Is Britain – after military withdrawal in the 1970s from bases east of Suez – really intending to reopen a naval support facility in Bahrain, create a permanent army presence in Oman and establish new defence staff centres in Dubai and Singapore? RUSI adviser Raffaello Pantucci and MP Tom Tugendhat, writing in the Financial Times, appear to see military force as an asset in trade negotiations:
“(T)he UK has been underperforming in an Asian context, and needs to increase capacity, especially on the defence side . . . It’s been supercharged post-Brexit. The whole idea is of the UK as a global free trader. You need to engage with the new centres of economic power,” said Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Unhealthy and unethical alliances
In February this year Britain and Saudi Arabia, a major purchaser of British-made weapons and military hardware were reported to have lobbied the United Nations to tone down criticism of Bahrain for the use of torture by its security forces. Saudi Arabia, sent troops to quell dissent in Bahrain during the Arab spring.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, declared in a speech in Bahrain this month: “Britain is back east of Suez.”
Though he had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam and acting as a puppeteer in proxy wars throughout the Middle East, the following day he declared that policy formulated in 1969 of disengagement East of Suez was a mistake: “and in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy at least in this sense: that we recognise the strong historical attachment between Britain and the Gulf, and more importantly, we underscore the growing relevance and importance of that relationship in today’s uncertain and volatile world”.
Will Britain even be able to defend its own coastline?
“It comes down to capabilities.The UK is now down to 19 surface combatant [ships] and the concept of a carrier group would tie up most of the deployable navy,” said Euan Graham, director of the international security programme at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. General Sir Richard Barrons, the former head of Britain’s Joint Forces Command, warned recently that Britain’s military had small quantities of highly expensive equipment — such as its two new aircraft carriers — which it could not afford to “use fully, damage or lose” west of Suez or elsewhere.
Is the name of the game still gun-boat diplomacy?
In a Boxing Day article Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat wryly commented that there are more admirals dining on the deck of HMS Victory on Trafalgar Day than we have ships at sea and claimed, “With investment in the armed forces, the UK can shape a future based on the rule of law and free trade. After all, it has been done before”.
Or building a better future in Britain?
“Spend your money feeding the English, providing jobs for your young people and on a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone.”
Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan led a gulf coalition airstrike against Yemen in March. The Obama administration is supporting the Saudi-led air war with intelligence, air refueling operations and expediting weapons deliveries and other crucial support.
Today a Moseley reader draws our attention to the news reported by the Guardian that – eager to follow suit – David Cameron has extolled the ‘defence’ products made by BAE Systems and assured the company that every effort would be made by the UK government to support the selling of their equipment to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries.
According to a BBC report, Houthis – aka Shiite Muslim rebels – are seeking change from weak governance, corruption, resource depletion and poor infrastructure, unemployment, high food prices, limited social services and large-scale displacement.
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have taken to the streets of the capital, Sana’a, to voice their anger at the Saudi invasion.
Death and destruction: the fruits of Saudi, UK, USA labour
Thanks to Anne for the lead.
“Hey you British Muslims we want you to appreciate our British values.
- In a matter of a fortnight the Tories have welcomed the Chinese premier,
- broadcast the building of a military base in Bahrain,
- accepted their special relationship with the Saudis
- and have today welcomed Sisi the Dictator.
The entire values argument has been desecrated by the same people who insist others implement them.
Yes, we want you to have high regard for the values we couldn’t give a toss about.”
So writes historian Jahan Mahmood, former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, and former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office. More from him here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/former-government-adviser-believes-warnings-of-extremist-attacks-were-ignored-9020222.html
Reader Steve adds: Missed out the President of Kazakhstan who was also in the UK last week…and Modi’s visiting soon and he doesn’t have the greatest record on free speech and democracy either.
Several posts on this site about Britain’s ‘special friend’ have referred to the United States of America. Today seeing a barrage of news accumulating about another special friend, Saudi Arabia, aka Britain’s biggest arms market last year, an overview of the last quarter follows.
