In his first book, Assistant Professor of History Christopher Dietrich, Ph.D., traces the history of the postcolonialist elites who upended the exploitive system of Western corporate control of petroleum in favor of sovereign control over resources.
Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization, (Cambridge University Press, 2017), tells the story of how a generation of leaders took control of their most precious natural resource and used their newfound power to usher in a new era of international economics.
The anticolonial elites Dietrich refers to were mainly Western-educated lawyers and economists who found a community of sorts in the nascent United Nations and in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, where they would
gather “to talk about their problems and find solutions,” says Dietrich. There, they would “share information and create proposals and strategies as part of a long-term structural undertaking in the international community.”
The result was not just, in Dietrich’s words, “the most concentrated nonviolent transfer of global wealth in human history” but a profound transformation of the global order. Oil Revolution provides a penetrating analysis of this little-understood but crucial period in geopolitical history—one whose repercussions continue to this day, he says.
The politics of the Mideast are difficult to understand without, for example, an accounting of the Arab oil embargo of 1967—a critical episode that Dietrich analyzes in his book. In one sense, the embargo was a tactical failure: it did not succeed in forcing a change in American support for Israel, and there is evidence that some of the nations were surreptitiously violating the embargo. In another sense, however, it paved the way for the success of the 1973 embargo, which radically changed the contours of power in the international order.
What lessons specifically can be drawn from Oil Revolution? Dietrich says that, as a historian, he is hesitant to draw clear-cut lessons from the past to the future. “But one aspect of this story that is important to understand is the ability of these anticolonial elites to work together and to form a coherent strategy” from the concert of ideas, he says. “Ideas about sovereignty and national control over one’s destiny extend into the economic realm, nowhere more importantly than in the oil industry.”