Oil Revenues and Stability
New oil and gas technologies have changed the geography of global energy production. As the United States attracts more investment and attention from exploration and production companies, other countries could lose out on such opportunities for foreign investment and thus produce less. Still others may lose their share in the marketplace if they fail to adopt new technologies and forfeit their competitive edge. Either scenario could result in a significant loss of government revenue.
One might expect fewer financial resources to lead to social or political instability, particularly in states with weakly institutionalized governments that are heavily dependent on energy exports to meet their spending commitments. As long as those in power can continue to provide promised subsidies and maintain a coherent network of elite supporters, whether through patronage or by other means, stability is likely to persist. A severe disruption in funding, then, could disrupt the foundations of political stability in such countries, resulting in mass social mobilization or internal political upheaval.
In practice, though, slumps in hydrocarbon income are rarely the most important factor contributing to temporary threats to stability. In addition, leaders of oil-producing countries tend to keep on hand some resources from the good times to tide them over during the bad times. Nigeria, for instance, has been able to use its Excess Crude Account to set aside oil revenue in a “rainy day fund” to cover future shortfalls. Finally, revenues usually must remain low for an extended period of time to truly threaten a government’s hold on power; brief dips, which are far more common, often do not have so severe an impact on political stability.
Alternatively, one might expect fewer oil and gas revenues in oil-producing countries to result in reduced military capabilities and readiness that could hurt regional or global security efforts. Lower revenues could necessitate budget cuts, and it is possible that spending related to participation in regional or global security (as opposed to national security) would be a logical area to trim back.
But once again, this historically has not proven to be the case. Leaders are often sensitive to potential threats to their regimes, so security apparatuses are usually the last place to experience budget cuts. For example, when Angola experienced a decline in oil-related revenues in 2010-11, the government’s military expenditures actually increased; Angolan leaders simply borrowed money, primarily from China and the International Monetary Fund, to finance its position as Africa’s largest spender.