Study Group on Democracy in Oil Producing Countries


Many major oil producing countries are non-democratic. Until recently, neither the United States government nor the oil companies have considered this to be a problem. As long as a country was not openly hostile to the US and was willing to allow oil exploration and production by Western companies, the nature of its political system was considered to be a domestic matter in which outsiders should not meddle. Today, however, the lack of democracy in oil producing countries has become a problem not only for their citizens, but also for the oil companies and the US government. Dissatisfied groups that cannot make their voices heard through legitimate political channels are turning to violence, undermining the stability of many countries and sometimes directly threatening oil production. Furthermore, oil companies are now expected not only to remedy problems they directly cause, such as pollution, but to become involved in much broader concerns, such as civil wars, in the countries in which they operate. Yet it is unclear what role the United States government or the oil companies can or should play in addressing problems that are well beyond the relatively clear cut issues of taking responsibility for oil spills or compensating populations displaced by oil production.

Senior Associates Martha Olcott of the Russia/Eurasia Program and Marina Ottaway of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace have brought together a group of individuals who address these issues in their professional capacity in governments, oil companies, and non-governmental organizations or who study them as part of their research activities. By convening such a diverse study group, the Endowment hopes to deepen the understanding of these issues through a series of discussions. The group will hold four sessions between February and May 2000.