The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has become a household name almost overnight. Never before has there been an eco nomic cartel in the entire history of human civilization that wielded so much economic power, dictated prices to giant corporations, and imposed its will on powerful foreign governments. Rarely in modern times has an acronym of an economic organization--OPEC--been so oft-quoted and scrutinized. Despite all the ups and downs of oil production, OPEC still has kept the oil supply of the free world in its grip. It is the classic case of how a handful of otherwise weak nations, by historic chance and determi nation, can change their destiny dramatically and force the powerful nations to acquiesce to their demands time and time again.
OPEC has found its geopolitical strength suddenly and has become an important force in Asia and Africa. It has brought the huge multinational oil companies, once the movers and shakers in the Middle East, to their knees, so to speak, and has made them impotent in the decision-making process. It has forced the Western nations to curry for its favor on numerous occasions. There is a growing recognition in the Western world that the industrialized countries cannot solve the problems of chronic inflation and economic stagnation permanently unless they force OPEC to abandon its stand of raising oil prices ever higher and disrupt supplies to the oil- consuming nations.
The dependence on OPEC oil increased dramatically in the United States during the last decade and a half. According to a study by the Federal Energy Administration (FEA), U.S. oil imports rose 150 percent between 1968 and 1973, from about 2.5 million barrels a day (m/b/d) in 1968 to 6.3 m/b/d in 1973. Imports from the Arab oil-producing countries had risen to 31.9 percent in 1976 from a paltry 2 percent of total U.S. oil imports in 1970.