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The events surrounding the 1973 "oil crisis" helped shape the world's power relations in favour to global financial institutions, big oil companies and the military sector. The "rush toward increased structural concentration for the control of economic activity" (Shimshon 1989) is driven by high oil prices and the recycling of the oil producing countries' surpluses into U.S. dept securities and arms deals.


1947: Exxon, Mobil, Texaco and Chevron (then Socal) formed ARAMCO, the Arabian-American Company which obtained preferential access to Saudi Arabian oil.

1960: Formation of OPEC.

1967: Israel occupies Syrian and Egyptian territory in the Six-Day War.

1970: OPEC discusses pricing oil based on a basket of 10 currencies.

1971: End of Bretton Woods.

1973, May 11 to 13, The 1973 Bilderberg conference plans a 400% rise in crude oil price and devises a plan to manage the petrodollar flood.[1]

1973: Saudi Arabia warns USA that further supply of Israel with weapons may lead to an oil embargo.

1973, October 6 to 25, Yom Kippur War

1973: After the embargo ("oil shock") Nixon threatens Saudi Arabia with military intervention. [2]

1974: "Though a finalized peace deal failed to materialize, the prospect of a negotiated end to hostilities between Israel and Syria proved sufficient to convince the relevant parties to lift the embargo in March 1974."[3]

1973-75: In the face of rising crude oil prices and a plummeting "free-floating" dollar, the US administration proposes deals to the OPEC Cartel members what came to be referred to as the petrodollar recycling system.

The Petrodollar Scheme

The USA agreed to or even encouraged high crude oil prices offering old weapons (see ie. Engdahl, 2004, Rowley, 1989), infrastructure and military protection (especially from Israel), if in turn OPEC sells exclusively for dollars and - most importantly - reinvest their surplus in U.S. debt securities held in Western banks (Oweiss, 1974, Clackson, 2014).

This so called Petrodollar recycling system[note 1] provides at least three immediate benefits to the United States:

  • It increases global demand for U.S. dollars
    • the value of the (shaken) U.S. dollar is bolstered, inflation stopped, international trust restored[5]
    • gives the United States the ability to expand its money supply without risking inflation or devaluation
    • increases the price of assets denominated in U.S.dollars, ie. real estate[6]
    • pressures client state economies to export goods in return for U.S. dollars
  • It increases global demand for U.S. debt securities
  • It gives the United States the ability to buy oil with a currency it can print at will[6]

Secondary benefits (from rising oil prices and partnerships) include:

  • large Western banks receive huge capital inflow, avoiding expected liquidity problems due to global recession
  • the higher the crude oil price the higher the revenues for the major oil companies[7]
  • increased level of monopoly for the major oil companies
  • exploitation of lesser developed 'oil shocked' economies through major bank loans and IMF measures
  • investment banks get increased leverage in the offshore Eurodollar market
  • investment banks get hot money for speculation and currency attacks
  • North sea oil can now compete with the higher price levels
  • U.S. armament industry gets increasing returns (despite decrease in U.S.military spending 1973-1978)
  • Unprecedented concentration of control in the military-oil-banking-congressional complex through interleaved ownerships, common interests and revolving doors
  • access to military bases in the Middle East
  • access to intelligence in the Middle East
  • OPEC states increasingly depend on U.S. goodwill:
    • specialists in military and civilian sector are needed[4]
    • assets in Western banks may be frozen[8]

In sum, while the majority of the world economy is suffering from higher oil prices, the petrodollar system has its winners. This leads to a concentration of power and control over world affairs in the hands of industries which suffered from a lack of competition ever since: big oil, big banks and armament industries.

