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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Game of resource control in the Middle East

Great powers had always contested to take control of the Middle East region as it was the hub of economic resources. The region has a long history of civilization, colonialization, and interstate conflicts. Various factors contribute to the present situation in the Middle East, but the game of resource control is the central one. Fossil fuel resources are finite and will deplete with time.

The Middle East region is formed by eighteen states that are inhabited by similar ethnicities, and people having similar geographical, political, social, religious, and cultural histories. It includes Cyprus, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Israel, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE, Palestine, and Qatar. Most of the states are located in Western Asia and some are in North Africa and Southeast Europe. This region is marked by its high natural resources and huge reserves of oil that form the basis of today’s industrialized world.

The western powers always had serious interests in this region. As it has great geopolitical significance due to its mass reserves and strategic location. Western powers are the main actors in the region and greatly influence the geopolitics of the Middle Eastern states. Here geopolitical analysis of western interests in the Middle East will be part of the discussion and prospects will be drawn based on it.  This opinion piece will highlight the western influence in the Middle East and how the geopolitics of the region is shaped by it.

Read more: Dynamics of US-China rivalry in Middle East

Theoretical Framework

Post colonialists contend that Western impressions of the non-West are an aftereffect of the traditions of European colonization and government. They examine a world order overwhelmed by great powers and their tyrannical advantages and perspectives on the world. It challenges thoughts that have grabbed hold of the way states act or react and what propels them.

On the other hand, the structural realists argue that the comparative distribution of power in the international system is the key factor in understanding significant international consequences like conflict, harmony, alliance strategies and balance of power in any region. Waltz defined that the capabilities of states are always a matter of concern for major powers. While Mearsheimer argues that every state seeks opportunities to maximize its power even at the stake of another state.

The Politics of Resource Control

The geopolitics of the region is driven by its oil reserves that form the basis of the Western industrialized economy. This region produces approximately 37% of global oil and 18% of the world’s gas. About 50% of the oil reserves are undiscovered that are claimed to be concentrated in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, UAE, and Saudi Arabia by the U.S. Geological Survey. According to the Joint Arab Economic Report published in 2015, this region constitutes 55.2% of the world’s oil reserves and 27.5% of the total natural gas reserves.

It has the rich fossil fuel resources that attracted western powers and they contested to take control of the region to have access to the resources. Previously the region was a hotbed for religious clashes and disputes over the control of land and resources. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire western imperialist powers gained more influence in the region. Moreover, the geostrategic location of the Middle East is quite significant. For instance, Turkey acts as a land bridge between Europe and Asia, and as a land barrier across the main port of the Black Sea. Egypt’s geostrategic power exudes from its focal area in the core of the Middle East filling in as a scaffold between Africa, Asia, and Mediterranean Europe.

Read more: Double standards haunt the West in dealings with Turkey and the Middle East

Despite being the world’s largest supplier of oil and gas this region it has failed to attract a good ratio of foreign direct investment, which is less than 5% and lags Sub Saharan Africa. The problems faced by Middle Eastern states are western imposed that only conserved their interests and ruined the masses.

The geopolitical history of the Middle East is divided into three waves to provide a thorough analysis. The first wave started with the demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I when independence movements in Arabic states were at their peak and they supported western allies to establish nation-states. But Western states didn’t keep their promise and colonized them after World War I and redrew their maps under the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Then in World War II, these colonies were transformed into so-called nation-states with corrupt dictatorial regimes favored by western interests.

The second wave can be identified by the end of World War II and the onset of the Cold War, which initiated an era of ideologically driven geopolitics in the Middle East. The United States and the Soviets become part of proxy wars in the Middle East. During the Iraq-Iran war and Arab-Israel wars, both the opposing ideologies drove geopolitics in the region. The civil war in Syria and the crisis in Yemen were also influenced by the Cold War.

The third wave is marked by the Soviet dissolution and the emergence of the US as the sole superpower. The third wave intensified the complexity of geopolitics in the region where Iraq was invaded by the US.

With the discovery of oil and gas reserves in its territory, the dependence of the US and the significance of this region has reduced. But this fact cannot be denied that this region still accounts for 20% of the global world oil supply. Approximately 85% of the Middle East oil export is reserved for India, Japan, South Korea, and China. Many scholars argue that the United States is facing a conundrum in the Middle East region where it can neither leave nor transform as it has allies, adversaries, and interests in the region. For instance, Syria is an important partner for the United States to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East region. The interests of the U.S in the Middle East, reflected in its policies can be summed up in the following four points.

Read more: What to expect from President Biden’s Middle East trip?

The objectives of the US in the region were to:

  • Get reliable access to energy supplies
  • Contain the emerging influence of Iran
  • Maintain strong ties with Israel.
  • Combat and curb terrorist activities.

Thus, the Middle East has always remained geopolitically dependent on western influenced foreign politics that control its oil resources. It is evident from the geopolitical history that this region is restrained from progress to preserve western interests.


Great powers had always contested to take control of the Middle East region as it was the hub of economic resources. The region has a long history of civilization, colonialization, and interstate conflicts. Various factors contribute to the present situation in the Middle East, but the game of resource control is the central one. Fossil fuel resources are finite and will deplete with time.

Read more: The changing politics of the Middle East

Here the question arises that what the Western powers are going to do when Middle East’s geopolitical significance would be lost due to its depleted fossil fuel resources. Too much dependence on oil export is reducing the political autonomy of these states. While the U.S and other western powers have realized that oil is not a durable energy source and are working on other alternatives, the Middle East states should also pay attention to alternative ways of stabilizing the economy other than oil dependency, so the western interference can be reduced, and real progress can be achieved.



The writer is an undergraduate student of International Relations at National Defence University (NDU). The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.