May 30, 2020
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Black Gold

The best basic text on energy and compulsory reading for all of us interested in India’s long-term security interests

Black Gold
Blood of the Earth—The Battle for the World
By Dilip Hiro
Penguin Pages: 427; Rs 450
Energy security is now so integral a part of India’s security discourse that it is hard to recall that until five years ago discussion of energy interests had little resonance for the public. The situation changed with former petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who put energy security at the top of our strategic agenda, recognising that energy would be a critical factor in the coming years in realising high growth rates and the promise of prosperity to millions.

Energy security became an urgent national priority, and India’s voice came to be heard with respect at world energy fora. Indian companies self-confidently pursued new engagements in territories like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Venezuela, Angola, Siberia and sought cooperative ventures with more traditional partners such as Iran, Pakistan, Myanmar and, above all, China.

This national focus on energy has long required a comprehensive text that would put together the various aspects of this complex subject—geology, history, economics and geopolitics—into a coherent narrative. Dilip Hiro has achieved this in his latest venture.

Hiro’s research is that of an academic but his writing is that of a journalist. He goes into the early history of oil and gas exploration and production, the complex aspects of oil pricing and, above all, international politics, with oil a key factor in the affairs of West Asia through the last century to the present day. More recently, oil politics is at play in Central Asia and Africa, where terminologies that belong to another era, such as ‘New Great Game’ and ‘New Scramble for Africa’, have already gained wide currency.

While the first half of the book relates to the economics and politics of oil in the global context, the second half focuses on two recent developments in the international energy scenario: the rise of China and India as global players, and the search for alternative sources of energy. The significant increase in energy consumption in China and India has transformed the global oil economy by ensuring that the bulk of Asian production is now consumed within Asia. Again, given international apprehensions regarding the world’s depleting oil resources, attention now is increasingly being given to alternatives to oil—natural gas, coal, uranium, renewable energy.

Hiro has correctly focused on the impact of recent changes in the international energy scene on global power equations, which have included an enhanced regional and international role of China and India; the re-emergence of Russia as a global player; US concerns regarding the role of China and Russia in regional and world affairs, and the competition for control over the untapped potential in Africa and Central Asia. This has set the stage for what some Western commentators have referred to as the ‘New Cold War’, even as China and India have tended to reject this conflictual discourse, emphasising instead the importance of achieving energy security through pooling together of global resources—technological, financial and human—for common benefit.

After Daniel Yergin’s book, The Prize, published 16 years ago, Blood of the Earth is the best basic text on energy, and compulsory reading for all of us interested in India’s long-term security interests.

(Talmiz Ahmad is India’s ambassador to the UAE. These views are his own.)

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