Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region

By Michael P. Croissant; Bülent Aras | Go to book overview

Introduction

At the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union in December 1991, international experts predicted that the USSR's demise would spawn a wave of democratization as well as a series of bloody ethnic conflicts across the former Soviet lands. Few predicted, however, that the retreat of Soviet power would spark a heated struggle for oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region by global oil corporations and their home governments. Yet, even as democratization has floundered and ethnic conflicts have largely abated in the former USSR, the contest for access to—if not control of—the vast energy wealth of the Caspian basin has become one of the most monumental geopolitical developments of the post-Cold War era. With as many as 200 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic meters of natural gas at stake, the new “Great Game” on the shores of the Caspian will have an impact not only on the world's energy supply, but also on the very geopolitical map of Eurasia in the next century.

Even the most optimistic scenarios for the Caspian note that, due to a lack of large-scale production and transportation capacity, oil will not begin flowing from the region in significant quantities until the second half of the next decade. Indeed, there is even a substantial lack of agreement on the actual size of the energy reserves situated in the Caspian basin as several international experts have claimed that recent estimates are greatly overstated. Nevertheless, the mere perception that the Caspian is home to large quantities of oil and gas has been sufficient to spark a scramble for the region's energy riches by countries as close as Russia and Iran and as far away as Japan and the United States. Thus, geopolitical developments have far outpaced the actual impact of the Caspian on the international energy market.

Far more is at stake in the Caspian basin than the opening of a new global oil source, however. Although the amount of Caspian oil reaching the international market is currently only a trickle, the Caspian region has become a critical pivot area in the realignment of geopolitical power relationships in post-Cold War

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