Key Citations

Petrodollars: Problems and Prospects
Dr. Ibrahim M.Oweiss
Address before the Conference on The World Monetary Crisis
Arden House, Harriman Campus, Columbia University
March 1 - 3, 1974

First, the placement of petrodollar surpluses of the Arab oil exporting nations in the United States may be     
regarded politically as hostage capital. In the event of a major political conflict between the United 
States and an Arab oil-exporting nation, the former with all its military power can confiscate or freeze 
these assets or otherwise limit their use. It can impose special regulations or at least use regulations for 
a time, in order to attain certain political, economic, or other goals. It may be argued that such actions 
are un-American, since they are a direct violation of the sacred principles of capitalism and economic 
freedom. Nevertheless, the U.S. government resorted to such weapons twice in the l980s against Iranian and 
Libyan assets. It follows, therefore, that governments placing their petrodollar surpluses in the United  
States may lose part of their economic and political independence. Consequently, the more petrodollar 
surpluses are placed in the United States by a certain oil-exporting nation, the less independent such a 
nation becomes.
It is worth noting that the difference between the volume of oil actually supplied and the volume that 
should have been supplied in observance of standard microeconomic theory is in fact a subsidy granted, in 
real terms, to oil-importing nations such as the United States, Germany, France, and Japan.1
The process of petrodollar recycling makes it possible for commercial banks of industrialized nations, 
international lending institutions, and Arab banking consortia to provide financial assistance to 
less-developed countries (LDCs). Western Europe, Japan, and the United States buy oil from oil-exporting 
countries (OECs). LDCs pay for oil imports and other foreign goods and services with money borrowed front 
Western commercial banks. The process of recycling is complete when those commercial banks and institutions 
obtain cash and investments from OECs.
The Real Reason Russia is Demonized and Sanctioned: the American Petrodollar
Alexander Clackson
Global Research, September 18, 2014

in 1973 the Richard Nixon administration began negotiations with the government of Saudi Arabia to establish   
what came to be referred to as the petrodollar recycling system. Under the arrangement, the Saudis would  
only sell their oil in U.S. dollars, and would invest the majority of their excess oil profits into U.S. 
banks and Capital markets. The IMF would then use this money to facilitate loans to oil importers who were 
having difficulties covering the increase in oil prices. The payments and interest on these loans would of 
course be denominated in U.S. dollars. 
This agreement was formalised in the “The U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation”[9] put 
together by Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1974. The system was expanded to include the rest 
of OPEC by 1975. This was a major economic success for the U.S. As long as the world needs oil, and as long 
as oil is only sold in U.S. dollars, there will be a demand for dollars, and that demand is what gives the  
dollar its value.
The petrodollar is the only life support machine left for the U.S. and this is precisely why Washington goes   
after any country that tries to destroy it.
The Nixon administration began parallel negotiations with key oil producers to end the embargo, and with   
Egypt, Syria, and Israel to arrange an Israeli pullout from the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Initial 
discussions between Kissinger and Arab leaders began in November 1973 and culminated with the First 
Egyptian-Israeli Disengagement Agreement on January 18, 1974. Though a finalized peace deal failed to 
materialize, the prospect of a negotiated end to hostilities between Israel and Syria proved sufficient to 
convince the relevant parties to lift the embargo in March 1974.
Engdahl, Century of War, p.142[1]

A sudden sharp increase in the world price of oil, therefore, 
meant an equally dramatic increase in world demand for U.S. dollars 
to pay for that necessary oil. 


The entire constellation of events
surrounding the outbreak of the October War was secretly orchestrated
by Washington and London, using the powerful secret diplomatic
channels developed by Nixon’s national security adviser, Henry
Kissinger. Kissinger effectively controlled the Israeli policy response 
through his intimate relation with Israel’s Washington ambassador,
Simcha Dinitz. In addition, Kissinger cultivated channels to the 
Egyptian and Syrian side. His method was simply to misrepresent to 
each party the critical elements of the other, ensuring the war and 
its subsequent Arab oil embargo. 


The dynamic created by the Anglo-American decoupling of the 
dollar from gold in August 1971, followed by the 400 per cent forced 
inflation of the price of oil, had created a catastrophe for the majority 
of the world’s population who lived in the developing sector.

