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What would be a rational reason for Western countries to unethically intervene in the Middle East following a total economic collapse?

I'm writing a story where Middle Eastern countries descend into political and social anarchy as a result of the collapse of their crude oil-based economy. I’m referring specifically to those countries dependent on crude oil production to sustain their economies. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that Western countries are unaffected (they have other crude oil sources or other sources of fuel).

If the oil economy collapsed, whether due to an imposed embargo or their own decision to stop providing oil in response to Western sanctions, this would result in social and political anarchy in the Middle East. I'm particularly interested in how they could descend into anarchy that is serious enough to warrant foreign intervention.

In my story, the Western world feels that the situation in the Middle East is of sufficient threat to other countries that they could justify intervention using unethical means. They send undercover spies to the Middle East to "put a method to the madness" - not to restore civilization, but to confine the danger to the Middle East. They set up a sort of dystopia in which sanctioned killing is allowed. The story is set well into this dystopia, so the anarchy is just the backstory.

I'm going to assume that an economic collapse would result in insufficient resources, starvation, warring sects, use of nuclear/chemical warfare, etc. that lead to anarchy in the Middle East. At what point would the Mid-East pose a significant enough risk that the Western world would feel compelled to act?

I'm interested in answers that either (a) provide historical examples of how economic collapse led to anarchy extreme enough to warrant foreign intervention (and describe the foreign intervention that took place), or (b) provide a justification for a foreign country taking questionable steps to stop an anarchy from spiraling out of control.

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  • $\begingroup$ Seems like several are close right now without additional factors… $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 29, 2022 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ Have you even read about the current politics in the middle east? They've been teetering on the edge of anarchy and infighting (in the periods between the actual infighting) for the past century, and frankly haven't had real lasting peace, like, ever. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Dec 29, 2022 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ I am confused. Was there a single year after the fall of the Ottoman Empire when there was no anarchy in the Near East in at least one or two countries? (Currently it's Syria and Yemen, plus of course the perennial Lebanon, which has been utterly dysfunctional ever since I learned to read. Which was a long time ago.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ VTC: Too Story-Based. Per the [hep/on-topic], we help you build your world, not tell your story. World rules exist independently of all stories and questions cannot be asked in a way where all answers have equal value (see help center). Besides, you've already created the mechanism: economic collapse. That creates anarchy. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:51
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    $\begingroup$ @TheresaKay In which case VTC:Needs More Focus. You're allowed to ask one and only one question in your post - and what you just said wasn't the question I came away with after reading your post. Besides, what would trigger intervention on the part of the outside world would be lack of oil supply. Are you looking for reasons that result in both chaos and the disruption of the world's oil supply? That might be permissible if you are asking for a narrowly focused list (it's not impossible to ask a legal brainstorming Q, but it's darn hard). Maybe if the Israelis destroyed the Dome of the Rock. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 30, 2022 at 0:28

3 Answers 3

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Fusion becomes a cheap alternative energy source with broad adoption

The Middle East is full of tensions, Iraq vs Saudi Arabia, Shia vs Sunni, Israelis and Palestinians... There's recently been hot fighting in Syria, and in Yemen, and probably places I haven't thought of. The Turks don't like the Armenians. A lot of the Kurds would like their own country, but the Turks and the Iraqis don't want to cede territory... The Azerbaijanis also don't like the Armenians, and the Armenians aren't keen on the Turks and Azerbaijanis. Modern day slavery is alive and well in Libya, and effectively alive in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and likely other places (in terms of migrant workers being entrapped and abused).

It's all a powder keg, which is only more messy the deeper you dig. And the rest of the world fights proxy wars there, trying to keep something like stability (or just control), so they can get keep the oil flowing.

If nobody cared about the oil (and the rare earths they're now finding in Afghanistan, etc)... Then nobody else would be likely to put their oar in to maintain the status quo. It would be quite plausible that things would degenerate to pure catastrophe all on its own, if the rest of the world just didn't care. If we didn't need the oil, that could be the real future.

You could spend a lifetime sorting through the messy history and current issues.

(Yes this is off the top of my head - feel free to correct and/or add to this.)

