This book argues that the United States has become hegemonic in the Persian Gulf region, contrary to views of its waning global capability. The rise of U.S. hegemony, and changes in the position of China and Russia over forty-five years, have boosted global oil security, which is positive for the global economy. Yet in a classic sense, hegemony faces weighty challenges that need to be understood.
This chapter sketches key sign posts in the rise of global oil centered in the Middle East and in the increasing involvement of the United States. Washington would be drawn slowly into the region by revolution, war, and regional rivalries—all set against the inherent instabilities of the region, the rise of the oil era and its myriad actors and dynamics, and the struggles for influence and standing among the global powers. The evolution of its position relative to the other great powers would prove critical to regional and global politics and to all countries that depend on the flow of oil at reasonable prices.
The United States has expanded, in some cases dramatically, its diplomatic, military, and economic capabilities in the Persian Gulf and ties to regional states in the post-<->Cold War period. America's diplomatic position has undergone extraordinary change, and although it faced some serious problems, it became stronger over time, though that fluctuated. The U.S. ability to project forces to the region and to sustain them while in the region increased significantly from the 1980s, as did its defense cooperation with the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council and with Iraq in the post-2003 invasion period, even amid rising domestic instability that threatened to tear Iraq asunder.
Security cooperation represents the bedrock of Washington's relations with regional states, but its economic position has also developed in the post<->Cold War period, particularly since the mid-2000s. Economic strength is an important part of overall capabilities and influences oil security. The better the economic relations, the more robust is oil security, all other things equal. This is not only because stronger economic relations enhance security cooperation in provisioning oil; they also yield greater interdependence between America as well as China and regional states.
China is driven by its profound energy needs. Beijing has unprecedentedly expanded diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser degree, security capabilities across the Gulf, making it an important player in the region. China has developed good relations with all of the Persian Gulf states, including the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, and Iraq. Since the 2000s, these relations have expanded in tandem with increasing trade and energy cooperation. China's need for oil makes it far less interested in undermining U.S. efforts to protect oil security, even as it tries to check the United States when it appears to flex its muscles excessively.
China has improved its political position in the region and, to some extent, its security standing, but perhaps most notably, Beijing's trade and energy cooperation has skyrocketed. The Chinese narrative has differed sharply from that of the United States. Most important, the rise of the PRC's diplomatic and economic profile has not been accompanied by a regional military presence or meaningful security cooperation. But its enhanced economic position represents a profound change in the region and growing interdependence with regional states has further deterred China from taking actions that could threaten U.S.-protected oil security. All things being equal, the more China needs the region for oil and trade, the more secure is oil.
In the post-Cold War era, Moscow has remained interested in enhancing its position in the Gulf region and has made political gains. Its foreign policy toward and position in the Persian Gulf has shifted to include more economic goals, while maintaining some strategic interests, which include balancing against U.S. regional hegemony. However, trade and commerce have increased in importance in Russian motivations, and that shift has benefited oil security. While Russia was devoted to undermining the United States in the region the Cold War, it has become an assertive but less serious rival.
Russia's foreign policy toward the Persian Gulf region has been driven increasingly by energy concerns and business potential. Oil-rich monarchies offer lucrative markets for Russia's goods and a source of badly needed investment. Although Moscow's military position in the Persian Gulf region has largely collapsed with the end of the Cold War, Russia has made gains not only in the political arena but also in the economic arena in both trade and energy.
Great attention has focused on whether America remains a global hegemon, but this book has taken a different turn, focusing on the international relations of a region. It has explored global power politics and dynamics in the Persian Gulf, while also treating the global and regional levels as linked. This chapter more formally sums up how American capability has changed over time in the Persian Gulf relative to that of China and Russia. The United States has become and remains predominant across all of the indicators that we examined in this book. This is true even though China and, to a far lesser degree, Russia have expanded, sometimes profoundly, their diplomatic contacts and economic ties to regional states.
The changes in the position of America, China, and Russia in the Persian Gulf are important in their own right, but they also have boosted global oil security. America's rising capabilities have been positive for oil security, all things being equal. Since the 1980s, the rise in its regional military, political, and economic assets has enabled the United States to protect the free flow of oil from the region against a range of threats. This has, in turn, helped calm international markets. Meanwhile, the rise of China's political and economic capabilities, and, to a lesser extent, those of Russia have allowed for some rivalry with Washington, but largely not in the security field. Rising Russian and, far more important, Chinese economic interdependence with Gulf states has benefited global oil security by bringing more oil and gas on the global energy market and increasing especially Beijing's stake in regional stability.
Scholars are divided on whether America is a hegemon, but many have debated the desirability, feasibility, and effects of U.S. hegemony. It is fair to argue that Washington's hegemony in the Persian Gulf is positive for oil security and yields it some global political influence as well, but it is also costly in myriad ways sketched in this chapter. The real story of hegemony is not only about the rise of capabilities and what they imply but also of the enormous challenges of hegemony, some of which are endogenous to it.
This book has told the story of the rise of hegemony and of its many challenges, and of great powers whose fortunes have undergone extraordinary change in one of the most fascinating regions of the world. The story is both age-old and new in its trappings. In this final chapter, we elucidate and expand on the broader themes of this book. In particular, we explore classic issues related to hegemony and American foreign policy: hegemony and oil security; hegemony and chaos; why the United States bears the great burden of maintaining hegemonic power in the turbulent Middle East; what America's regional standing means for the global debate on American power; and how another aspect of American, Chinese, and Russian power has changed over time: soft power.