Under the threat of losing access to further borrowings from the 
World Bank and the private banks of the industrial nations, these 
less-developed countries were forced to divert precious funds from 
industrial and agricultural development into simply reducing this 
balance-of-payments deficit. Their oil imports had to be paid, and 
paid in dollars, while the cost of their raw materials exports had fallen 
sharply in the global recession of 1974–75. 
Private U.S. and European banks stepped into the breach [...]

David Mulford, at the time the head of White 
Weld & Co.’s London Eurodollar operations, was appointed director 
and principal investment adviser of the Saudi Arabian Monetary 
Agency (SAMA), the central bank of Saudi Arabia, the largest OPEC 
oil producer and a country dominated by American Big Oil.

Little publicity was given to this rather unusual appointment of a national 
of the country against which Saudi Arabia had only months earlier 
enjoined an oil embargo. 

Along with White Weld, SAMA enjoyed the confidential investment advice of the elite London merchant bank, [Baring Brothers]].

The U.S. Treasury had signed an agreement 
in Riyadh with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, whose mission 
was ‘to establish a new relationship through the Federal Reserve Bank 
of New York with the [U.S.] Treasury borrowing operation. Under 
this arrangement, SAMA will purchase new US Treasury securities 
with maturities of at least one year,’ explained assistant secretary 
of the U.S. Treasury, Jack F. Bennett, later to become a director of 
Exxon. Bennett’s memo explaining the arrangements was dated February 1975 
and addressed to Secretary of State Kissinger.4

This arrangement, needless to say, proved enormously valuable 
for the United States dollar and for the fi  nancial institutions of New 
York and the London Eurodollar markets. The world was forced to 
buy huge amounts of dollars more or less continuously, in order 
to purchase essential energy supplies. Even more extraordinary, 
this OPEC dollar-pricing agreement remained in force despite the 
subsequent enormous losses to OPEC as the dollar gyrated up and 
down through the next decade and more. 

One consequence of the directed recycling of these petrodollars 
into London and New York was the emergence of American banks 
as the giants of world banking, paralleling the emergence of their 
clients, the Seven Sisters oil multinationals, as the giants of world 
industry. The Anglo-American oil and banking combination so 
overwhelmed the scale of ordinary enterprise that their power and 
influence seemed invincible. 

[affect of 'oil shock' and petrodollar system on lesser developed countries]
If the methods look more than a little like a perverse variation on 
the old mafia ‘protection racket’ game, this is understandable. The 
same Anglo-American interests which manipulated political events 
to create a 400 per cent increase in the oil price then turned to the 
countries which were the victims of assault and ‘offered’ to lend them 
petrodollars to finance the purchase of the costly oil and other vital 
imports — at a vastly inflated interest cost, of course.

the United States offered weapons and protection of their oil fields from 
neighboring nations, including Israel.

According to the agreement, the United States would offer military protection for Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. 
The U.S. also agreed to provide the Saudis with weapons, and perhaps most importantly, guaranteed protection 
from Israel.
The Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition and the Middle East
Rowley, Robin and Bichler, Shimshon and Nitzan, Jonathan. (1989). Working Papers. Department of Economics.   
McGill University. Montreal. Vol. 89. No. 10. pp. 1-54. (Working Paper; English).


Six years later, the CIA backed a successful coup against the government of 
Prime Minister Mossaddeq, who attempted to nationalize Iranian oil, and 
consequently the monopoly of British Petroleum was lost. Iranian oil was 
officially nationalized but, in effect, control was effectively divided 
among the 5 American majors (whose new stake amounted to 40 per cent), Royal 
Dutch/Shell (14 per cent), the French CFS (6 per cent) and British Petroleum 
(40 per cent). 

