Yes, indeed, there is only one real superpower -- and in the oil sector its name is Saudi Arabia. It was strong before the Persian Gulf conflict, even stronger when the war was over. When Saudi Arabia wanted world oil prices low, as it did during recent years, prices stayed low. Now, suddenly, it indicates it wants prices to go up. Up they go!
Why the wealthy desert kingdom has switched tactics is a matter of intense speculation. One persuasive theory has it that Saudi Arabia wanted to show its opposition to European Community planning for a carbon-energy tax that would have amounted to a $3 levy on each barrel of oil now, and $10 by the year 2000. As chief world exporter of oil, which has been selling around $20 a barrel, Riyadh wondered why consumer governments should benefit from a projected $95 billion revenue windfall at the expense of producer governments.
The Europeans went into retreat right after the Saudi switch. They scotched the carbon tax as an EC proposal to prevent global warming at the Earth Summit in Rio next week, thus precipitating a decision by the EC environment chief to boycott a conference where, he complained, "everything, or virtually everything, has been arranged."