Nation states and the approach to ‘big oil’

Faisal Al-Shammeri
Faisal Al-Shammeri
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Well for a country that has been blessed with oil it certainly is a rather interesting premise and provocative one at that. But what exactly is meant here? And is this a hostile position against petroleum per se?

Most certainly and absolutely not. It is impossible to walk into your home or outside of it and not see something that is related in one way or another to petroleum. Let’s state the one underlying premise to this writing here which is in life it is impossible to have a fair or equal outcome to each and every circumstance. It just doesn’t work that way and never will.

Not all officer candidates begin OCS training emerge as high quality and competent officers in the field of battle. A prominent example of this is Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus of National Socialist Germany who commanded the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad.

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He most certainly did emerge from the German General Staff as a competent, and excellent staff officer but this did not translate into having the suitable skills, nor was he was equipped to be the best choice as battlefield commander at Stalingrad.

Not all people are blessed with the talent to play in the English Premier League as footballers or in America’s National Basketball Association. The modest writer of this piece here loves watching world-class football when time permits. In order to be “fair” should every player in Spain make the same salary as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi irrespective of what they bring to their respective clubs?

In these subtle examples here the logical outcome is that for those who are capable of making it to the highest levels and succeed deserve recognition if they have done so on merit. They are leaders and should not forfeit their position as such.

By working with less than capable members in OPEC we only forfeit out rightful position as a leader and ultimately bring about the less than ideal outcome of losing our rightful market share

Faisal Al-Shammeri


Should not the same principle apply to nation-states too? Are all nation-states equal? Is Bolivia the equal of Brazil for example? Is Ukraine the equal of Germany? Or is Mexico the equal of the United States? Clearly, the answer is no.

Geography plays a role, access to natural deep water ports, navigable river system connecting a given country and stable relations with neighbors all play important parts in this geopolitical calculus.

Some are rich in water and others less so. Some are blessed with territory of fertile earth that provides tracts upon tracts of land that can produce an agricultural wonderland year after year.

Others have iron ore, some petroleum, and others are rich in mineral deposits. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a world leader in petroleum and the only swing producer in day-to-day oil production.

It has the capacity to do what no other country in the world can do which is increase production to make up for any drop in supply, at a moments notice, stabilizing global markets and ultimately benefit regular consumers all over the planet.

Being in OPEC

So what exactly does it get for being in OPEC? In this regard is it a leader without peer or just another ordinary member? And it is in this spirit where this article wants to have it’s discussion. What does The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia share in strategic interests with Tehran? Or for that matter Abuja or Mexico City?

Regarding Tehran is it suitable at the moment to naively believe that it will honor any agreement that it enters into with anyone? For a most recent example has it honored it’s nuclear deal with The West? Ballistic missile tests after it’s “agreement” make this a dubious proposition at best. Let’s focus on the first question centered on common interests, if any, with Tehran.

Should the Kingdom sit at any table with Tehran at the moment to discuss policy that would ultimately benefit it’s economy? Would not that serve to keep a hostile regime afloat that only offers belligerence to the region and our partners outside of it?

Is this not a country that has declared Bahrain it’s fourteenth province and I might add a member state of The Gulf Council too? Or deliberately set out to turn Yemen into a launching pad for exporting it’s dangerous ideology?

Bringing this no less to our very doorstep with the the intention of forming a hostile entity that would be a national security threat of the highest order to The Kingdom?

There are many different countries in OPEC and not all of them bring common interests to the table. Or for that matter not all members have the same capabilities either. Let us take a look at NATO, another large multinational organization.

Unlike OPEC there is some semblance of clarity in that there is a clear leader, the United States, and that the relationship among all members are mutually agreeable, mutually beneficial and predictable.

Among it’s members it operates on trust and transparency. Well can one find these characteristics in OPEC? And if so where exactly does one see these principles in abundant clarity? Some members find themselves in a critical situation frankly due to graft or a failure to plan.

The Kingdom went through periods where it had plenty of petroleum but was hampered by depressed prices on global markets. And the leaders of The Kingdom planned accordingly, adjusting to the realities of low prices. Oil was not always at $100 a barrel.

‘Tighten the belt’

“Tighten the belt” was the mantra of the 1990’s under His Majesty King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, may he rest in peace. To Saudi Arabia periods such as this only served as a reminder to our leaders to plan in advance and use responsible stewardship to bring a stable, but always progressing forward path for the country and it’s citizens.

Iran would use increased revenues to destabilize the region and export it’s belligerence to other parts of the region, as if Syria and Iraq are not enough their shadow remains lurking in Lebanon too. Not to mention Yemen.

So in OPEC is it the responsibility of Riyadh to subsidize either directly or indirectly neglect, graft, economic mismanagement or in Iran’s case Hezbollah, their death squads in Iraq or the Asad slaughterhouse in Syria?

For every dollar that we were to help Iran make in production agreements within OPEC how would we not know if these revenues were used against us, or the people of Lebanon or Syria? Or might not these gains go towards their “peaceful” nuclear program which would mean that indirectly we are helping subsidize this activity?

Is that a risk worth taking? Does everyone in OPEC bring the same to the table as The Kingdom or The Arabian Gulf States? Is OPEC any more in our interests in light of some of these realities?

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Our American partners are now in the petroleum arena, and in a rather decidedly noticeable presence. Just this week the ban to export petroleum was lifted by the US Congress marking a turning point in global production capacity on a day-to-day basis.

This trend will only continue to grow with Canada and eventually South America becoming larger in the equation of petroleum production. What is good for our friends is good for us. We have been fortunate to have the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in recent times because it allows us a platform to discuss with our strategic partners policy on an equal footing in that our shared common interests.

What has worked more efficiently to advance the cause of stability in the region, the GCC or the United Nations? While the international community has flown back and forth between meetings and additional meetings and more meetings on top of that what has it done to stem the flow of blood in Syria? For the life of me I do not know.

This is why the new Islamic Coalition of countries under the leadership of Riyadh was announced this week. There comes a point where we become judged by what we do, or in some cases what we fail not to do. What the nuclear deal with Tehran and the profligacy of meetings over Syria has shown is the truthful validity of a comment I once read which was:

“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats, procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”

Using the example of NATO previously mentioned is not Saudi Arabia the equivalent of the United States within OPEC and shouldn’t it not be recognized as so? What do we get for being in OPEC at this moment? And more directly is it fair for us to continue to be in it?

And if we can agree that we are the preeminent member should we work in an organization where common interests are not aligned? It is time that we think about stepping boldly on our own with our partners in the GCC and Arabian Gulf who truly share our interests and can be equal partners in petroleum production.

By working with less than capable members in OPEC we only forfeit out rightful position as a leader and ultimately bring about the less than ideal outcome of losing our rightful market share. While at the same time potentially subsidizing the arming an enemy that has all but declared war on our Kingdom, our people, and our partners.
Faisal Al-Shammeri is a political analyst based in Washington DC. He tweets @mr_alshammeri.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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