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The blood that moves the world

Gabriel Cortina


The blood that moves the world

Miguel Golmayo

Editorial Ariel

582 pages

Since the late 19th century, when societies began to industrialize, oil has been the vector of international politics. Hydrocarbons have moved, and move, the tectonic plates of geopolitics, geostrategy and geoeconomics, and any decision by the group of global political and economic power, including armed conflicts, involves the control of this desired resource. “The blood that moves the world” is an essay that tries to explain the geopolitics of oil and gas. To do this, it takes a tour of much of the history of the world from the perspective of hydrocarbons, addressing the countries with capital and technology, or the public or private companies, involved in their exploitation.


The reader will realize that this is a small number and they belong to a group of developed countries, especially if we compare it with the countries that have gas or oil resources. The paradox is that several of them are owners of magnificent hydrocarbon resources, but they are still mired in inexplicable misery. If you think about the country's natural wealth and how it is managed, a multitude of questions arise that the author precisely tries to answer.

Miguel Golmayo is a member of the Spanish Navy, captain of ships and submarines, with experience in energy and military intelligence. On the date of completion of the work, in July 2023, he was the Defense Counselor of the Permanent Representation of Spain in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Defense Attaché at the Spanish Embassy in Slovenia. . The work is divided into twelve chapters, has maps, an analytical index, an extensive list of sources and abundant notes, which makes it a reference work for researchers.


It must be taken into account that the world of hydrocarbons is constantly evolving, and that there are so many factors to take into account for its study, that in most cases it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the future. In the face of economic crises, the reaction of companies and countries is usually slow and uncoordinated, which affects the fall in prices. In this context, the author recognizes the complexity of geopolitical understanding, which he knows is “something murky.” As he explains, the history of oil, since its origin, has been plagued by occultism due to the simple need to protect the interests of those involved in the business against competitors, a circumstance that also affected natural gas when it appeared.


Understand the history

The first approach to the subject of this essay was the landing on the coast of Somalia of a US military force in December 1992, under the mandate of President George Bush. Called “Return Hope,” the goal of the mission was to ensure the distribution of humanitarian aid to the starving Somali population. In theory, everything was coordinated perfectly with the local warlords to avoid any armed incident, but that did not end as expected and that is what the movie “Black Hawk Down” shows. After observing what was published in the press, the author wondered why the Americans had really gone to Somalia, whether to distribute food or to protect their oil interests. The answer is the essay we present.

Approaching the current conflicts implies taking into account the historical distance, since hydrocarbons quickly took on such a dimension that it stopped being a business of a few individuals with the aim of enriching themselves, and became a matter of State in just under half a century. From the different territories of the globe, not everyone was simultaneously aware of this, but the first to realize it was the United States at the end of the 19th century because it realized that oil was what was going to move the world. Information opacity is understood as why investments are sought to be protected and the expectation of benefits involves the interests of the State and individuals, all in a race of competitors to gain access, exploitation and marketing.


It is common that after the race for dominance of hydrocarbons, the iceberg of a true macro assembly emerges, organized by States and companies to take over the world's energy resources wherever they appear, while trying to deny their access to economic competition and policy. The tools will be diplomacy, cooperation programs, organizing wars, bribing, threatening or using any other form of pressure, such as public opinion campaigns. For this reason, when approaching this research, as indicated, the personal challenge of trying to understand what has actually been the role that oil, together with gas, has played in recent history, but taking into account its projection from the origin.


Control and deny it to the opponent

After analyzing numerous scenarios and armed conflicts, the reader will be able to realize what is true about the control of these resources and their importance. Following the geopolitical dynamics, it is demonstrated how regime changes have had the purpose of controlling hydrocarbons and denying it to a possible adversary. “Oil is another natural resource, and the truth is that the fights over raw materials, in general, have always been a cause of conflict, but what I envisioned with respect to crude oil, even before starting this work, was that the struggle to control it was nothing like, in terms of dimensions, anything seen to date. There is a lot of talk today about globalization. Well, if there is a precedent, it was the obsession since the beginning of the 20th century to gain control of the so-called black gold at a planetary level.”


What the reader will learn is to be clear about the important link between contemporary history and hydrocarbons in countless aspects of life that they would never have imagined, and how they have tried to mask reality under all kinds of justifications. Just take a quick look around the world and check the political, economic and social situation of places with hydrocarbon resources, such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nigeria, Egypt or Angola. In this way, we will be able to see the reasons why countries with such a large amount of natural resources are semi-permanently mired in wars, economic and social inequalities, and processes of political corruption.


