Memorandum from the Oxford Research Group
MOTIVES FOR WAR
1. Two anomalies exist in relation to the
argument that the primary motive for the war with Iraq was the
regime's holdings of weapons of mass destruction and that these
presented an immediate threat to US and UK interests, with weapons
available for launch within 45 minutes.
2. The lesser of the anomalies is that the
Iraqi regime indicated that it would give access to disputed sites
to the Central Intelligence Agency some months prior to the war
(December 2002). This offer was ignored by the Bush administration,
although even small-scale on-the-ground assessments would have
indicated the scale and nature of the threat.
3. The much more significant anomaly stems
from the recent statement from Mr Hans Blix, Head of UNMOVIC,
that, prior to the war, his organisation was receiving high quality
intelligence data from western sources, principally from the United
States, yet this data did not result in any significant discoveries
concerning the Iraqi WMD programme.
4. Immediately prior to the war, UNMOVIC
had assembled a very large team of inspectors and had its own
helicopters operational. It was working at a tempo that was far
greater than that of its predecessor, UNSCOM, in the mid-1990s,
and had the ability to send teams to several different sites in
any one day.
5. It was therefore possible for US agencies
and others to check their WMD presumptions with these very active
UN inspection teams on the ground. In spite of this, there were
no indications that a threatening WMD programme existed. It follows
that statements indicating the existence of such a programme could
not be substantiated, and that this motive for immediate recourse
to war was not therefore tenable.
6. It could be argued that to be certain
of such a circumstance, a substantial programme of further inspections
would be required. UNMOVIC was in a position to do this, and could
have been provided with the additional intelligence data, but
was not given an opportunity to do so.
7. Since the war, a further motive has been
rationalisedthe necessity of destroying an abhorrent regime,
whatever the threat from WMD. While there has been a huge welcome
for the termination of the regime, there are two problems with
this in the context of motives for, and the legality of, the war.
8. One is that there was no UN authorisation
for such action. The other is that the regime had enjoyed substantial
support from the United States and other western countries at
times of particular human rights abuses. In April 1988, for example,
one month after the regime had killed 5,000 civilians in a chemical
attack on the Kurdish town of Hallabjah, the United States was
actually fighting alongside the regime in a series of naval actions
that destroyed significant components of the operational Iranian
Navy in the Persian Gulf.
9. Three years later there was no intervention
against the regime at a time when there was severe repression
of Shi"ites in the South and Kurds in the North, in the immediate
aftermath of the 1991 war, even though there were substantial
US forces readily available in the region.
10. A development of the "regime termination"
motive is that it allows the United States and its partners the
opportunity to facilitate the emergence of a full independent
democracy in Iraq. This is also a dubious motiveit would
not be in US security interests to have Iraq acting in a manner
similar to that of the parliamentary democracy in Turkey, and
full independence does not readily equate with the establishment
of permanent US military bases in Iraq that appears currently
to be in progress.
11. It is therefore difficult to argue for
WMD destruction or regime termination as tenable reasons for the
2003 war, and it is appropriate to examine other factors. This
note looks at one other factor, the strategic significance of
Iraq's oil reserves.
12. There are two time-scales involved hereone
of perhaps one-two years and the other of a one-three decades.
Concerning the former, prior to the war, there was an argument
that US control of Iraqi oil fields would diminish the immediate
importance of a potentially unstable Saudi Arabia and would also
present a remarkable investment opportunity for US oil majors.
A counter-argument was that any war raised the risk of a disruption
to the oil markets, this being presumed to be bad news for the
13. This is rarely the case in practice.
During previous periods of rapidly rising oil prices, such as
1974 and 1979, many of the oil majors were able to return record
profits. This was mostly due to their ability to put retail prices
up almost immediately after they rose at the point of production,
even though there could be a 100-day supply chain. For example,
oil at source might rise 20% in price. This price rise is then
passed on to the consumer within 15 days, leaving 85 days worth
of oil in the supply chain which has been bought at the old price
but sold at the new.
14. In most circumstances, primary energy
companies tend to benefit from "bull" markets, so if
the war had resulted in a sudden oil price surge, one could have
expected very good oil company returns within a year.
15. An alternative view relates to short-term
political rather than economic gains. The argument here is that
the US occupation of Iraq would be followed by Iraqi withdrawal
from OPEC, substantially increased oil production and falling
gasoline prices in the immediate run-up to the 2003 US Presidential
Election. This view gets some support from the recent statement
from the US appointee who is overseeing the Iraqi oil industry,
Phillip Carroll, that withdrawal from OPEC might be appropriate
16. Even so, the idea of short-term commercial
or political gain seems somewhat far-fetched as any kind of motive
for a war of this intensity and uncertainty, and there is a much
sounder argument that the Iraq crisis and war did not relate primarily
to possible short-term gains for oil companies or the US Presidency.
