The world economy runs on trade and trade necessitates movement. Whether it is trade in goods or trade in services, in order for transactions to be carried out, the factors of production must move between parties to facilitate this. This global movement runs on oil and as such, oil is a very valuable commodity.
Outside of trade, the life of most individuals is punctuated by and dependent on technology. And while there have been recent innovations in renewable energy, most of this technology runs on electricity sourced from the burning of fossil fuels. The primary one being oil. This makes oil not only an engine of trade but a raw material in the production of goods, the good here being electricity. Oil can therefore be classified as one of the basic necessities of modern life.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the oil crisis that was sparked by a feud between Russia and Saudi Arabia this March. Oil has lost more than a third of its value due to the lack of global demand as a result of the lockdowns across the world.
It is reasonable to anticipate that this fall in oil prices will have an impact on the political stability of nations. In nations like Iraq and Syria that are already unstable, the fall in prices exacerbates the situation. In countries that are considered stable, falls in oil prices can create conditions and environments that may serve as breeding grounds for unresolved political tension.
A good example of this is the United Kingdom (UK), which is a nation made up of four countries. In 2014, one of these countries, Scotland, held a referendum to decide whether or not it should leave the union. Even though the referendum decision led to Scotland remaining in the union, the underlying issues that led to referendum, i.e. the undercurrent of dissent and a dislike of Westminster and Scottish nationalism remain unaddressed.
Within the UK, Scotland is the most dependent on the oil and gas sector for jobs. And already the UK’s oil and gas sector is warning that 30,000 jobs could be lost as a result of COVID-19 and the low price of oil. This current situation, if not remedied, poses a great threat to the stability of the UK. Coupled with the inability of Westminster to deliver on referendum campaign promises of greater devolution to Scotland and the fact that Scotland voted Remain on Brexit, it could give new momentum to the separatist movement within Scotland.
For countries like Iraq and Syria, the decline in oil prices has meant a reduction in revenue and therefore a reduction in funds available to combat insurgents. This is particularly dangerous in Syria, which is home to the prisons and camps holding former ISIS fighters and their families. Even though the caliphate has been destroyed, its toxic ideology is still alive and kicking. And even in the midst of COVID-19, ISIS supporters are still carrying out attacks, as evidenced by the bombing of a prison in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad this past Sunday.
We must not forget that the hatred ISIS preaches along with the violence it births is not a Middle Eastern problem. It is a global problem. Past attacks in the US, Australia, France, Belgium, Denmark, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, the Philippines and Tunisia and alliances with African extremist groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab show the global reach of this organisation.
Trying to contain COVID-19 is hard enough in peaceful countries where the main worry is how do we balance the economic need to reopen businesses so people can earn a living against the health need of physical distancing. In peaceful countries, people are willing to suffer the economic hardship to preserve their lives. But imagine having to balance a disease that could possibly kill you against a bomber or gunman actively trying to kill you.
A lot of discussion is currently going on around the responsibility Western governments have regarding foreign ISIS fighters and their families. Some think Western governments should bring their citizens home to stand trial. Others think the security risk these people pose is too great, and therefore they should remain in the country they helped to destroy. And others are crying for mercy for the children who are growing up with fear and trauma.
Lord Stanley Fink in commenting on why he supports The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award stated, “The cost of transforming someone’s life is much lower [outside of the UK], so… you can make a bigger difference to more people by working internationally.” I think Western governments should focus less on bringing their own citizens back from the hell they created and focus more on helping Syria’s citizens rebuild the lives that foreign fighters destroyed.
At the end of World War II, the US helped Japan rebuild. Today, Japan has the world’s third largest economy by nominal GDP. At the end of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu and Tutsi people had to find a way of reconciling to live together and build back the nation. Rwanda’s 2019 per capita GDP (PPP) was estimated at $2,444, compared with $416 in 1994.
Jade Gibbons is an arts and business graduate with a keen interest in social issues and film-making.