threat of war


The Trump administration has given abundant demonstrations that there is only one compass in American foreign policy: the interest and discretion of the United States.

By José Luís Fiori and Rodrigo Leão*

The recognition of President Donald Trump, and the celebration of some US officials, transform the “American attack on Baghdad airport”, into a targeted and successful operation to eliminate a high-ranking Iranian general, on Iraqi territory, above any and all ideas of international law, or respect for the "sovereignty" of nations, or the "universal right" of individuals. From this point of view, the US action could only have been one of two things: an international assassination, premeditated and above the law, or else an “act of war”, or more precisely, a “declaration of war” carried out without the consent of the US Congress.

And, in either of the two senses, a unilateral act of asserting the interest and discretion of the United States above the sovereignty of all other Nation States that do not have sufficient military power to bar the American intention and objective of asserting a new law based on its global power, or on its project of a global military Empire. This movement has intensified the geopolitical tensions between the great powers of the world system.

Undoubtedly, this was the most ostensible, explicit and celebrated demonstration of the American ambition to exercise global military power, or simply the unilateral assertion that American power and interests are superior to any convention or any type of agreement or institution. multilateralism built in the last century of American supremacy.

In this sense, this episode is neither entirely new nor original, particularly during the Trump administration, which has given abundant demonstrations that there is only one compass in American foreign policy: the interest and discretion of the United States.

Even so, there is not the slightest doubt that this was the most daring and arrogant act to assert the American right to intervene, judge and punish whoever it wants, wherever it wants. Bearing in mind that General Qassem Soleimani was perhaps the second most important person in the Iranian state power hierarchy and the Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, it is inevitable to conclude that the action of the American government consists of an “act of war”.

The American action must be associated with the escalation that began in July 2019 with the “oil tanker crisis” followed by three more episodes: (1) the attack by Houthi rebels on Saudi refineries in September 2019; (2) the attack and death of an American “technician” at a military base in Iraqi territory in December 2019; (3) the siege of the American Embassy in Baghdad in the same month and (4) the naval exercises carried out by China, Russia and Iran, in the Gulf of Oman, carried out exactly between the 27th and the 31st of December. The latter was an objective and uncontested challenge to American naval power in the Middle East, and even more broadly, from the Shanghai Organization to the extended power of NATO.

As a consequence, the world is getting closer to a direct confrontation between two Nation States, inevitably involving their allies in both directions, but it is unlikely that this international assassination will have the same consequences as the Sarajevo assassination that started the First World War. Despite the seriousness of the episode, the distance between the two States involved and the unlikely involvement of their allies in a military confrontation does not signal the outbreak, at least at the moment, of a more comprehensive or frontal war.

But it certainly signals that the Middle East, its oil and its ethnic and religious fragments, which were used and transformed one day by the European colonial powers into a space divided and conflagrated by almost continuous wars, will have to follow its tragic path as a kind of “hole”. black" of the world system, where the great powers practice their own terrorism, and use the terrorism of "others" as instruments of regional domination.

In this context, the first Iranian response to the US “act of war”, the attacks on the night of January 07th on the joint American and Iraqi bases of Ain al-Assad, in Anbar, and Harir, in Erbil, it was not just an “act of revenge”. This is an entirely legitimate action, from the point of view of International Law, the Law of War, or even the millennial debate on the “just war”. This initial response is likely to be deployed at many different times, in many different places, and with different levels of destructiveness. And as always, that answer will, once again, involve the dispute over the supply and price of oil.

The murder has already had an impact on oil prices, causing an average rise of 4%. This increase should be maintained and perhaps even escalate if the major players in the system have the perception that regional escalation must continue and the threat of war must remain in the air. That is, a possible increase in uncertainty surrounding the forms and intensities of Iranian responses and, mainly, of its main allies – including large oil producers and consumers, such as the Russians – may result in greater volatility with a possible rise in prices in the mid-term.

It is important to remember that, in addition to being a major producer, Iran is one of the countries that controls the Strait of Hormuz, the passage that connects the Persian Gulf to the ocean, where about a fifth of global oil production is shipped. An eventual transport blockage could have huge effects in terms of supply and prices in the short term.

Despite these possibilities, history shows that episodes of equivalent magnitude have significant repercussions on the price of oil and are capable of changing the balance of power between large producers, consumers and oil companies. This time, it shouldn't be any different.

*Jose Luis Fiori He is a professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of about the war (Voices, 2018).

*Rodrigo Leon He is a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Studies on Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (INEEP) and at the NEC at the Federal University of Bahia.

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