Those Old Conspiracy Theories About War And Oil Look Like They Could Be True After All

An explosion rocks the Syrian city of Kobani during a reported suicide car bomb attack by Islamic State (ISIS). Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images

Researchers have found strong evidence to support those old conspiracy theories about oil being the main reason why there have been so many wars since World War II.

Countries which need oil have found excuses to interfere in the business of those with a good supply of it and this could help explain America’s interest in ISIS in northern Iraq.

Researchers from the Universities of Portsmouth, Warwick and Essex modelled the decision making process of third party countries in interfering in civil wars and examined their economic motives.

They found the decision to interfere was dominated by the need for oil. This was done over historical, geographical, humanitarian or ethnic ties.

Civil wars have made up more than 90% of all armed conflicts since World War II and the research looked at 69 countries and their internal conflicts between 1945 and 1999.

About two-thirds of those civil wars saw intervention either by another country or an outside organisation.

Dr Petros Sekeris, from the University Portsmouth, Dr Vincenzo Bove, from the University of Warwick, and Dr Kristian Skrede Gleditsch from the University of Essex, wanted to find out which factors made it more likely that a third party state would militarily intervene in an ongoing civil war.

Dr Sekeris said: “We found clear evidence that countries with potential for oil production are more likely to be targeted by foreign intervention if civil wars erupt. Military intervention is expensive and risky. No country joins another country’s civil war without balancing the cost against their own strategic interests and what possible benefits there are.”

The results show that outsiders are much more motivated to join a fight if they have a vested financial interest.

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

ISIS was barely mentioned in the news before forces approached the oil-rich Kurdish region in north Iraq.

“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,” Dr Bove said.

“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.”

Among the examples highlighted by the researchers are the US’s involvement in Angola’s civil war from 1975 to the end of the Cold War and in Guatemala, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Also cited were the UK’s involvement in Nigeria’s 1967-70 civil war, in contrast to the non-intervention in civil wars in other former colonies which had no oil reserves (Sierra Leone and Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe); and the former Soviet Union’s involvement in Indonesia (1958), Nigeria (1967-68) and Iraq (1973).

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