16 years ago, Iraq was relegated to the bottom of the abyss, as the United States along with the United Kingdom launched one of the most destructive interventions in modern history. They invaded with the aim of working towards “advancing liberty and peace” in the region. Fast forward time and today, Iraq stands decimated, nowhere close to the bastion of human rights and democracy that it was envisioned to be. The Iraqis have been subjected to one of the darkest horrors inflicted on mankind; with the whole idea of exporting democracy failing miserably. Instead, the unintended consequence of the intervention was the import of extremist ideologies. This opened a Pandora ’s Box of violence in the country with the birth of organisations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and the extension of the Al Qaeda in the region; both of which had ramifications spanning across time and the entire region.
Statesmen barely give away little when it comes to explaining the ulterior motives of a state. In 1997, the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC) document stipulated “while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification for the US to play a more permanent role in the Gulf regional security, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein”.
This could all but imply that neither was Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction the issue nor was Saddam himself the problem.
The core cause of intervention is subtly mentioned in a 2001 report on “energy security” published by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker Institute for Public Policy, endorsed by then US Vice President Dick Cheney. The report warned of a brewing global energy crisis that could possibly increase “US and global vulnerability to disruption” and thereby leave the US facing “unprecedented energy price volatility”.
A recent survey conducted by IPI Global Observatory found out that there exists a link between oil and military intervention. It was found that oil production and oil reserves are central factors for a third party intervention. It is thus commonplace to think of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent US led coalition as “freeing up the oil”. The same can be applied for the Iraqi intervention of 2003. That theory lay fit as both Kuwait and Iraq sit on significant energy bases- Countries like Syria don’t
Syria is not an important energy player in the entire equation. Syria’s importance lies in its geopolitical significance than the energy politics, which the Middle Eastern countries are usually mired in. It turned out to be the perfect theatre for the regional players- Saudi, Turkey, Qatar and Iran- followed by global players such as the US, Russia and to a certain extent, China. The battle lies to gain importance on ground than its energy resources.
Syria’s geographical location; perched atop the Arab world basking alongside the Mediterranean Sea puts it in a unique situation; gives it unimpeded access to Europe. This drew countries such as China and Russia to an unanticipated foray. China views Syria as an important node in the ancient Silk Road and this could pave the path for the extension of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) to Syria. The Chinese have pinned down the Levant as one of the critical areas for the smooth functioning of the China- Central Asia- West Asia economic corridor as it provides with an alternative passage to the Mediterranean as compared to the Suez Canal.
Syria holds the keys to this new Levatine project. Syria has historically never been an area of importance for China which can be seen with its low levels of investment in the region. However, that has shifted ever since the Belt and Road Initiative has been envisaged, and taken roots.Only last year, China graciously donated 800 electrical power generators to the Syrian port of Lattakia. This further substantiates the whole point of Syria’s geo-strategic importance in China’s canvas for global hegemony.
Iran is another important player for the revival of the Syrian economy. It is a key supplier to the Syrian Automobile market and recently managed to secure an MOU which allows Iran to run a mobile phone operator based out of Syria and one of its leading phosphate mines.
Russia also has placed its own chips through the whole Syrian war. Its movements are noteworthy having recently acquired the Tartus port; which has huge implications for its quest for gaining supremacy in both the Caspian Basin and the Black Sea area. Russia, being a semi-landlocked country, has been gifted a golden opportunity with its recent acquisition of the Tartus port which now provides it with a critical naval base on the Mediterranean Sea. This runs parallel to Russia’s recent movements in the Black Sea; having annexed Crimea and the entire Ukrainian Crisis splits open the entire sea for Russia to exploit. This would definitely serve as a game changer for the entire region as Putin eyes Syria as an important cog for cementing its position in the Middle East.
This compels the very belief that possibly the energy politics so dominant in the Middle East for all these years could finally, possibly be experiencing a tectonic shift. Previously the regions importance lay in its energy resources, having served as the focal point for Western interference. Today, however, the central value of the region lies in its geopolitical importance. With the exit of the Western interest, the vacuum is being filled by countries such as China and Russia who see this as a huge opportunity to solidify their own interest in the region and beyond. Syria is the first country which served as the theatre to witness a battle for geopolitical supremacy but it certainly won’t be the last.
Sahil Philip is a 2nd-year student pursuing a bachelors in Global Affairs at OP Jindal Global University.
Guardian Staff (2017). Full text: Bush’s speech. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/mar/18/usa.iraq.
Tallha Abdulrazaq (2018). Invasion of Iraq: The original sin of the 21st century. [online] Aljazeera.com. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/invasion-iraq-original-sin-21st-century-180320095532244.html [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].
https://theglobalobservatory.org/author/ramy (2015). Fueling Conflict: The Role of Oil in Foreign Interventions. [online] IPI Global Observatory. Available at: https://theglobalobservatory.org/2015/03/civil-wars-oil-above-water-military-intervention/ [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].
Ahmed, N. (2017). Iraq invasion was about oil | Nafeez Ahmed. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/20/iraq-war-oil-resources-energy-peak-scarcity-economy [Accessed 27 Aug. 2019].
Chatham House. (2019). The Middle East’s Shifting Energy Politics. [online] Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/middle-east-s-shifting-energy-politics [Accessed 19 Sep. 2019].