Oil, Guns And Bullets
By Aziz Choudry
28 November, 2003
invasion, occupation and militarization are hallmarks of the US-led
corporate recolonisation of Iraq. But they have long been the hallmarks
of colonialism and imperialism the world over.
and war are two sides of the same coin. So too are oil and imperialism.
Former Shell scientist Claude Ake, described Shell's activities in Nigeria,
as a process of the "militarization of commerce and the privatization
of the state". In 2003, this process is sweeping across the world,
perhaps most visibly in Iraq.
In 1999, neoconservative
journalist Thomas Friedman wrote that the "hidden hand of the market
will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without
McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that
keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the
United States' Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps."
Among today's transnational
corporations, the modernday heirs of the colonial chartered corporations,
the oil and gas giants are some of the most politically and economically
powerful players in the world. The ancestor of the Royal-Dutch Shell
group was 'Royal Dutch Company for the Exploitation of Petroleum Wells
in the Netherlands East Indies'. With so much of the world's economy
dependent on oil, the colonial exploitation and genocide continues,
on an unprecedented scale. The lyrics may have changed a little, but
the tune remains much the same.
The U'wa people
in Colombia believe that oil maintains the balance of the world and
is the blood of Mother Earth - to take the oil is worse than killing
your mother. To the US corporate/political/military elites, oil is the
lifeblood of capitalist expansion, a national security concern, and
a vital resource to be controlled by US corporate interests for American
economic and geopolitical dominance. As well as being central to US
imperial interests, the interests of the oil and defense sectors are
and the maintenance of US military and economic might across the world
depends on massive consumption of oil and petroleum. In turn, massive
defense and security spending boosts an ailing US economy, and is a
boon to the profits of its defense and security corporations. We hear
a lot of talk about weapons of mass destruction.
But the so-called
"war on terror" is a weapon of mass distraction away from
the growing US deficit, from the naked corporate greed and colonial
mindset that underpins the US and a model of development that is as
exploitative as it is unsustainable, lurching as it does from one crisis
of capitalism to the next. And this war kills. Before this "war
on terror", there have been other pretexts to kill for oil.
Behind the convenient
cloak of "war on drugs", Plan Colombia has provided US $98
million to train and equip Colombian military to protect an Occidental
Petroleum pipeline. With a US presidential election looming let us remember
that it was the Clinton Administration that between 1996 and 1999 quadrupled
military aid for the Colombian government for the "war on drugs",
and recall the Gore family's deep financial ties to Occidental.
With making the
country "safe" for US investors and regional geopolitical
goals a real priority, Occidental, and defense contractor UTC -whose
subsidiary Sikorsky's Black Hawk helicopters are used there - have lobbied
hard for increased US "aid" to Colombia. US military hardware
has been used against the U'wa who opposed oil and gas exploration by
Occidental and Shell on their lands, leftist guerrillas and many other
When Conoco's Mogadishu
office became the de facto US embassy before the Marines landed in Somalia,
it was not a war on terror, but supposedly a "humanitarian mission".
Protecting oil concessions to Conoco and other US corporations was a
key factor behind this invasion, after major oil finds in Somalia. The
president of the company's subsidiary in Somalia served as the US government's
volunteer "facilitator" before and during the US invasion
The operations of
oil and gas corporations have long been characterized by militarization,
human rights abuses, economic injustice and ecological disaster and
obscene profits. Sometimes this means protection for drilling operations
and pipelines by local military, police or private security firms, frequently
backed by military aid. Increasingly it means the direct deployment
of US forces, on some other pretext, just as we can see in Uzbekistan,
Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Eight years after
the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders who stood
up to military occupation, and the ecological devastation wrought by
Shell in their territory, we should remember how, in the Niger Delta,
Shell and Chevron both directly supported military operations against
Ogoni and Ijaw communities protesting their activities, by providing
helicopters and boats to armed forces. Shell admitted to importing weapons
into Nigeria to arm the police, to paying field allowances to Nigerian
military, and to bribing witnesses to testify against Saro-Wiwa in his
In the North and
the South, oil corporations, backed by state security forces confront
Indigenous Peoples struggling for self-determination, and control over
their lands and resources. These battlefronts include the unceded territory
of the Lubicon Cree in Northern Alberta, Canada, from which billions
of dollars of oil and gas revenues have been extracted without consent,
by companies such as Shell, Norcen, Petrocanada, and Unocal, backed
by armed police, while disrupting Lubicon Cree society and poisoning
the land and people.
There is BP's Tangguh
LNG project in West Papua, where a longstanding struggle for independence
from Indonesia has met with massive military force and human rights
abuses, in the name of protecting foreign investments extracting the
territory's rich resources. In Aceh, Exxon Mobil has colluded with the
Indonesian military, the beneficiaries of US and British military aid,
who have been conducting a brutal war of terror against the Acehnese
independence movement which has been challenging the oil and gas plunder
of their territory.
