LAST fall's Suez crisis restored the Middle East to proper perspective in the war offices of the world. The strategic importance of this crossroads between continents and its relationship to the world conflict were again emphasized by the clash of arms in an area where man first raised sword to man. Oil, trade routes, geography and terrain, faith and ideology, all contribute to the strategic importance of the Middle East.
The Middle East oil fields, stretching in a great arc from Iran and Iraq around the Persian Gulf, comprise collectively the largest known petroleum deposits, approximating about two-thirds of the oil reserve of the free world. Access to this oil and use of it at reasonable prices cannot be termed "vital" to the United States. Western Hemisphere sources can supply United States needs, though costs would undoubtedly increase if the West were denied Middle East oil. For limited periods even Western Europe can get along without the "black gold" of Kuwait, Bahrein, Iran and Iraq. This was demonstrated during the past winter when alternative sources of supply and new routes were utilized. The Suez Canal was closed intermittently during World War II and would probably be closed during any future war. NATO's strategic planning cannot count upon use of Middle Eastern oil in another war and Western Europe--with United States help-- can probably fight without it. During limited periods of emergency the Western world can live without Middle East oil, and this fact is perhaps the strongest answer to political blackmail from any quarter.
Nevertheless the oil of the Middle East is a major economic factor in the well-being of Western Europe. Despite the development of nuclear power, Western Europe's needs for oil will increase steeply for at least the next 20 years--and probably for the next half century. There is today no foreseeable substitute for oil as a source of power; nuclear energy may supplement but will not replace it. Middle East oil, provided the Mediterranean route remains open, is the
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