The Political Economy of World Energy: A Twentieth-Century Perspective

By John G. Clark | Go to book overview
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The owners of the world's petroleum resources

The Anglo-American oil treaty ( 1944-7) has been described as an initiative to devise a liberal (Painter's word) system of international control over Middle Eastern oil that would avoid debilitating competition and bring stability to the region. Of the manifold constituents of a liberal system, which I interpret as meaning a fair and just order, the indispensable principle would be full control over this resource by its owners. A liberal international agreement, then, should recognize the rights of ownership. Instead, the treaty validated concessionary contracts and the equal opportunity to acquire exploration and development rights. Nor did the treaty promise full producer state control over the industry in the future. In a vague provision, the treaty assured the safeguarding of producer economic interests.1

As it stood when finally rejected in 1947, the treaty offered little more to the producing states than they already possessed. It was not in the perceived interest of the USA or the UK to become parents of a liberal oil order. Nor did developing producer states concern themselves with consumer equity, the less so as most consumers were citizens of states considered hostile to the national goals of producer states. In the absence of a liberal settlement, the adversarial relationship between consumer interests, the MNOCs, and the producers smoldered after the Iranian crisis, flared momentarily in 1959-60, and then flamed uncontrollably by the end of the 1960s.

Violent confrontations during the 1950s in Iran, Egypt, and Syria and radical producer demands combined with the appearance of aggressive new players on the international oil stage to exert intense pressure on the MNOCs. Without warning, the MNOCs unilaterally lowered


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