At the closing session of a two-day Arab League summit held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt’s president el-Sisi announced that some Arab leaders had agreed to form a united military force to combat the “challenges” the region is facing. A high-level panel would work under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff to work out the structure and mechanism of the force: roughly 40,000 elite troops, backed by jets, warships and light armour.
At the time, a Saudi-led coalition was already pressing ahead with air strikes against positions of Houthi fighters and their allies in Yemen. The United States voiced support for the intervention and sent two warships to assist with the naval blockade, but it was criticised by the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. Saudi Arabia had been moving heavy equipment and artillery near its border with Yemen, following the Houthis seizure of the central city of Taiz.
A month later FT View described this ongoing military action as ‘an increasingly aggressive proxy war with Iran in the Middle East, backing Sunni regimes and trying to counter Iranian influence in Syria, Iraq and Bahrain. Several months of war in Yemen have already claimed more than 2,000 lives. The FT writer’s advice:
“[T]he Saudi leadership should think again. In Yemen, Riyadh has given a brutal demonstration of its air power and marshalled a range of Arab nations to back its effort. But air strikes have not weakened the Houthis and a political settlement remains beyond reach. Nor has Saudi Arabia much cause for celebration in its fight against Iran across the region. The kingdom can claim some victories, notably the return of a military-backed government in Cairo. But its lavish funding of proxies has not yielded stability in Syria, Iraq or Libya”.
On May 10th the FT Review reported that the UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator for Yemen said that “indiscriminate bombing” contravened international humanitarian law, but Riyadh says the naval blockade was ordered by the legitimate Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbu Hadi — in exile in Riyadh — and cited a UN Security Council resolution calling for an arms embargo against the Houthis.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen has been described as “catastrophic” by the UN with 20 million civilians – 80% of the population – in need of aid. In May and June there were accounts of the suffering caused by the Saudi-led blockade of the country in place since late March, which has nearly exhausted:
- dwindling supplies of fuel, staples such as rice, medicines and other basic goods are so scarce in north Yemen that prices have risen as much as tenfold, according to Oxfam
- fuel shortages, which pose a grave threat to Yemen’s water and electricity supplies, as well as to its transport network.
On June 7th the BBC reported that peace talks between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and the government will take place in Geneva on 14 June. UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to enter the talks in good faith and without pre-conditions. Its Middle East Editor, Sebastian Usher, says that the government – now mostly in exile in Saudi Arabia – and the rebels have confirmed that they will attend the peace negotiations.
But as Owen Jones says, after giving a devastating account of brutality and injustice, such allies “are up to their necks in complicity with terrorism, but as long as there is money to be made and weapons to sell, our rulers’ lips will remain stubbornly sealed”.
Chamber of Shame’s revolving door: the interests of the already rich are served and media further compromised
Clearly at the service of the multinationals, especially arms manufacturers and United States/Israel/Gulf states – and not those whom they were elected to serve – the Conservative cabinet goes full steam ahead to consolidate these links:
From Abu Dhabi Airports to the UK Ministry of Defence
As the electorate sees cuts to basic services, the coalition government has decided to appoint Tony Douglas, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Airports, with most useful Middle East contacts, as the new chief executive of Defence Equipment and Support (DE & S) on Tuesday. The FT reports: “The new chief of Britain’s armaments programme is to be rewarded with a £285,000 salary and £250,000 performance-related annual bonus, making him the highest earner in Whitehall and the latest in a new line of senior business figures lured into the public sector with the promise of private sector levels of pay”.
Now to the BBC Trust: Sir Roger Carr, arms manufacturer, representing your average license fee payer?
Investigative journalist Felicity Arbuthnot adds another breathtaking example: Roger Carr, the chairman of Europe’s biggest arms company, BAE Systems and Visiting Fellow of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, has just been appointed as Vice-Chair of the BBC Trust, ludicrously, “to represent license fee payers views”. The BBC is established under a Royal Charter and – under an agreement with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport – is to serve the public, inform, educate and entertain.
BBC impartiality further compromised?