Since the oil industry was first consolidated in the nineteenth 
century, no prolonged period of price competition has occurred. Despite a 
persistent concern with relative market shares, the principal oil companies 
have exhibited a remarkable degree of cooperation and, for much of their 
existence, they rarely permitted oil consumers to take advantage of any 
differences among producers. Nevertheless, in the long period prior to the 
emergence of OPEC, the Seven Sisters were unable to translate their joint 
cooperation into spectacular price increases, such as those that came to 
characterize the industry in the 1970s. The main key for higher profits was 
generally acknowledged to be one of access to cheap oil rather than the 
ability to increase unit mark-ups. Until the 1950s, the Tree flowe of 
Middle East oil was secured largely through private arrangements between the 
Seven Sisters and local rulers. Since production costs constituted only a 
minor fraction of the final price, even the most conspicuous demands of 
domestic kings were insignificant in comparison to access benefits that 
accrued to the oil companies. 

[since the 1960ies] Royalty costs were dramatically increased and, eventually, reliance on the 
traditional royalty arrangements was replaced by involvement in joint 
ventures by the oil companies and local governments.


[A] broader cooperation with governments was called for. Indeed, OPEC countries 
in the Middle East have been largely reluctant to take over the oil 
companies. The reasons for their hesitancy are not hard to grasp. The Seven 
Sisters control both the technology for production and the marketing system. 
In times of crisis, they could enjoy the American or European military 
support and also could expect this support to be extended to friendly OPEC 
governments. More importantly, OPEC govements in the Middle East depend on 
Western goodwill — for their oil revenues are economically meaningless 
without the investment and consumption outlets provided by the Western 
countries. A substantial OPEC challenge to the Seven Sisters could induce a 
serious world crisis, which might then lead to the demise of the OPEC 
governments themselves. 8 

Footnote 8. This view, for example ,. was openly expressed by Saudi Arabia. Barnet 
(1980, p. 61) cites a comment in 1969 by the Saudi petroleum minister, 
Yamani, on the strategy to develop an orderly alliance of market 
participants: 'For our part, we do not want the majors to lose their power 
and be forced to abandon their role as a buffer element between the 
producers and the consumers. We want the present setup to continue as long 
as possible and at all costs to avoid any disastrous clash of interests 
which would shake the foundations of the whole oil industry.' 


The effects of changes in the oil industry were not evenly distributed 
within industrialized economies. Higher energy prices were transmitted 
through a complex structure of oligopolistic agencies rather than through 
the simple interaction of competitive supply and demand mechanisms. 

On the other hand, some 'winners' emerged from the 
redistribution of corporate profits during the 1970s: (1) the major oil 
companies experienced substantial increases in their 'degree of monopoly' 
(as tentatively measured by the levels of their eventual mark-ups over 
costs); (2) the large banks absorbed most of the world's petrodollars, which 
they recirculated to oil-producing countries and energy-related projects ; 
and (3) members of the Armament Core, who were relatively unharmed by higher 
energy costs, experienced a boom in their petrodollar-financed military 

The oil crisis created a potential for the emergence of an Armadollar- 
Petrodollar Coalition of major armament, energy and financial corporations, 
through which the traditional relationship that existed between arms 
producers and the U.S. government was enlarged. Furthermore, the governments 
of OPEC countries, especially those located in the Middle East, actively 
supplemented the role of the U.S. government in the arms business. 


The large oil companies did not seem to grasp the opportunities offered 
to them by attitudes within OPEC before the early 1970s.

The price of crude oil apparently had an important impact on the overall petroprofits 
of the Oil six since the two major oil crises of 1973 and 1979 led to 
dramatic increases in levels of profits, 
while subsequent price stability during the 1975-1978 period was associated with profit stability 
and price declines after 1981 led to drastic reductions in profits. 

The potential impact of crude oil prices on overall profits is far from 
trivial. As vertically integrated companies, the Oil Six are engaged in all 
stages of production — drilling, extracting, shipping, refining and the 
marketing of final petroleum products. Changes in crude oil prices should 
have a positive effect on profitability accruing from exploration and 
extraction but the changes may imply a negative impact on profits of 
downstream operations. The patterns exhibited in Figure 8 suggest that this 
secondary negative impact of higher prices for crude oil was small. 

