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In this file photo taken on January 4, Iranians burn an Israeli and a US flag during an anti-US protest over the killings during a US air strike of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in the capital Tehran. - AFP

On Jan 29, 2002, Iran and Iraq, as well as North Korea, were labelled as an “axis of evil” by United States then president George W. Bush for allegedly harbouring, financing and aiding terrorists.

These states “and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD), these regimes pose a grave and growing danger”, Bush had said in his State of the Union address.

“They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the US”.

The above quotes, found in the book This Day in Presidential History by Paul Brandus (2018), was reproduced in the “This Day in Politics” article by Andrew Glass, published by Politico on Jan 29 last year.

Hence, it was not surprising when, in March 2003, Iraq was invaded and its president consequently “murdered” because the state was accused of possessing WMD. The invasion took place even after many books and reports, including by a specific US agency, discovered the inexistence of WMD in Iraq.

However, there were also findings and reports alleging that the Iraqi invasion was driven by the availability of abundant oil and gas reserves in the country.

The US Energy Information Administration stated on Jan 7 last year that “Iraq is the second-largest crude oil producer in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia, and it holds the world’s fifth-largest proved crude oil reserves”.

“Iran holds some of the world’s largest deposits of proved oil and natural gas reserves, ranking as the world’s fourth-largest and second-largest reserve holder of oil and natural gas, respectively.”

These statistics, coupled with the numerous narratives on the Iraqi invasion and the current happenings in Iran since Jan 3, allow us to safely assume that energy geopolitics is one of the major factors to instability in West Asia.

In the previous century, this geopolitics caused most states in West Asia to be grouped as allies to a certain Western power; and beginning in the 21st century, a few others were labelled as rogue states with WMD, or accused of harbouring and financing international militants.

Factors driving the US energy geopolitics are explicitly elaborated in the US National Energy Policy (2001), prepared under a directive from Bush two weeks after he took office.

As such, energy geopolitics in West Asia does not only involve state actors in the region, particularly Iraq and Iran, as oil and gas producers and exporters.

It also involves several advanced countries as consumers of West Asian petroleum and Western companies operating as petroleum contractors and exporters.

Therefore, if states are theoretically said to “respond to the uncertainties of international anarchy by seeking to control and shape their external environment”, based on the strength of their relative material power and threat perception of their ruling elites; the states, in the context of West Asian energy geopolitics, are petroleum producing countries, consumer countries and petroleum non-state actors.

Some countries in West Asia, particularly Iran, attempted to shape the regional environment due to ongoing energy geopolitics because they want to sustain their survival, sovereignty, security and prosperity.

Consumer countries, particularly big Western powers, strive to shape and influence the geopolitical environment in West Asia because they seek to guarantee their access to petroleum resources, control production and supply, determine their prices and ensure that the safe passage to their transport.

Iran seemed the most targeted because it is construed by certain Western powers as the single current obstacle to undisrupted petroleum production, supply and transport from West Asia.

This is because Iran is developing nuclear capability, has abundant petroleum reserves and controls some parts of the Straits of Hormuz — the most critical waterway for petroleum transport to the world.

CNN Business highlighted the importance of the Straits of Hormuz on Jan 3 as follows: “Could conflict in the Middle East disrupt global oil supplies?

“That risk is back in focus after a US strike in Baghdad that killed Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general. The channel, which is only 21 miles wide at its narrowest point, is the only way to move oil from the Persian Gulf to the world… (and if it is) to be closed because of the threat of ongoing attacks, it would be a huge blow to the world economy.”

In conclusion, the current situation in West Asia is caused by the foreign policy behaviour of regional states as producers, foreign countries as consumers and foreign non-state actors in mitigating the region’s energy geopolitics. Parties concerned must mitigate this with wisdom in the interest of world peace and prosperity.

The writer is an analyst of strategic and security issues, and was a member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor (1990-2003)

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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