Making Use of the “Oil Weapon”: Western Industrialized Countries and Arab Petropolitics in 1973–1974




A thorough understanding of the Arab oil-embargo and production cuts of 1973/74 is obscured by attempts to determine its “success“ or “failure“ on the basis of a simplistic sender/target model. By contrast, this article analyzes the embargo as a communicative process and explores how both the embargoing and the embargoed countries constantly tried to define the contents, purpose, and legitimacy of the measures. Apart from its initially stated goal of pressuring the United States, Western Europe, and Japan to support the Arab countries in the conflict with Israel, various actors in the Arab as well as in the Western world used the embargo for a multitude of different purposes. Their largely symbolic interaction is not secondary for an understanding of the historical significance of the embargo, but the attempts to make use of the “oil-weapon” constituted its very meaning.


After the beginning of the Yom Kippur War between Egypt, Syria, and Israel in October 1973, the Organization of Arab Petrol Exporting Countries (OAPEC) announced significant cuts in their oil production to be implemented every successive month “until such time as total evacuation of Israeli forces from all Arab territory occupied during the June 1967 war is completed, and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are restored.”1 Also fully embargoing the United States and the Netherlands, they used what was commonly called the “oil weapon” in order to force economically powerful countries to comply with their political demands. For many observers at the time the translation of “oil power” into politics marked a watershed in history, signifying the growing dependency of industrialized nations on foreign oil and a power shift in the global economy.2 In March 1974, when OAPEC finally lifted the embargo regime, Israeli forces had neither withdrawn from the occupied territories nor was there a clear sign of an implementation of UN Resolution 242 demanding this withdrawal. As the oil embargo did not achieve its initial goal, political scientists soon considered it a failure. Since the Arab oil-producing countries had been in an exceptionally good position to implement an embargo on raw materials, its failure was even seen as a paradigm case for the conventional wisdom that in a sufficiently internationalized economic world “embargoes never work.”

In the following article, I will challenge the understanding of the Arab oil embargo as a failure not by arguing—as others have done3—that it was in fact a success, but rather by questioning the notion of the success or failure of the oil embargo altogether. Analyzing embargoes or economic sanctions in general, and the Arab oil embargo in particular, a simple sender/target model that judges the success of an embargo by the degree to which the embargoer realizes the initially formulated aims and the embargoed complies with the demands is not very useful. Rather, such a perspective precludes a thorough historical understanding of the workings of the oil embargo. To confine the idea of a successfully functioning embargo to the initial declaration or even motivation of the embargoer neglects the multiple ways in which the embargo works and can be used by both the embargoer and the embargoed in order to achieve various goals. Far from being a passive victim of economic coercion and “oil power,” the embargoed countries used a great number of strategies not only to circumvent the material effects of the lack of oil but also to redefine the purpose, legitimacy, and success of the embargo.

Focusing the analysis on the core months of the embargo from October 1973 to March 1974, I will concentrate on the questions how the “oil weapon” was employed and who used it in order to achieve which goals. In other words, how did the government officials of the embargoing, as well as of the embargoed, countries define the embargo, position themselves toward it, and try to make use of it for their political purposes? This perspective necessarily lays greater emphasis on the symbolic dimension of the embargo than on its material workings that have already received considerable attention in contemporary as well as in historical studies of the oil crisis.4 In order to justify this shift of attention, I will first clarify the central terms and introduce the main approaches toward embargoes in general and the history of the Arab oil embargo in particular. After a short description of the implementation and communication of the embargo, I will then analyze how the OAPEC countries used the “oil weapon” and changed its objectives during the embargo period. Subsequently, I will show how the embargoed countries tried to use the “oil weapon” in their own interests as well, before finally summarizing how the oil embargo worked as a means of political communication.

understanding embargoes and the “oil weapon”

In general, an embargo can be defined as the “prohibition by a country or countries of the export of certain kinds of goods as a reprisal action designed to coerce political policy shifts or to injure a target nation for taking a political stand.”5 Like economic sanctions that are imposed in order to force states to observe international obligations, embargoes translate economic power into international politics.6 Political scientists seeking to determine the effectiveness of embargoes as policy instruments usually presuppose a sender/target model: a sender, that is a state or a group of states, prohibits the export of certain goods to a target—again a state or a group of states—with the goal of forcing the target to change certain policies.7 On the basis of this model, embargoes have been largely ineffective: according to optimistic estimates, only one out of three economic sanctions achieves its goal and in more pessimistic accounts the success rate lies only at five percent.8 Considering the overall ineffectiveness of economic sanctions and embargoes, it is surprising that their number has increased since the end of World War II.9

The growing appeal of embargoes in political practice has led to their reappraisal in political science. To begin with, negative evaluations of embargoes are biased since they consider only embargoes that were actually implemented after embargo threats had failed. Moreover, diverting from the simplistic model, newer studies emphasize that apart from the initially stated goal “there is always a diversity of objectives against which success or failure may be measured”—secondary objectives “relating to the status, behavior and expectations of the government(s) imposing the sanctions” are generally at play as well as tertiary objectives that concern “broader international considerations.”10 Furthermore, an embargo often has a performative or expressive dimension that can coincide with its announcement and is not easily measurable.11 Finally, ascertaining the success of an embargo often depends on counterfactual reasoning which is always highly contentious.12

A simple sender/target model, according to which the embargoing government has the active role of defining the aims and methods of the embargo while the embargoed is passive, being able to choose only between resilience and compliance, cannot account for the plurality and variability of goals.13 Especially the symbolic and expressive dimensions of an embargo can be defined and redefined not only by the embargoer but also by the embargoed. In order to account for these aspects, it is more illuminating to treat embargoes as communicative acts that create a situation of “double contingency:” they destroy communicative routines and establish a situation of uncertainty in which all actors try to anticipate the others' actions and project their own possible reactions accordingly until new routines are established.14 Embargoes occur because perfect information can never be obtained, and it is unclear how the target will react.15 They are open communicative processes in which the so-called target countries are not confined to passivity but try to define the material workings, symbolic meaning, and overall effectiveness of the embargo.

A short glance at the literature on the Arab oil embargo can expose the limits of the sender/target-model. According to Roy Licklider, the employment of the “oil weapon” was unsuccessful since it did not coerce the target nations to change their policies with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Analyzing the reactions in the Netherlands, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States, Licklider argues that there was no immediate but only a long-term change in the target countries' policies vis-à-vis the Arab world. Attributing this change to the newly acquired Arab wealth because of the oil price increase that was implemented by the Organization of Petrol Exporting Countries (OPEC) as a whole, Licklider concludes that the embargo was a failure.16

By contrast, M. S. Daoudi and M. S. Dajani argue that the success or failure of the embargo cannot be measured against the declared aim of the implementation of UN Resolution 242.17 According to them, the embargo achieved several other aims: the restoration of Arab self-confidence, a rapid peace settlement, and a change of attitudes toward the Arab countries in the Western world.18 Accordingly, OAPEC historian Abdulaziz Al-Sowayegh concludes in his study on Arab Petropolitics that “during 1973 the members of OAPEC successfully demonstrated their ability to use oil as an instrument of international relations to articulate Arab interests and to achieve Arab objectives.”19 Even some Western scholars agree that “the production cuts and an effective embargo shocked the industrialized states” and that the Arab states lifted the embargo against the United States when they observed changes in the U.S. policy toward the Near East.20

Distinguishing between “evil-minded blackmail” and “conscious energy policy,” Jens Hohensee holds the view that, despite failing on the material level, the embargo partly realized its political objectives.21 This position reflects a wide consensus that existed already among contemporary experts that for several reasons the embargo and production cuts did not affect the oil supplies in the target countries as significantly as expected. First, despite the embargo, oil from certain Arab states still reached the embargoed countries; secondly, the multinational oil companies diverted non-Arab oil to embargoed countries in order to spread the possible damage evenly; thirdly, conservation measures in the embargoed countries were surprisingly effective; and finally, the winter of 1973–74 was very mild.22 Yet, in combination with the oil price increases, the production cuts had a significant impact on the main consumer countries, Hans Maull—among others—argued, prompting them to reconsider their energy policies as well as their policies toward the Arab world.23

