Steve A. Yetiv. The Petroleum Triangle: Oil, Globalization, and Terror. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011. 224 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8014-5002-0.
Reviewed by Johnny Rishmawi (American University of Cairo)
Published on H-War (October, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
Steve A. Yetiv's The Petroleum Triangle is a well-researched book on the role of oil and globalization in terror in modern global politics. Unlike previous books that discuss the relationship between oil and terror or globalization and terror, Yetiv shows how terrorism is related to both oil and globalization. He presents logical connections that have produced the wave of terrorism in the past thirty years. Yetiv suggests that globalization was spurred by oil. The United States acted as the underlying protector of oil supplies, thus leading to the growth of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, and in turn increasing the price of oil and expanding funding for Al-Qaeda operations. He also argues that the importance of oil has increased the real and perceived threat of Al-Qaeda, causing a strong reaction, maybe even an overreaction, from U.S. policymakers.
The book is split into two parts. In the first part, Yetiv examines the role that oil has played in financing terror activities, in growing anti-Americanism, and in autocratic regimes. The book illustrates that oil has been instrumental in financing Al-Qaeda activities through financial support of Saudi Arabians who have garnered their wealth from oil. Then he explains how anti-Americanism has expanded due to repeated U.S. intervention to secure the oil supply. He maintains that the apparent hegemonic outlook of the United States has led to growing hostility toward the United States by citizens of the region. In addition, Al-Qaeda has been perceived as a threat in targeting important oil infrastructure. The author uses quotations by Al-Qaeda leaders to show their changing patterns of behavior toward targeting oil facilities. He also uses Al-Qaeda messages to describe the importance of these issues and notes that they inspired recruitment of Al-Qaeda's rank-and-file members. In the second part, Yetiv focuses on the interconnectedness between oil and globalization, arguing that one of the main reasons for globalization is oil. Globalization has also increased the demand for oil, giving greater importance to the Middle East and expanding security spending by the United States in the Middle East.
Yetiv states that this book is aimed at contributing to understanding the power of states in the age of globalization. He debunks many liberal theories about the role of globalization in increasing interdependence; he argues that globalization has strengthened oil states in the Middle East, expanded terrorism, and weakened the United States. The book also notes that increasing vulnerabilities due to interconnectedness is a negative cause of globalization. While the book offers a refreshing new look on interdependence and global politics, it makes broad statements about oil and state power. After all, the power of oil states is matched by the power of consuming states. Oil states are vulnerable to price swings, as continually happens in the oil market. The price of oil was relatively low in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, for example.
Globalization does not seem to have much of an impact on the increase of oil prices, but geopolitical events, such as the breakdown of the bipolar system, the increase in failed states, and poor governance possibly relating to oil, all do affect prices. In addition, the oil market is changing continuously; North America is set to become self-sufficient as early as the end of this decade, which could change the global relationships of energy trade. Yetiv maintains that oil drives globalization and globalization drives oil prices, which can increase financing for terrorism. Both are empirically plausible but unproven. This book makes no empirical testing of either phenomena; there is no apparent connection between globalization and the increase in oil prices. While oil seems to be responsible for financing Al-Qaeda-sponsored attacks, globalization seems to have little effect. The American response to Saddam Hussein would likely have come regardless of globalization. In addition, modern globalization, especially the globalization of the industry's supply chains beginning in the 1970s, did not lead to an increase of oil prices or American hegemonic action in the Middle East. The structural change of power in the international system raised the responsibility of the United States and increased the number of failed states around the world. Globalization and interdependence seem to have very little impact at increasing U.S. presence in the Middle East.
Yetiv's book is well written, well documented, and logically presented. The author exhibits a clear ability to work methodologically toward analyzing his thesis. This book is worth a read by students, scholars, and policymakers alike.
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Johnny Rishmawi. Review of Yetiv, Steve A., The Petroleum Triangle: Oil, Globalization, and Terror.
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