observations on the book: Bahgat's important contention that "independence, not dependence, is the cornerstone of today's global energy markets" underscores why U.S. policies aim to ensure not only U.S. energy security but also global energy supplies. It also highlights why supply interruptions affect not just specific consumers but cause global price hikes.
Another important point is that Iran and a number of other Middle East states do not allow foreign oil companies to have a real stake in production and infrastructure projects. This, more than U.S. sanctions, has proven a barrier to foreign investment in the Iranian energy sector.
This reviewer disagrees, however, with the author's contention that Azerbaijan chose to export its oil on an east-west pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) as a result of U.S. pressure. Actually, Baku never seriously pondered exporting its main strategic resource through Iran.
Bahgat correctly points out the gradual erosion of Saudi Arabia's surplus oil production capacity and notes how its absence greatly affects the dynamics of today's world oil market.
He often highlights the discrepancy in estimates of oil reserves, a matter researchers should bear in mind. In fact, there are few independent estimates on oil and gas reserves, so all reports should be used judiciously.
In some of the chapters on specific regions, such as Iraq and the Caspian region, the author's attempts to keep the text up to date actually hurt their shelf life. For instance, the book discusses the merits and disadvantages of the various pipeline options for export of oil from Azerbaijan while the debate on the main export pipeline was determined with the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to open for operations in late 2005. In addition, the book discusses the merits of different policy scenarios toward Iraq under Saddam.
Related Topics: Oil, Persian Gulf & Yemen, US policy | Winter 2006 MEQ
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