Historiographical assessments of this broader complex of production cuts and oil-price increases differ. On the one hand, Daniel Yergin suggests in his epic history of the oil industry that the “oil weapon” had an “impact not merely convincing, but overwhelming, and far greater than even its proponents might have dared to expect. It had recast the alignments in the Middle East and the entire world. It had transformed world oil and the relations between producers and consumers, and it had remade the international economy.”24 On the other hand, Fiona Venn argues that, contrary to the exaggerated expectations of contemporaries, the “oil weapon” did not alter the global political economy but only accelerated trends that had been visible already before 1973.25 Analyzing the communicative processes that constituted the embargo, I will try to present a more nuanced picture of the workings and significance of the “oil weapon,” avoiding the simple dichotomy of success or failure.

firing the “oil weapon” and communicating the embargo

Various actors had used the “oil weapon” before the oil ministers of OAPEC (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain) announced production cuts of at least 5 percent for each successive month at their conference in Kuwait on October 17, 1973. The more radical members of OAPEC, such as Iraq, had repeatedly asserted that they were ready to employ the “oil weapon” in order to enhance their policy objectives. These were idle threats because King Faisal was known to hold the view that “oil and politics do not mix,” and any embargo attempt would have been meaningless without the participation of Saudi Arabia that had ample spare production capacity. Yet, in April 1973, the Saudi Arabian oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani warned American officials that his country might not be willing to expand its production if the United States continued to support Israel and reiterated this warning in in public.26 King Faisal asked the American oil companies to exert pressure on their government and indeed, worrying about their stakes in the Middle East, oil companies amplified Arab warnings. In an advertisement on June 21, 1973 in the New York Times, Mobil Oil demanded a closer cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Iran because America needed the oil more urgently than these states needed the money.27 Standard Oil of California asked its shareholders to support better relations with the Arab world, and the president of Texaco urged a revision of U.S. policy toward the Middle East.28 At the end of August and the beginning of September 1973, public warnings by Saudi Arabian officials and King Faisal himself became more concrete, now threatening not only with freezing but with reducing the oil production.29

For a number of energy experts in the Western world, the threat of an oil embargo had become imminent in the late 1960s because of two intersecting processes. On the one hand, more and more developing countries claimed sovereignty over the use and profits of their natural resources. Since its foundation in 1960, OPEC countries had been particularly successful in revising the earlier concessions and the pricing system in their favor. In the Tehran and Tripoli agreements of 1971, they managed to raise the posted price of oil significantly, which seemed to indicate the shift from a consumers' to a sellers' market. On the other hand, the basis for this shift lay in the unexpectedly fast-growing demand for oil in the Western industrialized countries during the postwar economic boom. While industrialized countries became more dependent on the continuous flow of oil and, thus, vulnerable to interruptions of supply, the U.S. government informed its allies in the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) Oil Policy Committee that it had lost its surplus production capacity. Unlike during the embargo in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967, it would not be able to counter an Arab oil embargo by increasing its own production and supplying its allies with surplus oil.30 In the United States, especially the State Department and its energy expert James Akins warned within the administration and in public of an impending oil embargo demanding a reform of the energy sector.31 After the onset of the Yom Kippur War, information about a possible embargo was ambiguous: even though threats became more frequent, some experts argued that the war actually reduced the risk of an embargo because it had already curtailed the flow of oil from the Middle East.32

The declaration OAPEC issued on October 17 had been the product of long discussions among Arab experts concerning the best design of the “oil weapon.” The result was a complex mechanism that should not hurt their own economies, while simultaneously allowing for escalation and de-escalation.33 The determination of the degree of the production cuts was left to the individual countries as long as it was at least 5 percent in relation to the previous month. Moreover, friendly states that “extended or may in the future extend effective concrete assistance to the Arabs” were to be exempt from the restrictions.34 The justification of the measures was twofold. On the one hand, the communiqué adopted the scarcity discourse of the time arguing that Arab countries had only a limited amount of oil that had been produced at a higher rate than was economically reasonable; in their words, they had been “sacrificing their own interest in the service of international cooperation” out of courtesy to the consuming countries.35 On the other hand, OAPEC noted an Israeli aggression against the Arab states and the failure of the international community to force Israel to leave the occupied territories while some countries still provided substantial support to Israel. They expressed that, therefore, they had been “induced to take a decision to discontinue their economic sacrifices in producing quantities of their wasting oil assets in excess of what would be justified by domestic economic considerations, unless the international community hastens to rectify matters by compelling Israel to withdraw from our occupied territory, as well as letting the US know the heavy price which the big industrial countries are having to pay as a result of America's blind and unlimited support for Israel.”36 Even though the “oil weapon” was supposed to influence, above all, the United States, it was also directed at the other industrial countries in order to force them to take a pro-Arab position against Israel and to influence the United States. While Saudi Arabia cut back 20 percent of its production, most other countries opted for an initial cutback of 10 percent. After President Richard Nixon announced a $1 billion aid program to Israel, they declared a full embargo against the United States and the Netherlands, which was also considered to be too pro-Israeli. Hence, the overall cutback in November was even bigger than expected.37

Once the production cuts and the embargo had been declared, a communicative process started in which many participants—the national governments as well as international organizations—tried to use the measures for their own purposes. In order to influence the workings of the embargo and their own position within it, they used the traditional channels of diplomacy. The foreign ministries of the industrialized nations diligently gathered information concerning the intentions and strategies of the Arab countries,38 and most governments sent high-ranking delegations to the oil-producing states in order to secure their oil supplies. OAPEC, in turn, sent the Saudi Arabian oil minister Yamani and his Algerian colleague Belaid Abdessalam to the capitals of the oil-consuming countries in order to communicate the Arab position. Moreover, since it was an act of symbolic policy, the embargo was communicated to a large extent via the media in newspaper articles as well as on the radio and on television. Above all, there were three press services, the Middle East Economic Survey, The Petroleum Press Service, and the Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, which ensured the global communication of the embargo. Summarizing oil-related news from all over the world, they were widely read by executives in the oil industry, government officials, and oil experts worldwide. Communications via diplomatic channels and the media offered various opportunities for all participants to influence the workings and the meaning of the embargo, sometimes mutually enforcing and sometimes undermining each other.

adjusting objectives and securing success—arab uses of the “oil weapon”

On the Arab side, there were at least three different voices publicly interpreting and using the “oil weapon:” the official statements by the OAPEC and the Arab summits; the moderate members of OAPEC, above all Saudi Arabia; and the radicals, such as Iraq and Libya. The most striking feature of the interpretations of the embargo by OAPEC and its dominant moderate members was probably the language of passivity and regret. As quoted above, they pictured themselves as being “induced” or, as Prince Sa'ud al Faisal of Saudi Arabia put it in the Beirut daily Al Anwar on November 13, “obliged” to use the “oil weapon” in order to “arouse the consciousness of Europe and America.”39 The Kuwaiti Finance and Oil Minister ‘Abd al-Rahman al-’Atiqi even refused to use the term “oil weapon,” because “we are not using a weapon; we are only trying to tell the world that we possess an exhaustible resource and we have been producing this resource in order to satisfy the world's growing demand for it and to enable others to live a comfortable life, while for 25 years we have suffered from backwardness because we devoted our wealth to buying arms instead of using it for development.”40 Both statements show a clear understanding that, apart from the concrete workings of the embargo and the withholding of oil, it was a communicative process in which conceptual framings were essential. Moreover, they indicate a slight shift in the objective, even in the early stage of the embargo, toward attracting public attention for the situation of the Arab countries or, as Yamani put it, toward creating the ”right political atmosphere” in the industrialized world.41 Since the right political atmosphere was needed for the implementation of UN Resolution 242, this was rather a secondary objective than a new primary objective.

