Economic Foreign Policy of the United States

By Benjamin H. Williams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
AIDING THE EXPORT OF CAPITAL INTO FOREIGN OIL FIELDS

THE SUDDEN IMPORTANCE OF OIL

Among the most remarkable examples of the work of the State Department in aiding the investment of American capital in enterprises abroad are its efforts to secure concessions for the exploitation of the oil resources of foreign countries. During the years from 1920 to 1923, the extremely nervous state of the international public and official opinion regarding oil led to unprecedented diplomatic activity to obtain the priceless "black gold." To understand this situation, a brief review of the development of the uses of petroleum and the consequent rivalry for supplies is necessary.

The Military Uses of Oil. --The World War gave unquestioned proof of the value of oil as a military material. The motorization of transportation revolutionized the fuel problem.1 On Dec. 15, 1917, Premier Clemenceau, facing the desperate prospect of the exhaustion of oil stocks and pleading for a transfer of American oil tankers from the Pacific to the Atlantic, telegraphed President Wilson:

If the Allies do not wish to lose the war then, at the moment of the great German offensive, they must not let the French lack the petrol which is as necessary as blood in the battles of tomorrow.

Because of their control of the sea the Allies were able to draw upon the American oil fields, and, accordingly, after the necessary ships had been made available, the allied supplies were ample. The Germans had depended upon American petroleum prior to 1914; but during the war they were cut off from this source. Gallicia, Rumania, and the Russian Caucasus were accordingly invaded. When reverses came upon the eastern front, however, and oil supplies from that direction were diminished, there ensued for the German army a veritable

____________________
1
See below, p. 361.

-57-

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