Further reflection provides a simple explanation. The price of crude oil forms the 
basis from which prices of subsequent petroleum products are determined. 
Traditionally, the oil companies have succeeded in stabilizing the unit 
markups over prime costs in their downstream operations. The absolute size 
of profits thus depends on the level of prime costs, which is determined by 
the prices of crude oil. During the late 1950s and 19609, the large oil 
companies were unsuccessful in their attempts to raise the price of crude 
oil and hence, with stable markups in downstream operations, their overall 
profits stagnated. 

p.30 (cont.)

The situation changed after 1973 when OPEC governments 
assumed the role of rationing production. These governments obviously sought 
to increase their own revenues but, as evident in Figure 8, the changes in 
oil prices that were brought about by their actions also had a profound 
effect on the Oil Six's petroprofits. 
Clearly, the year of 1973 can be identified with a qualitative change 
in the nature of the oil business. During the pre-1973 period, the key 
element to profits was viewed as the access to cheap crude oil but, since 
1973, the primary emphasis has shifted to price levels. Consequently, the 
rhetoric of support for activities of large oil companies begin to emphasize 
the notion of 'scarcity' for these firms no longer follow 'free flow' 
doctrines but rather pursue a 'limited flow' principle, according to which 
output is restricted to maintain higher prices. This cosmetic change in 
rhetorical focus reflects more than a mere 'technical' change in business 
strategy since the new 'limited flow' principle is associated with an 
important change in the power structure that prevails in the United States; 
namely, the emergence of an 'Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition.' 


For example, allegations have suggested that the 
administration of President Nixon supported Iran's attempt to raise oil 
prices. Both Nixon and Kissinger were promoting arms exports to the Shah's 
regime and they possibly considered higher revenues from oil sales as a 
primary source of funding for arms deliveries. l1 An alternative contention, 
expressed by Sampson (1981a), has Kissinger persuading the Shah to increase 
oil prices as a means of assisting Rockefeller since the Chase Manhattan 
Bank was experiencing awkward liquidity difficulties that could be somewhat 
eased by further deposits of petrodollars. The earlier support of military 
sales to Israel by Nixon and his dismissal of the warning from Saudi Arabia 
that such support could lead to an oil embargo are not inconsistent with 
speculations that the U.S. government mediated the wishes of an emerging 
coalition of arms and oil interests. 

Such speculations are stimulated by the apparent political ties of 
government figures and industry representatives. Nixon, for example, was 
closely associated with the oil industry, which provided financial 
assistance to advance his political career and facilitate his election 
campaigns, as described by Barnet (1980, pp. 23-4). 


The links between armament and oil corporations have also been 
reflected in a network of interlocking directorships. For example, during 
the 1980s, the chairman and chief executive officer of Standard Oil of 
Indiana (Swearingen) was a director of both Chase Manhattan and Lockheed; 
the board of directors of McDonnell Douglas include a director of Phillips 
Petroleum (Chetkovich) and a director of Shell Canada (MacDonald); the 
chairman and president of United Technologies (Gray) was a director of both 
Exxon and Citibank; Boeing shared one director with Mobil and three 
directors with Chevron, including the chairman of Chevron (Keller); and the 
Chevron board included a director from Allied Signal (Hills) and the 
president and chief executive of Hewlett Packard (Yound) .19 Such interlocks 
facilitate a sharing of common interests and they serve as an informal 
mechanism for the transmission of views that permit strategic actions to be 
coordinated. The extensive network has a potential role in the mediation of 
cooperative efforts. 