As it deemed public opinion to be essential to the embargo's success, OAPEC was eager not to lose the interpretative control of the embargo measures. On November 14, it published a one-page advertisement in the Washington Post, explaining the embargo to the American public.42 Using mostly the same text as in the original communiqué, OAPEC emphasized that the embargo was directed against the governments of the countries that were not helping the Arabs to restore their rights by implementing UN Resolution 242 but not against the peoples with whom they wanted to entertain friendly relations: “It is with deep regret that the Arab countries found it necessary to take this decision which is bound to bring suffering to the peoples of the countries concerned.” But, simultaneously, they pointed out that the United States themselves often used embargoes as means of foreign policy. In a similar advertisement in the Guardian, they emphasized that friendly countries had nothing to fear from the production cutback. When in December 1973 the editor of the Petroleum Press Service, Stanley Tucker, published an article on the embargo calling it a “Dangerous Weapon,” arguing that “a handful of governments have arrogated to themselves the right to damage the lives of millions of innocent people,” OAPEC Secretary General Ali Attiga replied to the accusation with a long letter. Attiga maintained that the causal analysis of the present situation could not stop with the Arab declaration of the embargo, because this had been an act of self-defense in response to Israeli aggression to which there had been “no alternative.” In his view, thus, “the immediate cause of the present fuel shortage in Europe, Japan and America [was] the occupation of Arab territories by Israel.”43 Positioning itself as the victim that had to make use of all means available to restore its rights, OAPEC tried to counter Western strategies to blame the organization as the initiator of an unjust and unlawful aggression against innocent people—a debate that was conducted not only on a moral but also on a legal level.44

In order to prevent other countries from using the “oil weapon” against its initiators by publicly emphasizing its immorality and aggressiveness, Yamani and Abdessallam traveled to Western capital cities explaining the Arab position to the governments and the public.45 While being firm with respect to the central demands of OAPEC—the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories—Yamani often used moral arguments concerning the plight of the Arab peoples and emphasized the reluctance with which they had been forced to use the “oil weapon.”46 As he put it on NBC's Meet the Press on December 9, “So we hate to use oil as a weapon and I don't think we will ever use it again.”47 In particular, Yamani always highlighted that the “oil weapon” had not only the negative dimension of punishing countries for being hostile or neutral with respect to the Arab cause but also the positive aspect of delivering enough oil to friendly nations: “we pursue a policy of ‘stick and carrot’ or more clearly a policy of ‘threats and promises’.”48 In the course of the embargo this second dimension became more and more important.

Among OAPEC's members, there were also different voices that assumed a more active and aggressive stance. Not participating in the overall production cuts because they would hurt Europe more than the United States, the Iraqi government advocated the use of all possible “weapons to undermine the strength of the enemy,” stressing the war-like state of the conflict.49 As Vice President of Iraq's Revolutionary Council, Saddam Hussein declared on December 20 in the Baghdad daily al-Thaurah, Iraq considered the production cuts too weak. So far, he suggested, the embargo had only provided Israel with an excuse to continue its policy, while the “true and successful way to use oil as a weapon against America and the Zionist enemy is to nationalize American oil interests and the interests of any country standing by the enemy.”50 At the beginning of the embargo, announcements by the Libyan government under Muammar al-Gaddafi sounded even more aggressive and the threats more severe: “we've made all the preparations—and so have the other Arabs—to deprive Europe completely of oil. We shall ruin your industries as well as your trade with the Arab world. . . . we are determined to hit America, if necessary by striking Europe.”51 Threatening Germany, in particular, with withholding oil supplies in late October and early November 1973, Libyan government officials on the surface encouraged the position of OAPEC but simultaneously gave the embargo a new meaning, trying to connect it to weapons sales: “Give me arms and I will give you oil again,” declared Prime Minister 'Abd al-Salam Jallud in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, issuing a “warning, a last warning, before it's too late” to the Europeans to conduct a pro-Arab policy.52

At the OAPEC summits, however, not the radicals but the moderate forces around Saudi Arabia gained the majority accomplishing a relaxation of the embargo in several steps, softening its implementation and modifying the definition of its objectives. In response to a declaration by the European Community (EC) that supported a peace settlement on the basis of UN Resolution 242, OAPEC did not apply the December production cuts to Europe. On December 8, the Arab petrol-exporting countries gave up their initial position that the embargo would only be lifted after the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops: “If agreement is reached on withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, foremost amongst them Jerusalem, in accordance with a timetable which Israel agrees to and whose implementation is guaranteed by the United States, the embargo on exports to the United States will be lifted as soon as the withdrawal program begins.”53 At the meeting on December 24–25, OAPEC decided that Japan and Belgium would be categorized as friendly states because they had supported the Arab position. Moreover, the oil production should be lifted again to the level of 85 percent of the September production.54 On March 18, finally the Arab oil states classified Germany and Italy as friendly states and lifted the embargo against the United States after they had “reassessed the results of the Arab oil measures in the light of their basic objective which is to draw world attention to the Arab question in order to create an atmosphere conducive to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242.”55

Apart from the official reasoning that the embargo had established the strength of the Arab bargaining position and induced the industrialized countries to negotiate, two factors seem to have been decisive for the incremental softening of the embargo measures and the shift of primary objectives. On the one hand, on a material level the embargo was not as effective as had been envisioned: Arab oil “leaked” from several countries to the West,56 conservation measures and the mild winter significantly reduced oil consumption, and OAPEC had to observe how the multinational oil companies spread the burden more or less evenly since it had no control over the downstream operations. Thus, experts were doubtful whether the “oil weapon” could actually reach its goal even if prolonged. On the other hand, there was the fear that the embargo might be counterproductive, causing a world economic crisis that would affect Arab countries as well, straining the economic relations with the consuming countries, or reducing OAPEC's share on the world oil and energy market.57

Probably as a result of these considerations, less than a month after the declaration of the embargo, the Saudi Arabian government let the U.S. Department of State know unofficially that “complete withdrawal” might not be the only condition under which a lifting of the embargo would be possible and that it was looking for a way out of the “uncomfortable confrontation.”58 For two reasons, this position could not be formulated in public where Saudi officials still adhered to the initial embargo formula.59 There was pressure from more radical Arab governments, and the logic of the embargo as a means of symbolic communication over political strength and power made it impossible for the embargoer to suddenly shift positions because it would have looked like a defeat. Accordingly, OAPEC made great intellectual and rhetorical efforts to deny the ineffectiveness of the embargo, to emphasize the success of the “oil weapon,” and to make the modification of its position look coherent. The easing of the oil cutbacks in December 1973 was supposed to be “fully in keeping with the philosophy of the nine Arab countries concerned . . . to use oil as an instrument of flexible persuasion rather than as a bludgeon to inflict irreversible damage on the economies of friendly or neutral states.”60 Simultaneously, Yamani declared in an interview with Newsweek that the embargo was “a real strong weapon,” and a few weeks later he categorically denied statements attributed to him that apparently conceded that the embargo against the United States and the Netherlands had been ineffective.61 Consequently, Yamani asserted in March that the lifting of the embargo would be “completely in line with our previous actions.”62 In order to establish the success of the “oil weapon,” Yamani developed the counterfactual argument that it had prevented Israel from mobilizing the industrial countries against the Arabs. Others defined the embargo as successful because it had proved the possibility of collaborative Arab action and, thereby, given OAPEC a stronger position within the international community. Besides, changes in American foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinian question were highlighted and amplified. In general, most Arab officials changed the primary objective of the embargo from the implementation of UN Resolution 242 toward the creation of a pro-Arab atmosphere in the Western world. Moreover, they defined the purpose as contributing to a fundamental transformation of the relationship between oil producing and consuming countries. In an interview on CBS, the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saqqaf described the embargo in February 1974 as a means to make “bankers, the media people and others” aware of the “reality of our problem” and expressed his satisfaction with the results of these attempts to change public opinion.63

Moreover, the goal of the “oil weapon” changed when it was used as a means within the broader context of debates concerning the transformation of the global economic exchange processes and the establishment of a “New International Economic Order.” Since the beginning of the 1960s the so-called developing countries had tried to use the forum of the United Nations in order to revise basic structures of the international economy that worked to their disadvantage. Above all, the “third world” countries that were organized in the Group of 77 wanted to acquire permanent sovereignty over their natural resources via negotiations with industrialized countries within the newly established United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).64 Shortly before the oil embargo, the nonaligned movement met at a summit in Algiers expressing its distress with theprogress of these negotiations and calling for a special session of the UN General Assembly in order to discuss the principles of a New International Economic Order. The imposition of the oil embargo and the accelerating events of the following months gave new momentum to their demands.65

