Soviet control of the oil tap in the Middle East would mean the end of the world as we have known it since 1945 and of the association of free nations. That quite clearly implies that we cannot for long acquiesce in a regional preponderance of Soviet military power. A minimum requirement is the establishment withing the region of a rough balance of military power. Without such a balance there will be no deterrent force capable of resisting long-term Soviet pressure -- which would inevitable imply a steady erosion of Western influence. Given the massive Soviet presence just over the border, the "demilitarization of the Indian Ocean" would be crippling. No further consideration should be given to such a step, for it would preclude the stationing of substantial naval forces in the area, and thereby preclude the redress of the existing imbalance.
It is not sufficient simply to identify "an arc of crises." It will be necessary effectively to cope with the conditions that exist today. In the years ahead this will tax our ingenuity and our strength.
Even if the worst does not occur, and if control of the oil tap does not become the decisive element in the East-West struggle -- either through Soviet forbearance or thorugh effective deterrence -- the difficulities remain considerable. The preponderance and proximity of the Soviet capacity for influence and subversion. In Iran, the reemergence of the Tudeh party (most notably in the orgainzaton of oil fields) and the overt and covert strengthening of the pro-Soviet left have been major developments during the past year. One can sense the infrastructure gradually being put in place for a later coup -- parallel to the events that have transpired in Afghanistan in recent years.
Even if we put aside such opportunities for external mischief, the flow of oil from the OPEC nations can still not be considered wholly reliable. The worldwide system for the production and distribution of petroleum is already stretched taut. There is little, if any, relief in prospect. Any major interruption -- stemming from political decision, political instability, terrorist acts, or major technical problems -- would entail severe disruptions.
In so tight a market, some of the producers will play a "cat-and=mouse" game for economic motives (to keep spot prices high), for political motives, or through sheer willfulness. Actions taken or threatened of late to reduce or divert production, by such states as Nigeria, Libya and Algeria, testify to this tightness in the market and to the continued vulnerability of the consuming nations.
Iran, moreover, continues to teeter on the edge of anarchy. A new interruption of Iranian exports would be seriously disruptive. And, finally, even such limited interruptions of the oil flow rest on a premise of the continued stability and supportive attitudes in Saudi Arabia. For the Saudi contribution is not only critical, it has been increasing.
As we recognize that the near-term energy future depends upon a politically stable Saudi Arabia, we must also recognize that the kingdom is today a nation exposed to the ferment of social change. It is one in which the sensitivity to corruption is rising -- dramatically so in the wake of last year's events in Iran. And, if we do not acknowledge the possible relevance of Iranian developments, we have only to turn back to de Tocgueville as to the impact of massive economic shange on traditional social structures. The subject is one so delicate that it is rarely even alluded to, yet reticence hardly should suggest that the subject is not one of the utmost gravity.
How stable, how resilient is our domestic political base as we confront the national security and economic perplexities posed by the vulnerabilities and constraints in energy supply? There is certainly sufficient ground for concern. Post-Vietnam, the issues of foreign policy and military security do not engage our people. Post-Watergate, all our institutions are widely distrusted.
The political left blames the oil industry.The politiclal right blames government. But such behavior simply reflects that post-Watergate tendency to lash out at institutions. Institution-bashing is just another way of evading the problem; it is unlikely to produce much more curde oil.
We have faced such challenges before. After World War II, the United States had the vision to invest her power and prestige in strengthening Western Europe. Through those actions were achieved economic rehabilitation and security. Today the circumstances and some of the challenges are different. Yet, once again we shall have to invest our power and prestige to shore up the independent states of the Persian Gulf -- in order to preclude external threat. That is the unavoidable strategic prerequistite for successfully passing through this period of energy transition.
History has destined this American nation to be a superpower -- indeed the single, great superpower among the free nations. If the United States were to fall in her responsibilities, there would be others a good deal less well-disposed, who would be quite ready to seize the opportunities presented -- with the resulting loss of our legacy of freedom. If the American people choose to turn their backs, history would not forgive us.