Oil Dependency and Cold War Politics

  • David Cowan


Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the one-time oil minister, famously quipped that the Stone Age didn’t end because of a shortage of stone, meaning that the oil age, and certainly Saudi’s privileged position because of oil, will not end because of a shortage of oil but because of other factors (Quoted in Lippman, Saudi Arabia on the edge: the uncertain future of an American ally. Potomac Books, Dulles, 2012, p. 38). Concerns about 2030, and if not the end of the oil age at least a more competitive economic environment, are creating a dynamic of economic tension that will increasingly pervade government and society. To change requires a more international outlook, but does it mean Saudi needs to become more Western? Less Islamic? Saudi Arabia is attempting to establish a modern business culture while grappling with globalization’s challenges to Islamic teaching and social welfare values. Saudi political and business leaders are acutely aware that the Saudi economy needs, on the one hand, to diversify, while on the other needs to become more self-reliant, in terms of skills and resources. As a wealth creation resource, oil was found and extracted by foreigners. My reason for emphasizing this is that the Saudis basically had oil-based wealth handed to them on a platter. Compared to America, the nation that collaborated with the kingdom to create this oil-based economy, Saudis never developed a sense of pioneering for wealth or belief in the manifest destiny of national growth, and there was no Protestant work ethic. They have long relied on expat expertise and management, and it is only comparatively recently they have sought increased self-reliance. It is this conundrum of oil and the wealth curse, with the manner of welfare provision in Saudi, that goes to the heart of the needed change, and is responsible for the economic behaviors which go back to the first days of oil. The history of oil is inextricably bound with a political history of Saudi dominated by the relationship between America and Saudi to create the kind of economy Saudi has grown up with and still exists today.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cowan
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston CollegeBostonUSA

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