The current head of the nonaligned movement, the Algerian chief of state, Houari Boumediène, clearly recognized that the “oil war . . . had the great merit of demonstrating in a striking manner the degree of interdependence which exists between countries.” For him the use of the “oil weapon” was not confined to the Arab-Israeli conflict about the rights of the Palestinian people; Boumediène conceptualized it as one element within the global struggle of the developing world for fairer terms of trade and structural revisions of the international economic system: “The problem facing the world is much larger than oil alone or even raw materials: it concerns the relations between developed countries and the others in every field. This is the heart of the question.”66 When in January 1974 President Nixon invited consuming countries to Washington in order to discuss common energy strategies, and the French government called for an international conference on energy, Boumediène requested that the UN secretary-general should arrange a special session of the General Assembly in order to situate discussions concerning oil and energy within the context of a fundamental transformation of international economic relations.67 At the sixth special session that took place in April and May 1974, the Group of 77 managed to pass a “Declaration” and a “Programme of Action on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order” against the votes of the Western industrialized countries. The nonbinding resolution, essentially confirmed in the “Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States” that passed the UN General Assembly in December 1974, not only gave every country full sovereignty over its natural resources and the right to form producers' associations, but it also aimed at eliminating unjust economic structures resulting from colonial rule and creating equal opportunities for both developing and developed countries, ultimately narrowing the differences in prosperity.68

Positioning themselves as the vanguard in the global fight of the “third world” for a New International Economic Order, the oil-producing countries tried to avoid tensions within the Group of 77 that arose from the fact that other developing countries were negatively affected by their use of the “oil weapon.” Despite being generally classified as “friendly” nations that should receive the same amount of oil as before the embargo, the trade balances of developing countries without oil suffered from higher oil prices. In order to maintain “third-world” solidarity OAPEC countries announced the establishment of an Arab Bank for African Development in December 1973.69 Simultaneously industrialized countries tried to exploit this delicate predicament, separating developing countries with plenty of resources from those who did not have any. Already in November 1973, for example, German diplomats tried to undermine “third world” solidarity with OAPEC by pointing out that the production cuts and oil price rises might negatively affect the willingness and ability of industrialized countries to provide developmental aid to the least developed countries.70 Similarly, at the sixth special session of the UN General Assembly, Henry Kissinger replied to Houari Boumediène's opening speech that the opposition between a rich north and a poor south was overly simplistic since—due to the recent price hikes on the oil market—there were huge differences in wealth between developing countries that were energy producers and those that were energy consumers.71

While the debates on the New International Economic Order and better terms of trade mainly focused on increasing the price of oil and other raw materials, the embargo and the production cuts were also important as they manifested the “third world's” claim of permanent sovereignty over natural resources. OPEC's success against economically and militarily more powerful nations gave rise to worries about a dawning age of resource conflicts between the north and south in which there could be “one, two, many OPECs.” Especially Kissinger's former adviser on international economic affairs, C. Fred Bergsten, emphasized the “threat from the third world” that had become imminent in the age of détente and declining superpower confrontation.72

moving targets

Due to the communicative logic of the embargo, the embargoing countries could not openly admit that their actions had been ineffective on a material level or a failure with respect to the achievement of the primary objectives. Consequently, they adjusted the goals and objectives throughout the duration of the embargo in order to claim its success, to prevent a loss of credibility, and to sustain their “oil power” for future bargaining situations. Yet, even for the embargoed countries, it could be difficult and risky to state the ineffectiveness of the embargo. As the case of the Netherlands shows, they also made the embargo appear to work: Being classified as a hostile state and hence subject to the full embargo, it looked as if the Netherlands would be hit harder by Arab petropolitics than the other European states. Therefore, the Dutch government implemented comparatively strong measures to reduce oil consumption restricting oil exports, introducing car-free Sundays and speed limits already in November.73 Since tanker journeys from the Middle East to Rotterdam took about four weeks, these measures were introduced in the expectation of a loss of supply before it actually occurred. In December, fearing an even more severe lack of oil, the Dutch government developed a complicated rationing system that was postponed several times but then introduced for three weeks starting from January 12, 1974.74 At that time, it had already become evident that the decline in oil supplies was not as bad as it had been anticipated in December. Expecting oil price rises in the winter, the oil firms had increased their stocks in the Netherlands over the course of 1973 and, moreover, they redirected nonembargoed oil to Rotterdam.75 Moreover, the mild winter and voluntary conservation measures reduced demand. Despite the information about a better supply situation, the government carried out the rationing scheme because, as Foreign Minister Max van der Stoel argued at a cabinet meeting, “calling off rationing would have a provocative effect on the Arab states, since it would amount to a declaration . . . that the embargo did not work.”76

For several reasons it could be advantageous even for embargoed states to put up the façade of a working embargo. First, the belief in a widespread lack of oil could be used in order to motivate the domestic population to reduce energy consumption. The resulting decreases in demand, in turn, could improve the government's bargaining position. Second, on the international level, the government could use the suffering of the population in order to position itself as the victim of an unjustified aggression, trying to damage the reputation of the embargoer and to soften the embargo. Third, by appearing to be struck hard by the measures that were already implemented, one could prevent the embargoing states from taking more severe measures that might really hurt, such as further reduced supplies or even higher prices.77 Finally, even the embargoed country could not acknowledge that Arab oil still “leaked” into its supplies, because this endangered the source.78

Apart from the soft strategy of presenting oneself as the victim of an unjust aggression, embargoed states could also pursue a strategy of strength, trying to communicate to OAPEC that they would withstand even harder measures while suggesting that those, in turn, might hurt the embargoing countries themselves. Alluding to a rhetoric of blood, sweat, toil, and tears, for example the German chancellor, Willy Brandt, emphasized the willingness of the German people to make sacrifices before succumbing to economic pressure. In a meeting with the French prime minister, Pierre Messmer, at the end of November 1973, Brandt declared that he had told the Soviet ambassador to transmit his regards to his “Arab friends” and to remind them of the manpower and will to survive some European peoples had shown after the war, which they could easily use again in order to become independent of Arab oil by means of coal liquefaction. Brandt continued that it would be important not to show any “timid or whiny behavior” but to “declare calmly and confidently that one would endure . . . even some difficult years” in order to “bring the Arabs to their senses.”79

In general, the Arab oil ministers reacted in a rather relaxed manner to the consuming countries' search for alternative energy sources in order to reduce their oil dependence. When Nixon announced that “Project Independence” should make the United States energy self-sufficient by 1980, Yamani explained that this did not pose a threat to Saudi Arabian oil interests: because oil was a finite resource, the producing countries would need other forms of energy at some point as well, and, besides, he was sure that oil could not be fully substituted before the end of the century.80 OAPEC's reactions to threats of countermeasures, such as a military action to occupy the oil fields or a counterembargo, however, were more aggressive.

Despite the strategic alert of the U.S. military and British worries about an escalation of the conflict, the use of military force never became a concrete option during the oil crisis because of the potential confrontation with the Soviet Union.81 When U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger even alluded to the possibility of an intervention, however, the Arab side reacted with a rhetorical escalation threatening to set the oil wells on fire. Similarly, Yamani and other OAPEC spokesmen warned that a counterembargo, for example on food, would lead to a full economic war with disastrous effects for the oil-consuming states.82 Not because of these threats, but rather because of its apparent ineffectiveness, a food embargo was publicly discussed but not seriously considered within the administration.83 Yet, as even the public talk of American countermeasures provoked a rhetorical escalation on the Arab side, Nixon and Kissinger advised members of Congress at the end of November to remain silent on the issue.84 In general, the consuming nations were careful to avoid any action that might have provoked harsher Arab countermeasures. In his invitation of the major oil-consuming nations to the Washington Energy Conference in February 1974, Nixon emphasized that the aim of the conference was not to confront OPEC and announced a forthcoming conference with the producing nations as well. At the conference especially, the French government dissented from every move that could have been interpreted as a confrontation and might have evoked Arab resentment and counteraction.85

In contrast to the American multilateral strategy of coping with the energy crisis, others, above all the French government, pursued a bilateral approach. Like most of the other European governments, they developed an independent strategy to secure their oil supplies via bilateral trade agreements with the producing countries.86 In these negotiations, the countries affected by the embargo were not passive targets but actively influenced the material workings of the production cuts and their own oil supplies. This was even the case when, at first sight, the bargaining position was very weak as when Libya threatened to classify Germany as a hostile nation and to stop its oil deliveries.

