Oil and Conflict: Future Avenues to Inter-State Wars

Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Bradley Thayer


The future international security environment will experience a rise in competition over vital energy resources - most notable petroleum and its by-products. The combination of rising populations, expanding world economies, and rising standards of living will all contribute to an exponential growth in the world demand for oil. This growth in demand will place an immense burden on producing nations to provide the required supplies to all the world markets. This in turn will lead to more fierce competition between states to secure access to, and control over, a most vital resource. The importance of oil has been evidenced by actions over the last century of many states and has at times been instrumental in a state's reasoning for war. There is no reason that this will not continue in the future. It is therefore imperative to examine in what ways conflict is most likely to arise. The first is through direct territorial expansion to secure sovereignty over land that is fundamental to the control of oil. The second is by way of wars through proxies: that is, just as in the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union funded opposing sides in the Third World, the same will happen in the future, although the promary motivating reason will be for petroleum, not political ideaology. The last avenue to war is through direct major power war. While least likely to occur due to the threat of nuclear war, it is not impossible. History has shown that nuclear-armed states can go to war without escalating to nuclear use.


war, petroleum, energy security, resource competition, future

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Russell W. Roth