War-for-oil conspiracy theories may be right
Finally, there is strong evidence to back a popular conspiracy theory
- oil is often the motivating reason that one country interferes in
another country's war. Likewise, the researchers say, third party states
may decide not to step into ongoing intrastate conflicts if there is no
For example, a lack of oil is "said to be behind the absence of
intervention in Syria now and in Rwanda in 1994, say two of the authors
of a new Journal of Conflict Resolution paper.
Civil wars have made up more than 90 percent of all armed conflicts
since World War II and, during that period, countries that need oil have
found reasons to militarily intervene in countries with a good supply of
it, according to the study.
In "Oil above Water - Economic Interdependence and Third-party
Intervention" the researchers explain how they modelled the
decision-making process used by third-party countries to determine
whether to interfere in civil wars and examined their economic motives.
In their research, the UK team - Petros Sekeris of University of
Portsmouth, Vincenzo Bove from the University of Warwick and Kristian
Skrede Gleditsch of the University of Essex - looked at 69 countries
that experienced civil conflicts between 1945 and 1999.
They found that about two-thirds of these wars saw intervention by
another country or outside organisation and that the most common reason
for this intervention, "over and above historical, geographical or
ethnic ties", was oil.
"We wanted to go beyond conspiracy theories and conduct a careful,
nuanced analysis to see whether oil acts as an economic incentive in the
decision on whether to intervene in an internal war in another country,"
"Military intervention is expensive and risky. No country joins
another country's civil war without balancing the cost against their own
strategic interests and what possible benefits there are.
"The results show that outsiders are much more motivated to join a
fight if they have a vested financial interest."
Indeed, among their findings the team determined that the more oil a
country has, the more likely it is that a third party will intervene in
their civil war.
And on the flipside, the more oil a country imports, the greater the
likelihood it will intervene in an oil-producing country's civil war.
Among the examples highlighted are the United States' involvement in
Angola's civil war from 1975 to the end of the Cold War and in
Guatemala, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The authors also point to US support of conservative autocratic
states in oil-rich regions. Also cited were theUK's involvement in
Nigeria's 1967-70 civil war, in contrast to the non-intervention in
civil wars in other former colonies with no oil reserves (Sierra Leone
and Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe); and the former Soviet Union's involvement
in Indonesia (1958), Nigeria (1967-68) and Iraq (1973).
"The 'thirst for oil' is often put forward as a near self-evident
explanation behind the intervention in Libya and the absence of
intervention in Syria.
"Many claims are often simplistic but, after a rigorous and
systematic analysis, we found that the role of economic incentives
emerges as a key factor in intervention," Vincenzo Bove said.
The team found that a third party country was more likely to
- They were a major power;
- The rebels were strong and well-armed;
- There were close ethnic ties between the two countries; and/or
- The civil war took place during the Cold War, a period of global
competition between superpowers.
Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are the oil-rich states
that don't do much intervening at all - nations including the Gulf
States, Mexico and Indonesia that have no history of military
intervention in other countries' civil wars, despite having well
equipped military forces.
Twenty-first century intervention "Before the ISIS forces approached
the oil-rich Kurdish north of Iraq, ISIS was barely mentioned in the
news. But once ISIS got near oil fields, the siege of Kobani in Syria
became a headline and the US sent drones to strike ISIS targets," Bove
The enduring record of geopolitical instability in oil producing
regions and the likely increase in the global demand for oil means we'll
see more of these interventions in future, Sekaris and Bove predict.
- Our World