Eve of destruction
Who remembers the "Arab Spring"? The bright hopes for North Africa and the Middle East seem to have become very black in a very short time. This should make us all very worried.
Not so long ago, there was a feeling of cautious optimism about the prospects of the so-called "MENA" region. Not anymore. The Middle East and North Africa seem to be coming apart at the seams. There are wars all over the place: in Libya, Mali, Syria, Jemen, Afghanistan. Where there is no outright war, there is violent conflict or brutal repression: in Iraq, Israel, Egypt, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Iran. In the background lurk our familiar Cold War "Great Powers" pursuing their narrow self-interests.
You might say, what else is new? Nothing, except that when the world's policeman acts like one of the gangsters by throwing bombs on defenceless civilians in other countries, what example is this setting for the rest of the world? What will we say when other countries start doing the same? But maybe I shouldn't go on about things like this on on Monday morning … Sorry about that.
Do oil and gas enter into all this? Of course they do. Sadly, though, there is really no need for "energy wars". If we have peace and international trade, there is no need to fear shortages of oil and gas. Even if there are some "rogue nations" sitting on large resources, they will always be glad to sell them, as it's the only way such nations are able to survive.
The whole idea of "energy wars" is pushed by people who have an interest in keeping the world "safe from peace" - and keeping oil prices high. For no "energy war" ever succeeds in securing plentiful energy resources; on the contrary, each war further drives up prices. The few benefit, the rest pay the bill.
Oops, here I go again. I do apologize. I will try to focus on the world as it is …
One "pattern" that has recently emerged in the New World Chaos is an alignment between Iran, Syria and Iraq on the one hand and Turkey and the Gulf States on the other, with the former group getting support from Russia, the latter backed by the US. Iraq, however, is not fully part of the Iran-Syria-axis. As Olgu Okumus, researcher at Sciences Po-CERI in Paris, points out in an article for EER, the Kurdistan region inside Iraq is increasingly following its own course and aligning itself with Turkey. As a result of this change in the balance of powers, international oil companies (IOCs) are now increasingly switching their allegiance from Baghdad to Erbil, making the Kurdistan region one of the new oil hot spots on the planet. Olgu explains the ins and outs of this new and rather surprising development.
North Africa meanwhile is being hit by one disastrous event after the other, the latest being the terrorist attack on the In Amenas gas facilities in Algeria. With Libya and Egypt already looking none too stable, one may wonder what this means for European energy supplies. Few are better equipped to answer this question than David Drury, Managing Consultant with Gas Strategies Ltd and a former General Manager of BP Algeria. In a fascinating article for EER, David analyses the implications of the Algerian attack and concludes that European gas markets will not suffer too dramatically, at least in the short term. For Algeria itself, however, the consequences may be quite serious.
As to the long-term geopolitical consequences of the increasing chaos in North Africa and the growing divisions inside Iraq, those are different questions, which our authors do not directly address. I won't try do so either. I have said enough. But perhaps I'm allowed one more small suggestion: it might be an idea for Europe to start looking less at itself and more at what is happening around it?