After the OAPEC's declaration of the production cutbacks in mid-October, experts in the German foreign and economic ministries estimated that the supply situation was under control. But since 25 percent of Germany's oil supplies came from Libya, and the route of transport was short, they argued that a loss of the Libyan oil would have almost immediately constituted a severe problem for the German economy.87 Thus, at the end of October and the beginning of November, the German government used all diplomatic channels to determine the Libyan intentions, to ascertain what would be considered to be a sufficiently pro-Arab stance, and to influence the Libyans in order to avoid a full embargo. Not the least trying to appease the Libyans, the government protested vehemently against shipments of American weapons from German ports to Israel. Simultaneously, it used its good relations with the Egyptian president, Anwar al Sadat, asking him to influence Libya not to include the Federal Republic among the embargoed countries.88 Sadat followed the German demands, because he was fully aware of the symbolic dimension of the embargo issue: in return, he expected an official expression of German gratitude and a strong German support for a pro-Arab position at the coming conference of the Socialist International, which Golda Meir had called for.89 Therefore, on November 10, when the Libyan government publicly still formulated threats and demanded weapons for oil, the German Foreign Ministry was convinced that it had avoided the threat of a Libyan embargo.90 In these complex negotiations, three different governments used the embargo as a means of symbolic communication in order to improve their bargaining positions.

Even incidents that, at first sight, look like the simple compliance of helpless targets facing a severe embargo have a different dimension within the complex communication of the embargo.91 On November 6, the countries of the EC issued a statement that supported a peace settlement on the basis of UN Resolution 242, thereby taking a pro-Arab stance demanding an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. The U.S. government, above all Henry Kissinger, and many commentators in the contemporary press criticized this move as succumbing to a policy of force, severely weakening the bargaining position of the Western alliance. But, before issuing the declaration, the European governments had checked with members of OAPEC to find out what they would consider a sufficiently pro-Arab move in order to prevent further reductions of oil supplies or even a full embargo.92 For them the declaration was a comparatively easy measure to appease the Arab countries and to regain control over the embargo constellation increasing their scope of action. Now they could expect relaxations of the embargo and indeed, on November 18, OAPEC excluded Europe from the December production cuts: “In appreciation of the political stand taken by the European Common Market countries in their communiqué regarding the Middle East crisis, it has been decided not to implement the five percent reduction (in oil production) scheduled for the month of December as it applies to Europe only.”93 A similar interaction took place between Japan and the Arab countries, where—due to Japan's exclusive oil dependency on the Middle East—the Arab countries could formulate higher demands so that Japan even threatened “to reconsider its policy toward Israel.”94 Having done something in favor of the Arab countries, the advantage in the embargo negotiations could now be turned around: After Yamani and Abdessalam had met with officials at the Ministry of the Economy, Minister Hans Friderichs declared in a press conference that Germany would help the Arab world to industrialize and strengthen its economic ties with the region only if OAPEC expressed satisfaction with Germany's Middle East policies. Despite being among the targets of the production cuts, he tried to assume the initiative and to define the terms on which they should be negotiated.95

Among the fully embargoed countries, the United States most actively engaged in the process of redefining the meaning as well as the terms and objectives of the embargo. As a major oil-producing country that in 1972 imported only about 29 percent of its oil needs, of which only a relatively small part came from the Middle East, the United States was in a comparatively comfortable situation to endure the embargo and production cuts.96 While people in many areas of the United States were already facing a home-made “energy crisis” in 1972 and 1973, after the announcement of the OAPEC embargo the debate crystallized around the lack of Arab oil. White House officials were fully aware of the symbolic and communicative dimension of the energy issue, but they disagreed on how to deal with the embargo. Addressing the American public in televised “energy speeches,” President Nixon tried to divert the attention from the escalating Watergate scandal to the energy crisis. He wanted to use the embargo in order to demonstrate his capability of managing a crisis and leading the country at a time when his leadership was questioned not only by his opponents. Therefore, Nixon's goal was not only to end the embargo as soon as possible but also to be the one who announced its end to the American public.97

While Nixon thought that the “oil weapon” might ease his difficult political predicament, Henry Kissinger also had the idea that “we might even turn this crisis into a certain kind of an asset, if we could take a leadership position.”98 As Kissinger admitted openly in staff meetings, he was not very versed in oil and energy matters and saw the embargo as only secondary to the main goal of his diplomatic efforts, namely, to achieve a peace settlement in the Middle East. Yet, he had a very clear apprehension of the communicative situation that the embargo had created and its opportunities for sovereign power politics. Worried that the president's desire to publicly announce the end of the embargo soon might undermine his own efforts to negotiate from a position of strength, Kissinger warned Alexander Haig and Brent Scowcroft in November that “an attempt to set up meeting with Faisal in Washington is total insanity. Every Arab leader I have talked to so far has made it clear that it is far easier for them to ease pressures de facto than as public Arab policy. Only repeat only course that can work is course we are now on. Invitation to Faisal would be interpreted throughout Arab world as collapse. It would magnify, not reduce, Arab incentives to keep pressure on US via oil weapon.”99 Meanwhile, in his secret negotiations with King Faisal, Kissinger emphasized, on the one hand, the ease with which the United States could sustain the embargo economically and, on the other hand, their common interests that were, above all, to limit Soviet influence in the Middle East. The continuation of the embargo, he pointed out in November and December, might force him to halt his diplomatic efforts, which would open up space for the Soviet Union.100

In January 1974, Kissinger became increasingly annoyed by the president's desire for “tawdry PR gains,” his attempts to pressure Saudi Arabia, and to announce the end of the embargo. By contrast, Kissinger emphasized that “we have gotten were we have in this exercise by dealing from (or appearing to deal from) a position of strength.”101 He saw Sadat as the key figure to a reach a relaxation of the embargo and indeed, on January 19, received his assurance that the end of the embargo would come soon.102 Emphasizing that any public statement by American officials might “blow off the whole deal,” Kissinger was now open to Nixon's wish to integrate an announcement of the end of the embargo in his State of the Union Address and even worked on the concrete wording with him after they had received further assurance from Saudi Arabia.103 When the Saudi government withdrew its promise, Kissinger became angry and at least temporarily changed his strict separation of secret diplomacy and public statements.

Since the beginning of the oil embargo, Kissinger had tried to acquire public hegemony over the interpretation of the “oil weapon.” On the one hand, he defined the embargo in interviews as an unjust form of economic coercion. Already in November he maintained that it was inappropriate to exert economic pressure on the United States while he was conducting peace missions.104 On the other hand, he tried to redefine the substance and the goal of the embargo: in January, Kissinger claimed that the embargo had to be lifted when disengagement between the Israeli and Syrian forces was realized.105 After the unsuccessful negotiations over the end of the embargo before the State of the Union Address he—in his own words—“let loose a real blast” at a meeting of the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club in Washington declaring publicly that in his negotiations he had been “led to expect that progress on Israeli-Arab negotiations would lead to a lifting of the oil embargo.”106 Kissinger conceded that the imposition of the embargo in the heat of the conflict was understandable since “Arab nations had not yet seen the scope of the American diplomatic effort” that led to the “cease-fire—the six point agreement—the disengagement between Egypt and Israel.” But he described the maintenance of the embargo after these efforts as “a form of blackmail” that was “highly inappropriate.”107 Mentioning the promises that the embargo would end as soon as an agreement for troop disengagement was reached in public, Kissinger tried to define the terms of the embargo and to force the embargoing countries to act accordingly. Because of his diplomatic efforts, he now even possessed a lever against OAPEC's demands, threatening that a continuation of the embargo could not “but affect the attitude with which we would have to pursue our diplomacy” and might cause a termination of all diplomatic efforts.108 With Kissinger's peace initiatives being at least partly in the interest of some Arab states, the U.S. government greatly increased its scope of action and ceased to be a passive victim of the embargo because it could withdraw the favor again. As soon as the target countries—such as the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, or Japan—reacted to the embargo, they engaged in the communicative process of negotiating its contents andaim so that the embargoing countries lost complete control or perhaps even hegemony over the rules of the game.

the workings of the arab oil embargo

The Arab oil embargo worked, but it worked in multiple ways, because various actors tried to use the “oil weapon” for their own purposes. Since the embargo failed on the material level of depriving the target countries of oil, its symbolic level became more important. What the embargo actually was, its purpose and legitimacy, were defined in negotiations between the embargoing and the embargoed countries that sometimes involved other actors as well. The communicative process that constituted the embargo had its own rules that, at first sight, followed a logic of strength: just as Kissinger tried to avoid giving the impression that the United States was hit hard by the embargo and desperately trying to overcome it, the embargoing countries could not admit that the embargo was not functioning on the material level or even working to their own disadvantage so that they might no longer be able to maintain it. Both tried to negotiate from a position of strength in order to improve their positions for future bargaining situations.

