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In 2007, oil demand in the United States reached a plateau. Since then, technological advancement has allowed the US to nearly double its domestic oil production. One outcome of these trends has been a steep decline in American imports of oil, including from major producers in the Persian Gulf. Another outcome has been an increase in Gulf monarchies’ reliance on marketing crude oil to the big East Asian economies. Despite these trends, however, the Gulf monarchies have managed to retain America’s strategic interest in their external security and the protection of their oil shipments to international markets—even though China, a strategic competitor of the United States, is a beneficiary of that protection. The re-orientation of the Gulf economies toward East Asia begs the following questions: (1) Why does an increasingly oil-secure United States maintain a Cold War-era vow to protect the Persian Gulf oil monarchies and their exports? and (2) Can US protection for Gulf oil supplies now potentially be reduced or even eliminated?
Although the motivations behind the 1980 Carter Doctrine have evolved, the doctrine’s justification remains persuasive. As the United States shifts to a less interventionist footing in the Middle East, a new “Carter Doctrine 3.0” is taking shape. The third phase is less focused on direct US dependence on Gulf crude oil, or on threats posed by specific nation-states or ideological blocs. Instead, the rationale for a continued American military presence in the region is the less tangible global public good of maintaining stable oil supplies to a market that has grown far more fungible and globalized since 1980. The lack of a prominent adversary makes justifying the expense of the Carter Doctrine more difficult for US policymakers, since many of the benefits accrue outside of the United States. However, while America’s direct reliance on Middle Eastern crudes has declined, the US economy remains highly exposed to events in the region that would be transmitted through changes in global pricing of oil and refined products. We argue that the doctrine remains nearly as compelling now as in 1980.
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