What’s in a Pipe?: NATO’s Confrontation on the 1962 Large-Diameter Pipe Embargo
By the late 1950s, the Soviet Union had acquired a strong position as a world oil exporter, thanks to major discoveries in the Ural-Volga area. In order to transport their oil to strategic areas within the Union and to Europe, the Soviets devised a project to build 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. In order to complete the system, however, the Soviets needed large-diameter steel pipes and equipment, which they had to import from the West. Thus in 1961 the U.S. delegation at NATO proposed a comprehensive embargo of large-diameter pipes in order to delay the system’s construction. I argue that the definition of what oil pipes were as technological artifacts, as well as their final content, was ultimately shaped by the NATO debate on this U.S. proposition. This article received the 2014 Levinson Prize for best essay.