Expert: Oil Price Wars Fatally Wounded the Petrodollar
"For the first time, too, we see the end of the petro-dollar as a system for recirculating oil revenues to Wall Street."
"The fall in the price of oil has suddenly created huge financial turbulence, which is endangering the global financial system."
Alastair Crooke is a former MI6 official, the director and founder of Beirut-based Conflicts Forum and formerly adviser on Middle East to EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.
This is an excerpt from an interview that originally appeared in Today's Zaman (Turkish English-language daily)
Crooke, who was in Turkey for the İstanbul Forum, has answered our questions in this regard including the question as to where Turkey stands in the world.
Would you tell us about your ideas in regards to the “financialization of the global order"?
For some time, the international order was structured around the United Nations and the corpus of international law, but more and more the West has tended to bypass the UN as an institution designed to maintain the international order, and instead relies on economic sanctions to pressure some countries.
We have a dollar-based financial system, and through instrumentalizing America's position as controller of all dollar transactions, the US has been able to bypass the old tools of diplomacy and the UN -- in order to further its aims.
But increasingly, this monopoly over the reserve currency has become the unilateral tool of the United States -- displacing multilateral action at the UN.
The US claims jurisdiction over any dollar-denominated transaction that takes place anywhere in the world. And most business and trading transactions in the world are denominated in dollars.
This essentially constitutes the financialization of the global order: The International Order depends more on control by the US Treasury and Federal Reserve than on the UN as before.
When did this start?
It started principally with Iran and it has been developed subsequently. In a book, “Treasury's War,” the tool of exclusion from the dollar-denominated global financial system is described as a “neutron bomb.” When a country is to be isolated, a "scarlet letter" is issued by the US Treasury that asserts that such-and-such bank is somehow suspected of being linked to a terrorist movement -- or of being involved in money laundering. The author of "Treasury's War" [Juan Zarate], who was the chief architect of modern financial warfare and a former senior Treasury and White House official, says this scarlet letter constitutes a more potent bomb than any military weapon.
This system of reliance on dollar hegemony no longer requires American dependency on the UN and hands control to the US Treasury overseen by Steve Cohen -- a reflection of the fact that the military tools have become less available to the US administration, for domestic political reasons.
But with Ukraine, we have entered a new era: We have a substantial, geostrategic conflict taking place, but it's effectively a geo-financial war between the US and Russia. We have the collapse in the oil prices; we have the currency wars; we have the contrived "shorting" -- selling short -- of the ruble. We have a geo-financial war, and what we are seeing as a consequence of this geo-financial war is that first of all, it has brought about a close alliance between Russia and China.
China understands that Russia constitutes the first domino; if Russia is to fall, China will be next. These two states are together moving to create a parallel financial system, disentangled from the Western financial system. It includes replicating SWIFT [Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication] and creating entities such as the Asian Development Bank. One of the principal tools in the hands of Washington to control the global system was always the International Monetary Fund [IMF].
Nations have to go to the IMF to ask for financial help, when in difficulties, but recently it was China -- and not the IMF -- which bailed out Venezuela, Argentina and Russia as their currencies crashed. China became concerned when the ruble crashed on Dec. 16-17, and intervened to halt a run on the currency. The IMF and the World Bank were no longer at the center of the global financial order. They had been displaced by China.
What would you say about the prospects of success of this new order?
It is too early to say that it will be successful, but it is a very important shift that is taking place. It has already started to have an effect. Take Russia: European and American leaders thought that Russia would weaken because of sanctions and the fall of the ruble, but China intervened and stopped the collapse in the ruble. In short, China is operating as a backstop to a financial system that is in the process of shifting dramatically away from Western control. And it affects the Middle East.
Why does it affect the Middle East?
Because the consequences of these oil and currency wars are influencing other countries -- many energy producers in the Middle East and elsewhere and emerging markets have seen their currencies crash as the dollar gets stronger. There is a huge move of capital out of emerging markets and out of Middle Eastern states whose currencies consequently have been adversely affected. For the first time, too, we see the end of the petro-dollar as a system for recirculating oil revenues to Wall Street.
For the first time, it has turned negative: It is sucking liquidity out from Wall Street, not putting it in. The fall in the price of oil has suddenly created huge financial turbulence, which is endangering the global financial system.
Why has the oil price dropped?
There was a decision by Saudi Arabia to reduce the price of oil for two reasons: to hurt Iran and to put pressure on Russia to change its stance and drop its support for President [Bashar al-]Assad. The Saudi determination to get rid of Assad remains extremely strong in Riyadh. They only reduced output by 100,000 barrels a day in the first month, and then it started an avalanche: The market had been artificially inflated by the oil companies lending crude oil to financial investors who want a hedge against inflation and currency fluctuations.
Investors were borrowing physical oil, which made them feel safe, and knew that the oil companies would eventually repurchase the physical oil from them in due time. With the fall of the price of oil, all of this purely investment demand vanished, and the price dropped further. One sees something similar in the gold market, where only 10 percent of gold transactions involve the transfer of ownership of actual gold. The other 90 percent are simply paper bets on the price of gold, but which never result in the purchase or sale of actual gold.