Any possible oil motive may actually have been much more concerned
with long-term trends.
17. To get an idea of the importance of
Iraqi oil in the coming decades, one can look at it in the following
way. First, take the total known oil reserves for the Caspian
Basin outside of Iran, then add the oil reserves of Siberia. Add
to these the remaining North Sea oil reserves and then include
the West Shetland fields. Finally, put in the entire oil reserves
of the United States, including the Alaska fields that still have
to be developed.
18. If we put all of these together, we
get fairly close to 10% of all the oil reserves in the world.
Iraq alone has more than this, and adding the other Gulf States
we get close to 70% of world reserves. During the 1990s, Iraq
increased its oil reserves by a figure close to half of total
current US reserves.
19. This does give us some sense of perspective
but only in the form of a snapshot. What is much more significant
is the nature of the long-term trends in reserves, production
and consumption. When we include this, we get a clear indication
of the steadily increasing significance of Persian Gulf oil relative
to every other part of the world. Thirty years ago, the United
States was virtually self-sufficient in oil supplies but it now
imports over 60% of its needs, with oil imports from the Middle
East increasing steadily.
20. The recognition of this is nothing newit
was one of the deciding factors behind the development of the
original US Joint Rapid Deployment Task Force nearly 25 years
ago and its later growth into US Central Command. Moreover, it
was a situation that was clearly recognised by the Republicans
who came to power with Ronald Reagan, 20 years before George W
Bush, and was amply demonstrated by one of the first pronouncements
of the Reagan era.
21. Each year the committee of the US Joint
Chiefs of Staff issues a Military Posture Statement (MPS) for
the forthcoming financial year. In 1991, immediately after Ronald
Reagan had been elected, the 1992 MPS was eagerly awaited as a
clear statement of the "re-arming of America" in the
face of the perceived Soviet threat that had helped President
Reagan into office.
22. The MPS certainly had much to say about
East-West relations but its opening chapter was, to the surprise
of many, much more concerned with the increasing vulnerability
of the United States to resource conflict. Map after map portrayed
a world in which the US was increasingly dependent on imported
resources93% for bauxite, 95% for cobalt, 97% for manganese
and 98% for colombium and tantalum. Most of these meant little
to the non-expert but they underpinned the workings of a major
industrial economy, and the Reagan administration was concerned
with the potential for Soviet interference in Africa, Asia and
other areas of the world providing sources of supply.
23. Much more significant, and subject to
more detailed analysis, was the concern over oil supplies. Interestingly,
this was over 20 years ago when US dependence on imported oil
was much less than now, yet the MPS went into substantial detail
about US vulnerabilities and the need to ensure Gulf security.
24. It is fair to say that much of this
was in the context of the perceived Soviet threat to Persian Gulf
oil supplies, but it was also in the immediate aftermath of the
Iranian Revolution, and the Reagan security advisers were already
becoming concerned over regional "threats" to Gulf oil,
25. Over 20 years later we see the trend
towards increasing dependence on Gulf oil as a long-term phenomenon,
stretching well into the future, but this was already recognised
in the early 1980s. Moreover, many of the security advisers in
the Reagan era of the 1980s are back in positions within the Bush
administration, often in positions of greater influence.
26. What this all means is that there is
a deep and pervading recognition at the heart of the administration
in Washington that the most significant future vulnerability for
the United States is its steadily growing dependence on Gulf oil.
Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela may be useful sources of supply,
albeit of a poorer quality, and the Caspian Basin and Siberia
may help out somewhat. These, though, are essentially short-term
answers to a persistent problem.
27. The Persian Gulf is where the oil is,
and it can be argued that what has to be done is to make absolutely
sure that the Gulf is securely controlled for many years to come.
In the context of uncertainty over Saudi stability, Iraq is particularly
significant as the holder of the second largest oil reserves in
the world. Overall, this outlook is an unusual example of strategic
thinking, not a common phenomenon in many political circles, and
permeates the Bush administration to an extent that is rarely
28. In the three weeks of the Iraq War,
and in its immediate aftermath, three things happened. The first
is that the regime of Saddam Hussein was terminated, the second
is that useable weapons of mass destruction were not subsequently
found and the third is that the United States increased its control
of oil reserves by 400%.
29. This may have no connection with UK
government motives for the war with Iraq, but, in the light of
problems with the other principle motives, it might be wise to
consider this as the primary motivation for the Bush administration.
Dr Paul Rogers
Department of Peace Studies, Bradford University,
and International Security Consultant to the Oxford Research Group