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January 28, 2015

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Study: war-for-oil “conspiracy theorists” are often right

Jan. 28, 2015
Courtesy of the University of Warwick
and World Science staff

A sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis sup­ports the pop­u­lar “con­spiracy the­o­ry” that oil is of­ten the rea­son for get­ting in­volved in wars, ac­cord­ing to the re­search­ers be­hind the stu­dy.

“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,” said study col­la­bo­ra­tor Vin­cen­zo Bove, from the Uni­vers­ity of War­wick in the U.K. 

“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.”

“We found clear ev­i­dence that coun­tries with po­ten­tial for oil pro­duc­tion are more likely to be tar­geted by for­eign in­ter­ven­tion if civ­il wars erup­t,” added study col­la­bo­ra­tor Pet­ros Sek­eris, from the Uni­vers­ity Ports­mouth in the U.K.

The study fo­cused on civ­il wars, which the re­search­ers said have be­come the most com­mon type by far—and of­ten br­ing out­side in­ter­fer­ence. They looked in par­tic­u­lar at the de­ci­sion wheth­er or not to in­ter­fere, and wheth­er oil is in­volved. That might ex­plain the U.S. in­ter­est in ISIS in north­ern Iraq, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors claimed.

The re­search­ers ex­am­ined what they called a near-comprehensive sam­ple of 69 coun­tries that had a civ­il war be­tween 1945 and 1999. Such wars have made up more than 90 per­cent of armed con­flicts since World War II, the re­search­ers said, and about two thirds of these saw in­ter­ven­tion by an­oth­er coun­try or out­side or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“Mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion is ex­pen­sive and risky… No coun­try joins an­oth­er coun­try’s civ­il war with­out bal­anc­ing the cost against their own stra­te­gic in­ter­ests,” Sek­eris said. “We wanted to go be­yond con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and… see wheth­er oil acts as an eco­nom­ic in­cen­tive.”

Pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion, the study found that first, the more oil a coun­try has, the more likely a third par­ty will in­ter­vene in its civ­il war. Second, the more oil a coun­try im­ports, the great­er the like­li­hood it will in­ter­vene in an oil-producing coun­try’s civ­il war.

Sa­id Bove: “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.

“We don’t claim that our find­ings can be ap­plied to eve­ry de­ci­sion made on wheth­er to in­ter­vene in an­oth­er coun­try’s war, but the re­sults clearly dem­on­strate supply of and de­mand for oil mo­ti­vates a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of de­ci­sions tak­en to in­ter­vene in civ­il wars in the post-World War II pe­ri­od.”


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A statistical analysis supports the popular “conspiracy theory” that oil is often the reason for getting involved in wars, according to the researchers behind the study. “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,” said study collaborator Vincenzo Bove, from the University of Warwick in the U.K. “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.” “We found clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil wars erupt,” added study collaborator Petros Sekeris, from the University Portsmouth in the U.K. The study focused on civil wars, which the researchers said have become the most common type by far—and often bring outside interference. They looked in particular at the decision whether or not to interfere, and whether oil is involved. That might explain the U.S. interest in ISIS in northern Iraq, the investigators claimed. The researchers examined what they called a near-comprehensive sample of 69 countries that had a civil war between 1945 and 1999. Such wars have made up more than 90 percent of armed conflicts since World War II, the researchers said, and about two thirds of these saw intervention by another country or outside organization. “Military intervention is expensive and risky… No country joins another country’s civil war without balancing the cost against their own strategic interests,” Sekeris said. “We wanted to go beyond conspiracy theories and… see whether oil acts as an economic incentive.” Among the findings, published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, are: - The more oil a country has, the more likely a third party will intervene in their civil war; - The more oil a country imports, the greater the likelihood it will intervene in an oil-producing country’s civil war; Said Bove: “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. “We don’t claim that our findings can be applied to every decision made on whether to intervene in another country’s war, but the results clearly demonstrate supply of and demand for oil motivates a significant number of decisions taken to intervene in civil wars in the post-World War II period.”