What is the relationship between oil and coercion? For decades states have worried that their dependence on oil gives producers a potential lever of coercion. The size, integration, and sophistication of the current oil market, however, are thought to have greatly attenuated, if not eliminated, the coercive potential of oil. The best way to analyze the current global oil market is by viewing it as a series of distinct market segments, from upstream production to midstream transport to downstream refining, with the potential for coercion varying across them. Oil-producing states do not have the greatest coercive potential in the international oil market. Instead, the United States remains the dominant presence, though its dominance has shifted from production—where it resided prior to World War II—to the maritime environment. These findings are significant for scholars’ and policymakers’ understanding of the relationship between oil and coercion. More generally, they suggest that studies of the potential for states to coerce others using economic instruments should take into account differences in the structure of markets for different goods.

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