First of all a bit of history. On February 14, 1945, the President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt returned from the conference in Yalta, in the Crimea, where he had met Stalin and Churchill to design the post-war world. That day the ship on which he was traveling, the Quincy, received an unusual visit, that of King Ibn Saud, founder of the dynasty still in power in Saudi Arabia. That meeting produced the “Quincy Pact,” an exchange between Saudi oil and US protection and one of the founding pillars of the second half of the twentieth century, the era of black gold.
The Quincy Pact is essential to understand what is happening today, with the slap that Saudi leaders have inflicted on Joe Biden, the current president of the United States, for which Washington does not hide its irritation and prepares countermeasures.
Saudi Arabia, a historic ally of the United States, has chosen to place ties with Russia in the cartel of oil exporting countries, OPEC +, before Washington’s requests. On 5 October, the OPEC + countries decided to reduce oil production quotas to keep the price of crude oil high, around one hundred dollars, in the middle of the Ukrainian war and in a context marked by rising energy prices .
In this story we find two crucial aspects. First of all, the oil dimension: since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, oil-producing countries have achieved record gains thanks to rising prices. These countries do not want to reduce their revenues at a time when global oil demand is falling due to the slowdown in production, especially in China. Reducing production quotas raises the price of oil. This is what happened on 6 October.
Three months ago, Joe Biden went to Saudi Arabia to ask Saudi leaders to increase production in order to bring the price down during the war in Ukraine. The Gulf producers, linked to Russia within OPEC +, have instead chosen to favor their interests and those of Russia, an opponent of the United States in the Ukrainian conflict.
The second aspect is the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Biden took a political risk by visiting Riyadh because of the initial stance he had chosen to treat Crown Prince Mohamed Ben Salman as a pariah, accused of ordering the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. his visit Biden wanted to take a step back, but did not get the desired results.
Saudi Arabia has not officially broken its pact with the United States, but the kingdom belongs to the group of medium or regional powers that want to emancipate themselves from any protection in the wake of the current geopolitical chaos. Riyadh played its own score: very close unofficial ties with Israel, an oil agreement with Russia, future trade with China …
The Saudis are drawing their conclusions from the relative American disengagement in the region and from a protection they deem insufficient. This is why they choose to approach countries that do not teach human rights lessons, making the most of oil revenues as the world prepares to eliminate fossil fuels.
Throughout the twentieth century, oil has been the subject of epic battles, from the domination of Western oil companies to the recovery of wealth by states. Black gold was the cause of wars, revolutions, coups d’etat. Even today, when we thought it was in decline, oil triggers new crises. If there is one lesson to be learned from this story, it is that the abandonment of fossil fuels must be accelerated. It would be a healthy choice from a political point of view and above all excellent news for the planet.
(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)