Only pursuing a logic of strength, however, might have had counterproductive effects, as the case of the Netherlands clearly illustrates. Claiming that the embargo or the production cuts had severe effects could not only legitimize domestic policy changes in order to conserve energy and better one's bargaining position, but it could also prevent the embargoer from taking severer measures. Moreover, it could be used as an argumentative strategy to question the legitimacy of the embargo pointing at its negative consequences for innocent people. This was particularly suggestive when consuming countries referred to the effects of the oil price increases on developing countries in order to undermine “third-world” solidarity. For the embargoing countries a pure policy of strength insisting on the fulfillment of the initially stated demands would have precluded finding a way out of the embargo. The shift of objectives officially announced by OAPEC—from the implementation of UN Resolution 242 to the creation of a pro-Arab atmosphere—should neither be understood as a failure of the embargo nor taken at face value as an expression of its real purpose.109 Rather, the shift and hence the content and meaning of the embargo were the products of complex communicative interactions between the embargoing and the embargoed states. A simple sender-target model is not convincing because each move the target nations made, as for example the November 6 Declaration issued by the EC, changed the whole communicative constellation, often bringing them in a more advantageous position and demanding a reaction from the sender states.

The binary distinctions between success and failure or compliance and resilience are even less convincing because, once it was issued, the “oil weapon” could be used for various purposes. The countries organized in the Group of 77 saw the oil embargo as a strong argument for the establishment of a New International Economic Order and a paradigm case for “third-world” activism in the field of raw materials, while Nixon tried to use it in order to divert attention from Watergate and to present himself as a strong leader. Moreover, other actors in the industrialized countries used the oil embargo to legitimize domestic policy changes: environmentalists constructed the oil crisis as a warning foreshadowing the near end of the age of fossil fuels in order to convince people to use alternative energies or to lead less energy-consuming lives. By contrast, conservatives and advocates of the coal and atomic energy industries developed the opposite argument: because of the energy-crisis ecological considerations had to recede in order to secure economic growth.110

Whether the conclusions concerning the communicative constitution of the embargo involving both the embargoing and the embargoed countries hold for embargos in general or just for the Arab oil embargo remains to be proven. On the one hand, in the 1970s, the Arab oil producers were in an exceptionally good position to impose an embargo on oil but, on the other hand, they were also challenging an exceedingly powerful group of countries. Traditionally considered a weapon of the strong, the embargo challenged conventional notions about the global distribution of economic power at a time of worldwide economic upheavals. Incidentally, many contemporary observers talked of an Arab “oil boycott,” presumably since they deemed a boycott that is traditionally a weapon of the economically weak to be more appropriate for the oil-producing countries. The oil embargo featured prominently in contemporary debates about the global economic order and the future of the Western world because it coincided with the end of the postwar economic boom. While the “oil weapon” may not have played a causal role in these processes, the oil price hikes contributed to the economic crisis by straining the trade balances of oil-importing countries and disturbing the international financial markets after the end of the Bretton Woods system. As a salient feature, which was closely connected to the price hikes and actually fostered them, the embargo played a crucial role in the political and public debates of the 1970s and should feature prominently in historiographical analyses of that decade beyond the dichotomy of its alleged success or failure.


  • 1

    OAPEC, “Communiqué. Conference of Arab Oil Ministers,” in Jordan J. Paust and Albert Paul Blaustein, eds., The Arab Oil Weapon (Dobbs Ferry, NY, 1977), 42–43, 43. For critical comments and suggestions I thank Quinn Slobodian and the two anonymous reviewers of Diplomatic History.

  • 2

    Concerning the turning point thesis, see the discussion of the older literature in Fiona Venn, The Oil Crisis (London, 2002).

  • 3

    M. S. Daoudi and M. S. Dajani, Economic Sanctions: Ideals and Experience (London, 1983).

  • 4

    Raymond Vernon, ed., The Oil Crisis (New York, 1976); Hanns W. Maull, Oil and Influence: The Oil Weapon Examined (London, 1975); Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (New York, 1991); Venn, The Oil Crisis.

  • 5

    Daoudi and Dajani, Economic Sanctions, 8; Alan P. Dobson, US Economic Statecraft for Survival, 1933–1991: Of Sanctions, Embargoes, and Economic Warfare (London, 2002); David A. Baldwin, Economic Statecraft (Princeton, NJ, 1985); James Barber, “Economic Sanctions as a Policy Instrument,” International Affairs 55 (1979): 36784; Diane B. Kunz, “When Money Counts and Doesn't: Economic Power and Diplomatic Objectives,” Diplomatic History 18 (1994): 45162; R. T. Naylor, Economic Warfare: Sanctions, Embargo Busting, and Their Human Cost (Boston, MA, 2001).

  • 6

    Margaret P. Doxey, International Sanctions in Contemporary Perspective (Basingstoke, UK, 1987), 9.

  • 7

    See, for example, Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffry J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered. History and Current Policy (Washington, DC, 1985).

  • 8

    Dean Lacy, “A Theory of Economic Sanctions and Issue Linkage: The Roles of Preferences, Information, and Threats,” Journal of Politics 66 (2004): 2542, 27; Robert A. Doughty and Harold E. Raugh, Jr., “Embargoes in Historical Perspective,” Parameters 21 (1991): 2130; R. T. Naylor, Patriots and Profiteers: On Economic Warfare, Embargo Busting and State-Sponsored Crime (Toronto, 1999), ix.

  • 9

    Ibid.; Kunz, “When Money Counts and Doesn't.”

  • 10

    Barber, “Economic Sanctions,” 369, 373; Adrian U-Jin Ang and Dursun Peksen, “When Do Economic Sanctions Work? Asymmetric Perceptions, Issue Salience, and Outcomes,” Political Research Quarterly 60 (2007): 13545, 136.

  • 11

    Dobson, US Economic Statecraft, 287; Ang and Peksen, “When do Economic Sanctions Work?” 136.

  • 12

    Ibid., 286.

  • 13

    Lacy, “A Theory of Economic Sanctions.”

  • 14

    Niklas Luhmann, Soziale Systeme: Grundriß einer allgemeinen Theorie (Frankfurt/Main, Germany, 2001), 148–90.

  • 15

    Lacy, “A Theory of Economic Sanctions,” 27.

  • 16

    Roy Licklider, Political Power and the Arab Oil Weapon: The Experience of Five Industrial Nations (Berkeley, CA, 1988), 2f; see also the accounts in Hufbauer et al., Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, 340–47.

  • 17

    Daoudi and Dajani, Economic Sanctions, 107.

  • 18

    Ibid., 108.

  • 19

    Abdulaziz Al-Sowayegh, Arab Petropolitics (London, 1984), Preface.

  • 20

    John G. Clark, The Political Economy of World Energy: A Twentieth-Century Perspective (New York, 1990), 234–35.

  • 21

    Jens Hohensee, “Böswillige Erpressung oder bewußte Energiepolitik? Der Einsatz der Ölwaffe 1973/74 aus arabischer Sicht,” in Energie—Politik—Geschichte. Nationale und internationale Energiepolitik seit 1945, ed. Jens Hohensee and Michael Salewski (Stuttgart, Germany, 1993), 153–76.

  • 22

    Maull, Oil and Influence, 6; U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Subcommittee on Multinational Corporations, U.S. Oil Companies and the Arab Oil Embargo. The International Allocation of Constricted Supplies (Washington, DC, 197).

  • 23

    Maull, Oil and Influence, 1, 10.

  • 24

    Yergin, The Prize, 632. Similarly, concerning the importance in the United States: Karen R. Merrill, The Oil Crisis of 1973–1974: A Brief History with Documents (Boston, 2007), 22.

  • 25

    Venn, The Oil Crisis.

