Azerbaijan and Oil

by Marc W on 3/14/2008 · 5 comments

I had lunch on Monday with a former boss who currently works at a research institute here in DC. He’s currently working on energy security issues, and when I mentioned my recent involvement with the Caucasus (his response: I would have started with something a little less controversial, like Norway), he told me that he was actually on his way to the Caucasus in a few weeks to review some programs on women’s education sponsored by OSCE. Or something, don’t quote me on the details. Anyway, it turns out that Sunday’s Washington Post included an article about the “oil curse” and how oil resources correlate to a lack of women’s empowerment. Michael Ross, a political scientist at UCLA, has done research showing that it is oil, not Islam, that is to blame for the repression of women across the Middle East. It sounds a little dubious to me, but I suppose it’s plausible.

The more interesting thing to come out of our conversation was that my old boss through out the idea that Azerbaijan may have significantly less extractable oil then people have been led to believe. He’s not sure if this is true, but I gather it’s a rumor that has been floating around in energy circles. I tried looking this up, but couldn’t really find anything. Still, it’s interesting to think about what it would mean for the region if it were true.

If Azerbaijan’s oil supplies dry up, suddenly they lose the primary revenue stream they’ve been using to purchase arms, so I imagine their belligerency to Armenia would go down. Or perhaps they would be even MORE aggressive to compensate for the economic downturn that would follow. It’s certainly something to think about!

On that crpytic note, I’m afraid I have to read my new readers (however many of you there are) in the lurch, as tomorrow I’m off to start my vacation. Two weeks in England, Northern Ireland, and Ireland.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back in April!

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Dan March 14, 2008 at 9:16 pm

I’ve read / heard similar comments regarding Azerbaijan’s reserves. I’m not sure where, but I think that these rumors were more relevant until the proven reserves were detected in the Caspian.

But who knows, it has been a region that has been tapped for hundreds of years. Couple that with the intensification of extraction under the Soviet Union, not to mention extremely poor record keeping and corruption, and I wouldn’t doubt if some figures were off.

Michael Hancock March 15, 2008 at 10:30 am

I do not believe there is an A-causes-B connection between oil and the mistreatment of women. There might be some coincidental instances, but correlation does not prove causation. In some sciences, like pharmacology [I’m thinking of Reye’s syndrome as an example here] advances have been made assuming that correlation is connected to causation, but I think that in general it is a weak argument, since there are so many factors influencing the outcome other than the variables we monitor or are aware of.

The oil reserves in Alaska and Texas [hell, even Michigan has a bit] haven’t exactly proven fatal for women’s rights in the largest states in the Union, have they? Comparing England, Norway, Canada, and Venezuela with the Middle East in women’s rights is just ludicrous, if you want my quick, uneducated opinion. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems. What of the oil reserves in Australia, Japan, Spain, and Mexico?

Women’s rights seem to be in trouble in only a small number of oil exporting countries: the Middle East, Russia and the former Soviet Union. And one could easily argue that women’s rights were in trouble there long before oil became a valuable resource, or its existence known.

As for Azerbaijan’s oil reserves, I think it might be less about quantity than about quality or ease of extraction. As the price per barrel climbs, it becomes more and more feasible to pump oil that’s more and more expensive to extract. As long as the global price climbs, I think Azerbaijan might be in the clear.

Nathan March 15, 2008 at 1:30 pm

Michael, if you want to read the article, it’s here. (Many thanks to Péter Marton for the link.)

Michael Hancock March 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm

It’s quite an article, and I feel my lack of economics education when I read it. I’m not sure I agree with the assumption that higher participation numbers in the workforce leads to greater political influence. I think that it’s a factor, but not the only one: consider the power that our own labor force wields; it’s lopsided to the wealthy, educated labor force, and away from migrant workers and low-paying blue-collar jobs.

I still think that women are treated poorly in the oil-producing countries in the Middle East for similar reasons that they are treated poorly in the non-oil-producing countries of the Middle East [Jordan, Yemen, etc] – it is more a reflection of culture and their interpretation of their religion. It seems to me that even the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia support the unequal segregation of sexes and the covering of women. Economics must of course have an effect on culture, but I don’t see the direct relationship with women’s rights.

Sage March 17, 2008 at 12:41 pm

Well, it’s as least as “plausible,” and no more “dubious,” than the presence of Chechens somewhere outside Chechnya, right?

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