The Bush regime
is an oiligarchy. George Bush is former CEO of Harken Energy. Harken
has lodged a claim against the Costa Rican government for US $57 million
over the cancellation of an oil exploration contract because of serious
concerns about its impact in an environmentally sensitive area. The
compensation demanded is equivalent to more than three times the Costa
Rican GDP, and 11 times larger than the annual government budget. After
serving as Bush senior's Defense Secretary, Vice President Dick Cheney
was CEO of oil services corporation Halliburton from 1995-2000 - which
was awarded a massive no-bid contract in Iraq and is wellplaced to control
Iraqi oil production for US interests. Cheney also served on the board
of defense giant TRW, while his wife Lynne sat on Lockheed Martin's
Donald Evans, Bush's
Commerce Secretary, was with Colorado Oil's Tom Brown Inc.
Adviser Condoleezza Rice is a former board director of Chevron, and
its principal expert on Kazakhstan, where Chevron has major interests
and until recently, had an oil tanker named in her honor.
Oil and defense
corporations donate generously to both Republican and Democratic party
coffers. If the US was in the global South, its governments would be
slammed for corruption, crony capitalism, and nepotism. Instead we are
told that it is the world's champion of freedom, integrity and democracy.
corporations help shape national economies and global trade and investment
rules, using the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
the baby banks like the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization
(WTO), official development aid, and other international economic agreements
as weapons of mass extraction with which to pursue economic warfare.
The World Bank and
agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have
encouraged the expansion of oil and gas development for export, deregulation,
corporatization, privatization and liberalization. In the name of economic
development and poverty reduction through oil and gas sector development
and reform, the World Bank has funded a number of controversial oil
and gas production and pipeline projects in areas where there is popular
resistance to these activities, and despite threats to the environment.
USAID is actively
involved in promoting the interests of US oil corporations - from its
role in the so-called reconstruction of Iraq, to its public-private
alliance for enterprise development with ChevronTexaco in Angola, to
its involvement in rewriting hydrocarbon laws and regulations to suit
US companies in Central Asian republics.
Ironically the World
Bank highlights Bolivia's Hydrocarbon Sector Reform and Capitalization
as a success story. The 1995 World Bank-imposed partial privatization
of the oil and gas industry forms part of the backdrop for last month's
uprising, which was largely triggered by plans by US-backed neoliberal
President Gonzales Sanchez De Lozada to export gas to the US and Mexico.
This was yet another unjust neoliberal policy which would deliver great
benefits to the latest corporate conquistadors, Spanish-British consortium,
Pacific LNG, at the expense of the peoples of Bolivia. In the military
repression against the popular revolt, scores of people were killed.
While enjoying corporate
welfare through generous subsidies and other forms of government support
at home (not least a revolving door into politics for many big business
executives), US oil gas and defense corporations are active lobbyists
for expanded trade and investment liberalization through the WTO and
other trade and investment agreements.
They seek to remove
governments' ability to regulate their economies. US oil and gas corporations
seek unrestricted access to markets in the entire range of energy services,
through the further liberalization of services and investment, and rules
on competition policy. These could severely constrain governments' ability
to set energy policy, to regulate oil and gas industry and control its
own energy supply.
prescriptions or outright military occupation, or both, transnational
corporations have been able to gain control over these resources. And
while markets are prised open, while social spending is slashed, and
an attractive investment climate created, there is no shortage of funds
being turned over to the police and the military, the muscle of neoliberal
While oil literally
and figuratively fuels this war - or these wars - of terror - there
is much more to it than that. The US wants to control as much of the
world's oil resources for its own use and for the power and leverage
such dominance will afford it over economic and political rivals such
as China, Russia and Europe and their oil corporations. This strategy
aims to maintain, expand and defend a 21st century colonial empire for
the US military and economic elites. A central feature of this agenda
is to attack countries and social movements which are standing up to
US imperialism and the neoliberal agenda, wherever they may be.
In the face of rising
global resistance against the operations of oil and gas corporations,
war and the military-industrial complex these companies now employ public
relations firms to craft illusions of environmental and social responsibility.
Look at the websites
of the top 10 defense contractors in the US, and you will find heartwarming
stories about how these corporate killers help the poor and disadvantaged,
take care of the environment through employees' voluntary work, or corporate
contributions to various NGOs and foundations. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon
propaganda tries to sell weapons production as a contribution to peacemaking,
while Shell, BP, ChevronTexaco and Statoil join corporate NGOs like
Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy in the Energy
and Biodiversity Initiative which aims to integrate biodiversity conservation
into upstream oil and gas development.
In October, the
Guardian reported that ExxonMobil held a series of secret meetings with
selected environmental and human rights NGOs to try to change its negative
public image. Such spin reinvents Shell and ExxonMobil as champions
of human rights and defenders of the environment, and the world's biggest
defense contractors as peace activists. NGOs which collude with such
corporations should be exposed and denounced.
In our struggles
for social and economic and environmental justice we must be clear that
neither war nor neoliberal globalization can be humanized or reformed.
We need to stop the economic and environmental warfare waged by the
corporations, their proxies in government and the Bretton Woods institutions.
We must oppose the militarization of the planet in all its forms, and
expose the interconnections between the hidden hand of the market and
the not-so-hidden fist. To do that we need to support the grassroots
resistance movements which are already struggling against these injustices,
and to confront the oil and war corporations in our own backyards.
(Adapted from a
talk at the Asia-Pacific Research Network 5th Annual Conference, Beirut,
4 November 2003. See www.aprnet.org for further details)