The pivotal significance of high oil prices was abruptly uncovered in 
1986, when Saudi Arabia flooded the oil market with additional supplies and 
caused the price of crude petroleum to drop below $10 per barrel. This 
action was recognized as so hazardous to the interests of the Armadollar- 
Petrodollar Coalition that some immediate political response was called for. 
Subsequently, the vice president [Bush] was sent to the Middle East with the task 
of openly asking Saudi Arabia to reconsider the action and reinstate lower 
levels for production. Bush insisted that the government of the United 
States was 'fundamentally, irrevocably committed' to maintaining the free 
flow of oil and 'the interest in the United States is bound to be cheap 
energy prices'. However, the vice president also qualified this message: 

"[There] is some point at which the national security interests of 
the United States say, 'Hey, we must have a strong, viable 
domestic interest.' We recognize that as we talk about national 
interests that comes in conflict at some point — and I don't know 
where that is — with the totally free market concept that we 
basically favor in our economic approach to all industries.22 " 

To substantiate this sacrifice of the 'free market concept', President 
Reagan ordered a study to examine the impact of falling energy prices on 
'national security'. This study, which was eventually completed and then 
classified as 'top secret', was never published.
The process of petrodollar recycling underpins American economic hegemony, 
which funds American military supremacy. 
declassified Memo July 27, 1973
The Shah:
I told the Egyptians that eventually they might use that [oil embargo] as a weapon 
Mr. Kissinger:
If Egypt ever concerted its policy with us, they might play this card. 
Engdahl, Century of War, p.287

When Yamani, on instructions from the Saudi King, asked the Shah why Iran 
demanded such a large OPEC price increase, the Shah replied, ‘For the 
answer to your question, I suggest you go to Washington and ask Henry Kissinger.’ 
The Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition - Demise or new Order?
Shimshon Bichler, Robin Rowley and Jonathan Nitzan. (1989). Working Papers. Department of Economics.   
McGill University. Montreal. (Part 4)[10]


Middle Eastern wars were the instrument of oil crises rather than their cause. 

[A]rmed conflicts in the Middle East created the appearance of shortage, 
which the oil-producing countries and oil companies were 
unable to establish by other means.

As long as oil remains the world's main source of energy and the 
Middle East remains the primary location of oil reserves, major oil 
companies are likely to continue their support for the militarization of the 
region. Thus the basic motivation for the Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition 
remains intact.

we live in an environment being transformed by a rush 
toward increased structural concentration for the control of economic 

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  1. Petrodollar recycling is a term officially used by the U.S. administration, see ie. [4]
  1. a b Engdahl, F.W. (2004) A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order. London: Pluto ISBN 0-7453-2309-X
  2. Palmer, M.A. (1992) Guardians of the Gulf, 1st Edition, Free Press, New York, p. 100, see also: and
  4. a b Report of the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation, ID-79-7: Published: Mar 22, 1979. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 1979.
  6. a b
  7. Rowley, Robin and Bichler, Shimshon and Nitzan, Jonathan. (1989) The Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition and the Middle East. Working Papers (Part 3). Department of Economics. McGill University. Montreal. Vol. 89. No. 10. pp. 1-54.
  8. Oweiss, Ibrahim M. (1974) Petrodollars: Problems and Prospects, Address before the Conference on The World Monetary Crisis Arden House, Harriman Campus, Columbia University
  9. U.S. Saudi Arabian Joint Commission Program Office (ICS) "Manages and directs all activities of the U.S. Saudi Arabian Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation which includes inter- agency activity in the United States and Saudi Arabia involving more than 40 projects. The U.S. Saudi Arabian Joint Commission Program office formulates, recommends, implements Treasury Department policy and positions relating to economic and financial aspects of rela- tions between the United States government and Saudi Arabia. Assembles information and provides relevant analyses to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Technical Assistance as requested."
  10. Shimshon Bichler, Robin Rowley and Jonathan Nitzan. (1989) The Armadollar-Petrodollar Coalition - Demise or new Order?. Working Papers (Part 4). Department of Economics. McGill University. Montreal.