Miguel Golmayo takes a tour of the great sagas of businessmen such as Rockefeller, Nobel and Rothschild; the great fortunes and monopolies; what the gold rush meant; the popularization of automobiles; the two world wars; the Cold War; the decolonization processes and endless conflicts caused over the control of oil and the routes for its supply. Likewise, it rigorously analyzes the Yom Kippur War, the Iranian revolution of 1979, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Balkan war, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, up to the current war in Ukraine.


“The blood that moves the world” highlights the importance that oil has in the politics of all nations, not only in energy matters, but also economically, in security and diplomacy. Large companies in the sector also appear on the international board: “energy is, in all countries, a matter of national security, and intelligence services, private and not - which are also cited - play a central role, always acting in the shadow."


In this rivalry for resources, he explains that if one cannot get hold of something valuable, one will have to prevent a competitor from taking it. The best way will be to create instability wherever what is desired is found and cannot be obtained. Alternatively, among the possible measures that the author provides, it is worth highlighting the example of the NSSM-200 memorandum entitled Implications of world population growth for the security of the United States and its interests abroad (Henry Kissinger, 1974). Basically, it means massively spreading abortion and contraception in developing countries and with raw materials, in order to control the growth of their population.


The complexity of a strategic industry

There are numerous examples that are presented, making an effort to be rigorous with the data and contexts, with the intention of avoiding falling into simplism. Works with similar titles tend to lead the reader to a conclusion where a perfectly synchronized conspiracy emerges. If anything is clear here, it is the complexity of a strategic and contested industry, with numerous benefits, ranging from infrastructure and engineering projects, to marketing and pricing.


Expansion projects are a constant, both in times of peace and war. The cases of the British Empire, Stalin's Soviet Russia, the German Third Reich or the Empire of Japan are an example of how the dynamics of regional powers work to attract investments and financing. The case of interwar Germany is significant because national production, research and the acquisition of concessions abroad in countries such as Iraq or Mexico were stimulated, in order to strengthen supplies in peacetime and store large reserves. But if anything received fundamental state support, it was its chemical industry to obtain fuels, lubricants, rubber and other synthetic products from coal. Despite the tremendous cuts suffered, if there was one thing Germany had, it was coal.


Without a doubt, the hegemonic actor in this geopolitical analysis, due to its impact and scope, is the United States. With the discovery of the wells in the 19th century, a detailed tour is made up to the present day. Its prominence begins after the Second World War and grows during the Cold War period. At the beginning of the 1950s, it had companies exploiting oil resources all over the world, starting with its own and passing through Argentina, Egypt, Venezuela, Trinidad, Canada and the Middle East, among others. The expansion of these companies would never have been possible without the absolute cooperation of the State Department. This cooperation occurred for two fundamental reasons: the companies were considered instruments of foreign policy, and the interests of the companies were national interests.


The examples are numerous and are supported by meetings of leaders, reports, interviews and extensive references. After the events of 9/11, the White House set itself the urgent task of carrying out an exhaustive review of energy policy and for this it relied on the Baker Institute report. On the one hand, it predicted a notable increase in dependence on oil imports for the next twenty years. It included the forecast that there would be a global supply shortage, singling out Iraq as one of the focuses of the problem without explaining why, but recommending reformulating the objectives with respect to that country. Iraq, Afghanistan, negotiations with Enron and competition with Pakistan, India, China and the Indian Ocean appear. The facts confirm the maxim of “Either they accept our offer on a carpet of gold, or we bury them under a carpet of bombs.” The war brought other added consequences, also positive for the Americans. Defense spending in the United States skyrocketed with an increase of more than 10% for the years 2002 and 2003. At the same time, American bases were installed in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. That is, deep in the former Soviet Union. This fact did not go unnoticed by Putin: they were taking control of Central Asia.


Exporting countries and petrodollars

Among the actors and scenarios that are analyzed, some more extensively than others, is the case of France, with its colonial policy in Africa and Indochina, the changes made by De Gaulle, the “oil for arms” diplomacy, its alliance with Israel, tolerance


with Libya, etc. There is also Israel and its confrontations with the Arab countries, the former USSR and its satellites, the Balkan war, the events in the Caspian Sea and the North Sea, the Nabucco project, drilling in the seabed, as well as what is happening in other places, such as the Gaza Strip, Canada, Bolivia and Venezuela.


There is an interesting part dedicated to Russia, with topics such as Gazprom, Lukoil and Rosneft, gas pipelines, South Stream, export agreements and influence over European public figures. The Russian-German alliance requires special attention due to its current consequences.


Large producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Algeria, are explained both by their development and by their role in the region's crises, including the defense of their state interests against corporations. Stopping the fall in crude oil prices that large companies had determined was one of the first tasks that OPEC had set for itself.


