Whatʼs in a pipe? NATOʼs confrontation on the 1962 large-diameter pipe embargo

Abstract : By the late-1950s, the Soviet Union acquired a strong position as a world oil exporter, thanks to major discoveries in the Ural-Volga area. The new availability prompted the USSR to greatly increase its exports, especially to West European countries. Such strategy was met with ambivalent reactions, depending on each countryʼs position and status on the world oil scene, as well as on their political and economic needs. In order to transport their oil to strategic areas within the Soviet Union and to Europe, the Soviets devised a project for a colossal pipeline system. This plan caused anxiety at NATO since Russian oil could be wielded as a weapon to weaken the West both militarily and economically. Beside being seen as potentially threatening for the interest of Anglo-American and French oil majors, the considerable amount of cheap oil the pipeline system would carry generated worries about Western Europe becoming dependent on the USSR for its energy. In order to complete the system, however, the Soviets needed considerable amounts of large-diameter steel pipes and equipment, which they had to import from the West. Thus in 1961 the US delegation at NATO proposed a comprehensive embargo of large-diameter pipes in order to delay the systemʼs construction. The proposal met with strong British opposition and a lukewarm attitude by a number of NATO members, and the debate soon came to revolve around 1) the definition of steel pipes as strategic items, and 2) whether a security rationale should be prioritized over an economic one when dealing with the Soviets. In this paper, I argue that the definition of what oil pipes are as technological artifacts, as well as their ultimate content, was ultimately shaped by the NATO debate on the US proposition. What an oil pipe was – or was not – and how it could be used, derived from the struggle to control or suppress commerce with the Soviet Union.
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Contributeur : Roberto Cantoni <>
Soumis le : jeudi 24 mars 2016 - 10:15:04
Dernière modification le : jeudi 11 janvier 2018 - 06:19:09
Document(s) archivé(s) le : samedi 25 juin 2016 - 14:03:28


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Roberto Cantoni. Whatʼs in a pipe? NATOʼs confrontation on the 1962 large-diameter pipe embargo. 2016. 〈hal-01291854〉



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