1. Why oil business is not just trade & money, but a blood bath

Why oil business is not just trade & money, but a blood bath

A book that raises questions on the ethics of the oil trade

By: | Updated: July 10, 2016 8:19 AM
The complexities of global markets hide all of this from us and what we see is just the cornucopias of retail. It’s also not clear what we could do about it anyway. (Reuters) The complexities of global markets hide all of this from us and what we see is just the cornucopias of retail. It’s also not clear what we could do about it anyway. (Reuters)

Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules That Run the World
Leif Wenar
Oxford University Press
Pp 494
R695

OIL IS alcohol, diamonds are drugs’. Philosopher Leif Wenar’s Blood Oil takes the reader all over the globalised world through a journey that tries to awaken the conscience on the ethics of the oil business. Raising the question of development at the cost of exploiting natural resources, he points out that what all nations, particularly developing ones, are spending on oil is in reality supporting the militia.

The complexities of global markets hide all of this from us and what we see is just the cornucopias of retail. It’s also not clear what we could do about it anyway. The picture described by Wenar, who is the chair of philosophy and law at London’s King College, however, is different from Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Daniel Yergin’s The Prize or The Quest, which are the most widely read books about oil exploration.

Wenar places a lucid, though philosophical, approach to things emancipating from the oil trade—popular sovereignty and property, human rights, the rule of law and peace. The narration revolves around strong people and their ‘addiction’, not towards oil, but ‘oil money’. The single-most important factor in explaining the success of a resource-dependent country is the strength of its people when large resource rents begin to come in—whether the ruled can control their rulers.

Blood Oil focuses more on how the West can lead a peaceful global revolution by ending its dependence on the authoritarians who are stealing their countries’ oil, and by getting out of business with the militia, who are plundering their countries’ minerals. However, the scenario is changing fast. The uprising of Russia and sanction-free Iran would not make it easy to avert crises for the West, in particular the US.

During the transition away from authoritarian oil, some authoritarians might themselves transition to become qualified for commercial engagements. The possibility of today’s authoritarians ‘defecting’ to greater freedom is real and should be anticipated. Russia, for example, would only have to return to being as well-governed as it was in 2004 to rise out of the ‘Not Free’ category.

Throughout the book, Wenar raises the debate of counter-power, freedom and principles. The principles of ‘Clean Trade’ and ‘Clean Hands Trust’ could be acceptable some day. There is hope that successful strategies for clean trade will welcome all to join and will always keep the door open. Even a major oil company, the Chinese or the head of a Persian Gulf oil state might become receptive to reforms sooner or later. This might seem inconceivable at first. Yet there might come a day, a crisis or a leadership challenge when Clean Trade Policy is just what these actors need. And even if they demur at first, they might join later.

Blood Oil indicates a human action where the buyer stops procuring oil from corrupted regimes. It is being equated to how Britain successfully ran the anti-slavery campaign. However, oil trade and curbing slavery may not be the same thing. Oil is not just a commodity of trade that fuels economies, it’s also a natural resource that’s not found everywhere and, even if it is, it’s not so easy to drill. Norway is an example. But the country has less population and, thankfully, has its own resources. This may not be true for China, Japan or even India.

Wenar talks about the most precious but perhaps un-doable option—seek unity. The use of power is only justified, says the author, to the degree that it leads to a greater free unity of human ends. Otherwise, power should be countered. The book paints a picture that the oil business is not just trade and money, but a blood bath.

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