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Abstract

In 1983, the United States created CENTCOM, the unified military command responsible for the Middle East to this day. Recently declassified NATO archives reveal that in the 1979-1983 period, American officials pressured Europeans to increase their defense commitments so that the US could divert troops to the Persian Gulf. American officials claimed that it was for Europe, and not primarily for the US itself, that American forces should defend gulf oil flows. Europeans accepted this argument, and provided political and military support for American policy. To investigate the American claim and the European reaction, I ask two broad research questions. Was Western Europe really dependent on Persian Gulf oil and if so, how had this dependence been constructed? Did the record of US policy in the Middle East since 1945 support that it was motivated by European oil dependence, or did the American claim emerge in 1979? Based on research in NATO, American, French, and OEEC/OECD archives, I make three arguments. First, the main purpose of CENTCOM was to protect oil flows to Europe. Second, this is in perfect continuity with the “logic of containment” as it emerged in the late 1940s and was applied to the Middle East throughout the Cold War. Third, European oil dependence was a function of the adoption of car culture, itself a product of American influence as a socio-economic model, American industrial and commercial activity in Europe, and American economic aid during the Marshall Plan. In this sense, I argue that American cultural hegemony over Europe was a prime motive for the expansion of American military hegemony in the gulf.

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