Would the Iraq war have happened if Saddam’s main export had been broccoli instead of oil? Martin Eiermann talked to the Swiss energy expert Daniele Ganser about the Nobel Peace Prize, resource wars, and the role of private businesses in facilitating peace.
Ganser: No. I was very irritated by the decision. Alfred Nobel explicitly formulated the criteria for the prize in his last will, stating that it should be awarded to the person who has done the most in the preceding year to bring about peace. I just re-read that passage: The aim of the prize is to show that a single individual can indeed make a difference. That is important, because many people feel powerless and think that one person can’t contribute to world peace anyways. But that’s evidently wrong. Recipients like the Dalai Lama or Dag Hammarskjöld are great role models. The EU isn’t, because you cannot identify with it on a personal level: It’s a bureaucratic union, not a charismatic individual. Power is concentrated at the top, away from the citizens who lack almost any say in decisions about the transfer of billions of Euros between different countries and interest groups. It’s true that the EU contributed to peace after World War II, especially peace between Germany and France, and that’s a valuable legacy - but it’s insufficient for the Nobel Peace Prize. Because it’s also true that Great Britain invaded Iraq in 2003, that France bombed Libya in 2011, and that Germany, Italy, Denmark and other European countries deployed troops to Afghanistan. The CIA maintained secret prisons on European soil in cooperation with different European intelligence agencies. We rarely talk about those chapters of our recent history! 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Barack Obama, which was equally irritating, since Obama was presiding over a war in Afghanistan.
The European: Europe’s problem today seems to be the precariousness of social peace rather than inter-state peace. Can we at least deduce certain calls to action from the Nobel prize?
Ganser: I think the hope of the Nobel Committee was to maintain peace in Europe. The prize was awarded just a few days after Angela Merkel visited Athens, where it was evident that tensions run high. 7000 cops had to protect Merkel from angry protesters. Many people recognize that the power of nation-states is shrinking within the EU. The common currency means that the Greeks, for example, cannot simply devalue their currency. I’m from Switzerland, and I’m somewhat critical of the EU because it doesn’t include direct democracy and instead vests power in international bureaucrats like Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB. The fiscal union that is now under consideration would strip national parliaments of their authority over fiscal and economic policy. It would be the capitulation of national parliaments.
The European: You also warn against the danger of high oil prices. Why are you worried?
Ganser: First, we should remember that a barrel of oil used to cost much less in the 1950s and 1960s than it does today: Two dollar or less per barrel. It was almost free, and the expansion of the car industry - for example - was based on the premise of cheap oil. Now we’re facing a situation where the price of oil has fluctuated tremendously between 2000 and 2012: From ten dollars to 140 dollars, down to 40, and back up to 100. We know that a high oil price can lead to an economic recession.
The European: How can we make sense not only of the drastic rise in oil prices, but also of the fluctuations?
Ganser: Two things caused the fluctuations. First, the so-called “fundamentals”, like a shifting balance between supply and demand. The two biggest oil producers in Europe, Norway and Great Britain, have reached their peak and now drill less oil every year. The same is true for Mexico and Indonesia. In the US, annual oil production varies, but it won’t ever be as high again as it was in 1970. The supply is drying up. The newest solution is to drill from the deep ocean or from oil sand. Shell has announced to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic. The trend is clear: We must drill from sites that are harder to reach and more expensive. The second cause is the loss of value of the US dollar. When the dollar drops, oil producers for example from Saudi Arabia will demand higher dollar prices per barrel.
The European: Several recent studies about global food prices concluded that a significant percentage of the rise and fluctuation of commodity prices was driven by speculation, not by supply and demand. Does the oil market exhibit a similar trend?.