To followers of daily news reports, OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, has remained something of a frustrating mystery, partly because of the secrecy surrounding OPEC operations and the arcane and complex workings of the international oil market itself.
Mohammed E. Ahrari, a political science professor at East Carolina University, now gives us a scholarly and detailed chronicle of OPEC from its birth in 1960 through the peak of its power in the 1970s and down to its present decline. Ahrari's view is that OPEC's actions were motivated primarily by economic reasons and not political ones. Even during the 1973-74 embargo, for example, the oil exporting countries still turned a very handsome profit.
Indeed, economic goals were probably the only things on which member nations could agree. And, as Ahrari relates, they had a hard time agreeing on that. Even from the time they managed to wrest power from the multinational oil companies and turn the game into a seller's market in 1970, the price doves rallied behind the moderate leadership of Saudi Arabia in a struggle with the hawks, notably Libya and Iran.
OPEC's greed finally helped to do them in. The huge price increases of the 1970s triggered an inflation that outraced the real price of crude, drove the dollar down and sapped the purchasing power of OPEC nations themselves.
It's a buyer's market again, and OPEC has weakened. Some would like to give it a final kick and be done with it. Ahrari's reasonable counsel is to let market forces take care of it. After all, oil may be the only thing that sticks the Middle East together. Agreement on economic goals, however shaky, is better than the potential for political chaos that lurks behind it--a good thing to keep in mind for a nation that still has a big thirst for imported crude oil.