The rise to prominence of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf has been one of the stranger chapters in recent world history. Within the space of a decade they have come to impose a rather expensive toll upon the world economy, to play a significant if unpredictable part in the calculations of many a firm and government. This emergence has not been without its theatrical elements, nor without its unexpected consequences, among which the fall of the Shah, the tumult of republican Iran and the current Iraq-Iran war must count as the most momentous so far. Above this carnival hangs what the Russians persist in calling, in a quaint phrase, 'the smell of oil'. And so serious has the West's concern with this region become that the US President has proclaimed it to be an area which America will defend at the risk of war. Not only are the Russians apparently being warned by the spotlit preparation of the 110,000-strong Rapid Deployment Force, but we are again hearing rumblings of an American willingness to invade the Gulf states if they themselves threaten the West by new embargoes or if local hostilities should menace oil exports.
LRB 6 November 1980 | PDF Download