  • 26

    Saunders to Kissinger: Memorandum of Conversation with Yamani [April 17, 1973, 5 p.m.], May 2, 1973, Mandatory Review Opening 2007: Temporary Box Folder, box 8, Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, California (hereafter Nixon Library); Memo: Saunders/Quandt to Kissinger: Your Meeting with Saudi Minister Yamani and Prince Saud—Tuesday, April 7 at 5:00 p.m., April 17, 1973, Mandatory Review Opening 2007: Temporary Box Folder, box 7, Nixon Library; David B. Ottaway/Ronald Koven, “Saudis Tie Oil to U.S. Policy on Israel,”Washington Post, April 19, 1973, 1, 25.

  • 27

    Mobil Oil, “The U.S. Stake in Middle East peace: I,”New York Times, June 21, 1973, 30; Ronald Koven and David B. Ottaway, “U.S. Oil Nightmare. Worldwide Shortage,”Washington Post, June 17, 1973, 1, 14, 15.

  • 28

    Middle East Economic Survey 16, August 10, 1973, 16 (hereafter MEES); MEES 16, September 21, 1973.

  • 29

    Nicholas C. Proffitt, “Faisal's Threat,”Newsweek, September 10, 1973, 35–37.

  • 30

    OECD. Remarks by Dr. Wilson M. Laird. Director—Office of Oil and Gas. US Dept. of the Interior, September 8, 1970, POWE 63/642, National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew (hereafter NA UK).

  • 31

    Department of State: “The U.S. and the Impending Energy Crisis,” March 9, 1972, NSC, Subject Files, box 321, Nixon Library; James Akins, “The Oil Crisis. This Time the Wolf Is Here,” Foreign Affairs 51 (1973): 46290.

  • 32

    MEES ,16, October 12, 1973.

  • 33

    Quoted in MEES 16, October 19, 1973, 1–6 and i–iv; MEES 17, November 23, 1973, i–iii.

  • 34

    Quoted in MEES 16, October 19, 1973, iii.

  • 35


  • 36

    OAPEC, “Communiqué,” 43.

  • 37

    MEES 17, October 26, 1973, 1f.

  • 38

    [Hansheinrich] Kruse, Teilrunderlaß zur Erdölpolitik, Bonn, 17. Oktober 1973, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, Berlin (hereafter PA AA), Bestand 36, 104991.

  • 39

    Quoted in MEES 17, November 16, 1973, 6.

  • 40

    In the Kuwait daily al-Siyasah, November 8, 1973, quoted in MEES 17, November 16, 1973, 8.

  • 41

    Quoted in MEES 17, November 2, 1973, 6.

  • 42

    Ministry of Finance and Petroleum Kuwait, “An Open Letter to the American People,”Washington Post, November 14, 1973, A11; text in MEES 17, November 16, 1973, i–iii.

  • 43

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 28, 1973, iv. On January 25 and 26, 1974, Attiga used the same arguments at the Middle East Conference at the University of Toronto.

  • 44

    Jordan J. Paust and Albert Paul Blaustein, “The Arab Oil Weapon. A Threat to International Peace,” American Journal of International Law 68 (1974): 41039; Ibrahim Fahmy Ibrahim Shihata, “Destination Embargo of Arab Oil. Its Legality and International Law,” American Journal of International Law 68 (1974): 591627.

  • 45

    See the interview with Prince Sa'ud in MEES 17, November 16, 1973, 5: “Q: Israel is trying to exploit the use of the Arab oil weapon and its repercussions on the international plane. Are there plans to counter these attempts? A: The Arab Oil Ministers were aware of this aspect and took a decision to delegate the Saudi and Algerian Oil Ministers to explain the Arab embargo decision.”

  • 46

    [Sigismund Freiherr von] Braun, Bericht über den Besuch von Abdessalam und Yamani in Frankreich, November 28, 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104992; see also “‘Auf König Faisal können Sie sich verlassen.’ Saudi Arabiens Ölminister Ahmed Saki el-Jamani über die arabische Ölstrategie,”Der Spiegel, December 3, 1973, 35–44.

  • 47

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 21, 1973, ii.

  • 48

    Quoted in MEES 17, March 15, 1974, 10.

  • 49

    Quoted in MEES 17, October 26, 1973; [Ekkehard] Eickhoff: Fernschreiben zur irakischen Reaktion auf Kuwait-Konferenz, Bagdad, 18. Oktober 1973; [Ekkehard] Eickhoff, Telegramm zur irakischen Haltung, Bagdad, 21. Oktober 1973; Löschner, Bericht über die irakische Sicht auf die Ölwaffe, 22. Dezember 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36 (Referat 310), 104991.

  • 50

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 28, 1973, 16. Moreover, Iraq advocated the withdrawal of funds from American banks; see “The Algiers Summit Conference,” MERIP Reports 23 (1973): 1316.

  • 51

    Interview with Gaddafi in Le Monde, October 23, 1973, translation in MEES 17, October 26, 1973, 11.

  • 52

    “Europa muß den Arabern Waffen liefern. Der libysche Regierungschef Abd el-Salam Dschallud über Erdöl und Israel,”Der Spiegel, November 12, 197, 120–28. Jallud demanded military aid as a condition of oil deliveries even more bluntly in an interview with al-Anwar; see MEES 17, November 16, 1973, 13–14.

  • 53

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 14, 1973, 4.

  • 54

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 28, 1973, 11.

  • 55

    Quoted in MEES 17, April 17, 1974, 6f.

  • 56

    “A Political Evaluation of the Arab Oil Embargo,” MERIP Reports 28 (1974): 2325; Maull, Oil and Influence, 12; [Helmut Richard] Matthias, Schreiben zur Erdöleinfuhr in die USA während des Embargos, 11. April 1974, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104993.

  • 57

    [Gerhard] Moltmann, Fernschreiben zur arabischen Gipfelkonferenz in Algier, 29. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104992.

  • 58

    See Telegram from Kissinger to Scowcroft for the President, November 16, 1973, NSC-Files, HAK Office Files, box 41, Nixon Library; Memo: Saunders to Kissinger: Saudi Position on Lifting the Oil Embargo, February 6, 1974, NSC Files, Country Files, ME, 2—Saudi Arabia, box 631 [Mandatory Review Opening 2007: Temporary Box Folder, box 10], Nixon Library.

  • 59

    See Prince Sa'ud in al-Anwar on 13 November, MEES 17, November 16, 1973, 6; Yamani on Danish television on 22 November, MEES 17, November 23, 1973, 11; or King Faisal in al-Anwar and the Kairo daily al-Jumhuriyah, MEES 17, November 30, 1973, 10.

  • 60

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 28, 1973, 10.

  • 61

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 21, 1973, Supplement, v; MEES 17, January 25, 1974, 7. He did so while simultaneously ensuring the United States that he was trying to secure 100,000 barrels of oil per day of Arabian crude for the Sixth Fleet of the U.S. Navy. Memo: Saunders to Kissinger: Saudi Position on Lifting the Oil Embargo.

  • 62

    Quoted in MEES 17, March 15, 1974, 7.

  • 63

    Quoted in MEES 17, February 22, 1974, 3.

  • 64

    Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (Cambridge, MA, 2005), 199–238.

  • 65

    Marc Williams, Third World Cooperation: The Group of 77 in UNCTAD (London, 1991), 2; Branislav Gosovic and John Gerard Ruggie, “On the Creation of a New International Economic Order: Issue Linkage and the Seventh Special Session of the UN General Assembly,” International Organization 30 (1976): 30945.

  • 66

    Le Monde, February 5, 1974, quoted in MEES 17, February 18, 1974, x.

  • 67

    Mahfuzur Rahman, World Economic Issues at the United Nations: Half a Century of Debate (Boston, 2002), 149.

  • 68

    United Nations General Assembly, Resolutions Adopted during Its Sixth Special Session 9 April–2 May 1974 (New York, 1974); General Assembly, 29th Session, No. 3281, December 12, 1974.

  • 69

    “The Algiers Summit Conference,” 13; see also MEES 17, November 30, 1973, 4–9.

