THE Persian Gulf war underscored the importance of oil as a strategic commodity and the price nations are willing to pay for it. But the idea of a relationship between petroleum and national security dates back to World War II. Then, Western nations, particularly the United States and Britain, realized the military need for secure oil reserves. This led them to the Middle East, where about 80 percent of the world's crude lay.
In the postwar period, Western oil companies and governments jockeyed for control of Middle East resources. Indeed, Americans and Europeans dominated exploration and development of Arab and Persian industries.
But as output and revenues increased, so did nationalism in Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere. The resulting collision between Western and Middle East interests left a legacy of aggressive tension that endures today. (See related opinion-page article, Page 19.)