Likewise, it explains how exporting countries, faced with the increase in sales, did not know very well what to do with the amount of dollars they received, for example, in the 1970s. The so-called petrodollars were mostly deposited in the main banks in London and New York, Chase Manhattan, Citibank, Bank of America, Barclays and Lloyd's, among others, which gave a competitive advantage to the British and Americans, as well as the Russians. : Buying at the agreed price and reselling it in Europe at four times the price was a good deal. At the beginning of the Israeli conflict, the Soviet State had a million-dollar deficit, but without having to wait even six months it already had a surplus of 360 million dollars thanks to oil. With this perspective, it is clear to the reader that we are not facing a game of good and evil, and that the West is not the cause of all misfortunes.


One of the most interesting content is what is happening in the Asian scenario, with China as the protagonist and which is much more than the business itself. The drop in demand for hydrocarbons, together with the initial price war, constitute the perfect combination to harm the United States because it is the largest producer in the world. It explains why Saudi Arabia and Russia seek to make gas and crude oil prices unprofitable for extraction throughfracking and thus safeguard the Chinese market.


The situation in Europe and Spain

Brussels continues to legislate to achieve the objectives of what it interprets as climate change and tries to encourage green energy. The green agenda and renewable energies is also a business that has only just begun. It is worth reflecting on the fact that thermal power plants, without penalties for gas emissions, are beginning to multiply on the border of the European Union, as is the case of Egypt, Israel, Tunisia, Libya and Turkey, as well as two thermal power plants coal in Morocco.


What is Europe's energy geopolitics today? He explains that the perception is that the US is determined not to let Russian gas go to Europe anywhere, neither from the north with the Nord Stream to Germany, nor from the south with the Turk Stream to Greece and Italy, nor through the center through Ukraine. It has fomented instability in Ukraine by supporting it economically and providing it with military material without any problem, so that Russian gas flows through this country with difficulty and great distrust on the part of the markets. “Europeans have decided to become dependent on American gas, even if it was induced. An unstable Ukraine facing Russia was vital in the face of the terrible possibility that these two nations would reach some type of agreement and the gas would flow again without problems. Although everything was in its proper measure, the supply to Europe through Ukraine had to continue so as not to anger the Russians more than necessary, nor leave Ukraine in an even worse economic situation than it was in. […] If the United States improves the supply of US LNG to Asia, it would provide an alternative energy source for China and other countries, reducing Russia's ability to use the gas as a weapon. But here the problem that arises is whether the Americans have the capacity to simultaneously supply the Asian and European markets in the required volumes.”


Spain is also an object of study. The author focuses his attention on liquefied natural gas, the state of the two available gas pipelines - which are no longer working -, the failure of the “Midcat” project, and the need to adapt to future needs and make profitable the big investments. The content dedicated to the Moroccan neighbor is an implicit way of highlighting the government's recent energy and strategic policies in the region, and how well others are taking advantage: “Morocco has found powerful allies to defend its interests.”



Miguel Golmayo wonders if it can be considered that this oil-dependence is going to be eradicated in the short, medium or long term. "I sincerely believe that there is room for maneuver to improve the situation in the management of both hydrocarbons and alternative energies, as well as global warming or the situation in those countries in which two crises practically in a row have plunged into a situation very complex economic.”


World oil consumption is around 100 million barrels per day and increasing. That is, it is 36,500,000,000 million barrels per year, which is equivalent to 5,840,000,000,000 liters of crude oil per year. “With respect to gas, the same conclusion is reached. And about coal, again the same story, although with the subtle difference that its consumption has decreased slightly in some places in the world, but now with the war in Ukraine we already see what is happening, and not in poor countries but in the heart of Europe, in Germany.”


Among the conclusions he points out, he indicates that part of the solution would be the use of nuclear energy. This debate is already on the table in many countries, but it does not seem like it will be quick or economical. In parallel, it shows how, from different areas, an obsession with demonizing it emerges, in such a way that convincing some groups with the capacity to influence of the intrinsic evil of nuclear means making debate impossible. “We can learn from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. It is worth asking who will finance each of these environmental movements. All of this constitutes a masterstroke of those who see nuclear power not as an ecological threat, but as a dangerous energy alternative.”


Shaking and stopping industrial growth in the world, when it was considered out of control, meant acting on the oil market to tip the balance towards Anglo-American interests and the dollar. While this has been possible under Western hegemony, China's global rise changes everything. Where we are going, surely no one knows for sure, but of course this work is a successful effort to understand actors and scenarios, interests and threats, and the rules of the geopolitical game of oil and gas.




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