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Oil: The Issue of American Intervention

- Abstract

THE turning points in history, we are told, are commonly events whose real significance can only be understood at distant remove. To those who directly experience them, these events are the occasion for endless controversy and uncertainty. At the time, the only point of agreement may be that something unusual has occurred and, as a result, the accustomed order of things will never again be the same. Although the new landscape is not illuminated for all to see, the sensitive observer intuitively grasps that something extraordinary has happened.

Do the changes that have occurred in the world oil market during the past year, and the world’s response to those changes, qualify as a “significant event” in the sense indicated above? To most observers, the answer would seem clear. The preponderant view is that these changes, when taken together with their effects, present and expected, represent one of the two or three signal developments of the postwar period. There are, of course, the usual differences in assessment. To many, the principal import of the crisis immediately brought on by the fourfold increase in oil prices is that it affords a spectacular demonstration, though only the first of many such demonstrations, of the growing power of the new and developing states. To be sure, oil is conceded to be an exceptional case, given the basic and pervasive role it plays in industrial economies. Even so, the expectation is that the example set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will be followed by others, with at least varying degrees of success. Thus the oil crisis is seen to presage a radical shift in power as between the developed and capitalist states and those states that until only yesterday formed no more than the impotent objects of the international system.

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