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    $\begingroup$ This does not answer the question. From the OP's post, "If their oil economy collapsed, whether due to an imposed embargo or their own decision to stop providing oil in response to Western sanctions, how would this result in anarchy?" She's not asking how the oil production would be affected, she's already asserted that it is. She's asking, "what happens next?" to guarantee anarchy. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 29, 2022 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Two fighters are circling each other, throwing feints and shouting threats. "Yeah, but how can I make them fight?" My answer: "Uh, turn your back for a minute? Stop trying to hold them apart, maybe?" $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Dec 30, 2022 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that fusion becoming a cheap alternative is irrelevant because the OP has already pushed that aside. To re-assert my issue: given that the oil economy has already collapsed (voiding the value of your answer), why would another nation attack the middle east? In fact, if you think about it, cheap fusion energy would be a perfectly good reason to ignore the middle east completely. Remember, the economic collapse has already happened. So explaining how it could happen isn't an answer. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 3, 2023 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH The oil economy has already collapsed!? Wait, no, looks like my shares of ExxonMobil are up 88% since when I bought them a couple of years ago. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Jan 3, 2023 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ -1 for not being an answer to the OP's question and a flag for same. It actually helps when you say things like, "oh, crap, I misunderstood the question, sorry about that." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 3, 2023 at 21:55
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Russia

I'm going to go with option A: "provide historical examples of how economic collapse led to anarchy extreme enough to warrant foreign intervention"

The Soviet Union was nominally communist, but as a single-party state ruled by the head of that party who used party organs to rubber-stamp his dictates, it was effectively a kind of dictatorship. Practically every thing of value that existed was the property of the state, and could be used only for purposes blessed by the fat POS at the top of that pyramid. "Thing of value" included everything from factories to natural resources.

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and all the resources that were being carefully managed by government officials were suddenly up for grabs by... actually, anybody with the temerity to grab it. Which is exactly what happened.

The West was jubilant when the Evil USSR died, and the U.S. (in the throes of addiction to the smell of rich capitalists' farts) went into overdrive exporting "free market" (aka Libertarian) legal theory, particularly as pertained to property. Among other things, this involved sending American business lawyers (aka paid agents of the American oligarchy) over to Europe to help Russians try to establish some legal norms amidst the Soviet carcass.

There's a great anecdote that I heard on (I think) Lawfare, from one of those U.S. lawyers, about a former Soviet satellite. He discovered that they were disbarring a lot of their judges because those judges were making rulings that displeased the vultures who were getting fat on the choicest wreckage. Punishing judges for rulings is of course incompatible with the rule of law, and the Americans explained that it wasn't okay to disbar judges for making rules that aren't liked by one of the litigants. Judges must be appointed for life to ensure their impartiality.

So they started executing the judges instead. Jurisprudence saved!

In the end, what happened is that most of the assets that were formerly held by the Soviet government were snapped up by unscrupulous individuals who had access to ready cash and muscle: organized crime.


The core problem here is the one that is notionally solved by the rule "you break it, you bought it." Society is a living thing that must continue to operate every single day, and it's impossible to get millions of people to just Pause their lives (and stomachs) if vital institutions stop working.

When the Soviet government collapsed, everybody was suddenly left to their own devices, and some of those people happened to be extremely sophisticated and powerful predators who were ready and willing to take advantage of the complete lack of police and regulation to further enrich themselves and entrench their power.

And as a result, today practically every thing thing of value is the private property of Putin or one of his friends, and can be used only for purposes blessed by the fat POS at the top of that pyramid.

Having seen this play out once already with disastrous consequences, I bet that a hypothetical Western country that wasn't paralyzed by super-wealthy Libertarians would be very eager to impose some kind of order in the vacuum left by a collapsed state, to prevent that state's assets from falling into the hands of the only groups that would thrive in that environment: organized crime.

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The simplest way to turn an economic crisis into an anarchy is through war.

The states in the region have historic tensions and disputes. Look at Bahrain v. Qatar, or the ongoing fighting in Yemen.

A situation in which one or several groups feel that they are being unfairly affected by an economic downturn could lead to civil war. There are Islamist groups, from sects that are not represented by the current governments that could stage a rebellion. Divisions in the Saudi Army, disputes over access to Mecca. Baathist socialist rebels looking for unity by fighting everyone else. The senior members of the government taking as much as they can fit in a Jumbo Jet and moving to Indonesia.... It would not take much imagination to reduce the region to Somalia Mark 2.

And indeed it should be to failed states like Somalia, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, that you should look to for models.

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