  • 70

    [Werner] Ungerer, Fernschreiben zu den Auswirkungen der Ölkrise auf die Entwicklungsländer, Wien, 14. November 1973; Umlauff, Vermerk zu Folgen der Erdölkrise für die Fähigkeit der Industriestaaten, weiterhin Entwicklungshilfe zu geben, 16. November 1973; [Hansheinrich] Kruse, Schreiben zur Auswirkung der Ölkrise auf die Entwicklungsländer, Bonn, 16. November 1973; [Peter] Hermes, Plurex an vier Vertretungen zu Auswirkungen der Erdölpreiserhöhungen auf internationale Zusammenarbeit, 7. Dezember 1973, PA AA, Bestand 71, 113905.

  • 71

    Rahman, World Economic Issues, 151. Similarly, the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt repeatedly explained that the so-called third world was now split into rich and poor countries and that the actions of the rich—especially oil-producing—severely affected the poorer countries; see Helmut Schmidt, “Leitgedanken unserer Außenpolitik,” in Kontinuität und Konzentration (Bonn-Bad Godesberg, Germany, 1975), 226–43, 239.

  • 72

    For an introduction into the debate see “One, two, many OPECs . . . ,”Foreign Policy 12 (1974), 57f.; C. Fred Bergsten, “The Threat from the Third World,” Foreign Policy 11 (1973): 10224.

  • 73

    Duco Hellema, Cees Wiebes, and Toby Witte, The Netherlands and the Oil Crisis: Business as Usual (Amsterdam, 2004), 158–70.

  • 74

    Ibid., 170–88.

  • 75

    Ibid., 189, 261–62.

  • 76

    Ibid., 262.

  • 77

    Western public reactions and sufferings were closely observed and noted in the Arab press, which in turn was monitored by the Western foreign ministries; see, for example, Peter Metzger, Bericht über das Meinungsbild in Saudi Arabien, 17. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104992.

  • 78

    William A. Johnson: Memo for William Simon and John Sawhill: Why the “Leakage” Appears to Have Been Plugged, January 25, 1974, William Simon Papers, series IIIA, drawer 13, folder 30, Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania.

  • 79

    “Gespräch des Bundeskanzlers Brandt mit Ministerpräsident Messmer in Paris,” in Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1973. Vol 3: 1. Oktober bis 31. Dezember, ed. Hans-Peter Schwartz (München, Germany, 2004), 1909–17, 1912.

  • 80

    Quoted in MEES 17, December 21, 1973, iii.

  • 81

    “Report by the Joint Intelligence Committee, 5 Dec. 1973,” in The Year of Europe: America, Europe and the Energy Crisis, 1972–1974, ed. Keith Hamilton, vol. 3 of Documents on British Policy Overseas/Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ser. 3 (London, 2006), Document No. 434.

  • 82

    Library of Congress Congressional Research Service, Oil Fields as Military Objectives. A Feasibility Study (Washington, DC, 1975), 81; MEES 17, November 23, 1973, 11; MEES 17, November 30, 1973, 13, MEES 17, December 17, 1973, 15.

  • 83

    See Responses to the Arab Oil Embargo, November 28, 1973, NSC-Institutional Files, WSAG Meetings, box H-095, Nixon Library.

  • 84

    Memorandum of Conversation: Bipartisan Leadership Meeting, November 27, 1973, KT00926, 4 Digital National Security Archive (hereafter DNSA).

  • 85

    Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, February 18, 1974, Special Supplement.

  • 86

    “Bilateral Deals: Everybody's Doing It,”MEES 17, January 18, 1974, 1f.

  • 87

    [Peter] Hermes, Sprechzettel für die 39. Kabinettsitzung am 7.11.1973, 6. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 71, 113924; “Botschaftsrat Müller-Chorus, Tripolis, an das Auswärtige Amt,” in Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik: 1668–89.

  • 88

    [Hans Georg] Steltzer, Fernschreiben zur Nahostkrise, Kairo, 9. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 150, 292.

  • 89

    Ibid.; “Botschafter Steltzer, Kairo, an Staatssekretär Frank,” in: Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik: 1804–1806.

  • 90

    [Günter Franz] Werner, Fernschreiben zur libyschen Ölembargopolitik, 10. November 1973; [Günter Franz] Werner, Libysche Erdölpolitik, Tripolis, 8. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104992. See, on the conflict between West Germany and the United States, Rüdiger Graf, “Gefährdungen der Energiesicherheit und die Angst vor der Angst. Westliche Industrieländer und das arabische Ölembargo 1973/74,”Angst in den internationalen Beziehungen, ed. Patrick Bormann et al. (Göttingen/Bonn, Germany, 2010), 227–50.

  • 91

    Hohensee, “Böswillige Erpressung,” 165f.

  • 92

    [Peter] Metzger, Fernschreiben über saudiarabische Erdölpolitik, Djidda, 31. Oktober 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104991; [Peter] Metzger, Telegramm zur Haltung Saudi-Arabiens zu Freund- und Feindstaaten, Djidda, 3. November 1973, PA AA, Bestand 36, 104992.

  • 93

    Quoted in MEES 17, November 23, 1973, 5.

  • 94

    Ibid., 8.

  • 95

    Quoted in MEES 17, January 18, 1974, ii.

  • 96

    NSSM 174: National Security and U.S. Energy Policy, NSC Institutional Files (“H-Files”), box H-197, Nixon Library.

  • 97

    Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (New York, 2007), 533–66.

  • 98

    Secretary's Staff Meeting, Minutes, October 26, 1973, KT00871, 29, 32, DNSA.

  • 99

    Kissinger to Scowcroft for General Haig, November 16, 1973 [080745Z NOV 73], NSC, HAK Office Files, Trips, box 41, Nixon Library; Telcon with Alexander Haig, November 17, 1973, 0850 Local Time, KA11608, DNSA; see also Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger, 537.

  • 100

    Memorandum of Conversation between King Faisal and Kissinger, November 8, 1973, Mandatory Review 07, box 34, Nixon Library; Memorandum of Conversation with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, December 14, 1973, KT00951, DNSA; see also President Nixon to King Faisal, December 28, 1973, NSC, Presidential Correspondence 1969–1974, box 755, Nixon Library.

  • 101

    Kissinger to Scowcroft, January 22, 1974, HAK Office Files, box 43, Nixon Library.

  • 102

    Kissinger to Scowcroft, [191814Z JAN 74], January 19, 1974, Kissinger to Scowcroft [142015Z JAN 74], January 22, 1974, Kissinger to Scowcroft [112245Z JAN 74], January 22, 1974, HAK Office Files, box 43, Nixon Library.

  • 103

    Kissinger to Scowcroft [180846Z JAN 74], January 22, 1974, HAK Office Files, box 43, Nixon Library; Kissinger, Telcon with Nixon, January 28, 1974, 1123 Local Time, KA11913, Kissinger Telcon with Nixon, January 28, 1974, 1910 Local Time, KA11919, Kissinger Telcon with Nixon, January 29, 1974, 1325 Local Time, KA11921, DNSA; Memo:Saunders to Kissinger: Saudi Position on Lifting the Oil Embargo, February 6, 1974, NSC Files, Country Files, ME, 2—Saudi Arabia, box 631 [Mandatory Review Opening 2007: Temporary Box Folder, box 10], Nixon Library.

  • 104

    Quoted in MEES 17, November 23, 1973, 9.

  • 105

    Quoted in MEES 17, January 25, 1974, 1.

  • 106

    Kissinger Telcon with Joseph Sisco, February 6, 1974, 1412 Local Time, KA11985, DNSA; MEES 17, February 8, 1974, i.

  • 107


  • 108

    Quoted in MEES 17, February 8, 1974, i; Kissinger Telcon with Alexander Haig, February 11, 1974, 1540 Local Time, KA12011, Kissinger Telcon with Richard Nixon, February 14, 1974, 1815 Local Time, KA12032, Kissinger Telcon with Joseph Sisco, February 1, 1974, 1705 Local Time, KA11954, DNSA.

  • 109

    Licklider, Political Power and the Arab Oil Weapon; Hohensee, “Böswillige Erpressung.”

  • 110

    Merrill, The Oil Crisis; among many, see Franz Josef Strauß, “Beitrag in der Debatte zur Erklärung der Bundesregierung zu aktuellen Fragen der Wirtschafts- und Energiepolitik,” in Verhandlungen des Deutschen Bundestages. 7. Wahlperiode. Stenographische Berichte, vol. 85 (Bonn, Germany, 1973), 3913–23.