The BBC Trust is its governing body, mandated to ensure that the BBC delivers that mission – and ‘speak peace’ according to the charter coat of arms.
On a range of issues, grossly skewed information has led to floods of public protest and the official 2004 Hutton Inquiry investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a biological warfare expert and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq challenged the BBC’s journalistic standards and its impartiality.
CAAT protests that BAE Systems has armed dictatorships and human rights abusers around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Israel. It has presented a petition asking the BBC to cut its ties with Carr and the arms trade.
The Guardian’s gross omission
Disturbingly, the Guardian, still read by many thoughtful people, does not mention this affiliation, listing only Carr’s former appointments.
Saudi security analyst: “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States”
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Saudi government has made no public comment so far on the phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama, whose country Saudi Arabia sees as the main military protector of its interests, and new Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, whose country Saudi Arabia sees as its main threat.
Its journalist, Ellen Knickmeyer, alleges that Sunni-dominated Gulf Arab governments, especially Saudi Arabia, fear that Shiite-ruled Iran wants to use Shia populations in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen to destabilize Gulf Arab governments and try to throw the regional balance of power toward Iran.
Saudi Arabia wanted to do more to boost the power of armed Sunni rebel groups on the ground in Syria but the U.S. declared Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra to be a terrorist organization, while many in the Gulf consider the rebel faction to be a legitimate, predominantly Syrian fighting force against Mr. Assad.
Prince Saud al Faisal, speaking to the Friends of Syria group, a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab countries and Turkey, said that Saudi Arabia wants “intensification of political, economic and military support to the Syrian opposition . . . to change the balance of powers on the ground” in Syria.
Ms Knickmeyer reports that the state-run Saudi Press Agency carries a transcript of his remarks.
The Gulf Research Center
The Geneva-based Gulf Research Center is said to ‘maintain cooperation agreements’ with major partners such as Emirates Bank, Shell, Glaxo Smith Kline, the University of Queensland, the Saudi Arabian Marketing and Agencies Company (SAMACO) group, Pakistan’s National Defence College and the FRIDE Foundation.
Ellen Knickmeyer reports that Dr Mustafa Alani, Saudi security analyst and Senior Advisor and Director of the National Security and Terrorism Studies Department at the Gulf Research Center, said that Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria: “They are going to be upset—we can live with that. We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”
Gulf security analysts are reported to have said that Saudi and other Gulf Arab countries have little leverage to advance their aims in any U.S.-Iran diplomacy. Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in Qatar, is quoted as saying that Saudis have only a few other means, such as directing more of their arms or energy deals to Asia.
In an ill-judged article by John Stanton (October 30’s English edition of Pravda), he asked, “Why does the world’s most powerful nation bow down before the House of Saud even as it becomes less dependent on Persian Gulf and Saudi oil?”
Other commentators are now saying that the American administration now evidently does feel freer to act, now that its new energy resources have been developed.
Read the full article here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303643304579104910000148876.html
As U.S. drone attacks on Pakistan have entered their third consecutive day, with rockets killing 27 people in northwest Pakistan to date, Pakistani protesters take to the streets, shouting anti-U.S. slogans during a demonstration in the city of Multan. They burnt U.S. and Nato flags and held up signs stating ‘America and Nato are war terrorists.’
In NewsX TV’s videoed Pathways to Peace conference last year, there was common agreement, ‘Don’t bring in the US’. The video can be seen by cutting and pasting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXdExlSxQ5A
A little further afield, Philip Stephens (Financial Times) describes the Middle East as a graveyard for ethical foreign policies. People there habitually talk of the west’s double standards and – setting aside colonisation – examples include the 1953 overthrow toppling by of Mohammed Mossadegh by the US incited by the British. That Iranian prime minister made the mistake of thinking that Iran rather than Britain should own its oil industry.
Mr Stephens records:
“The archives of western foreign ministries bulge with evidence of the contradictions and hypocrisies. Diplomats stationed in the region – American and European – have for decades crafted eloquent dispatches questioning whether support for Arab autocrats sat easily with the espousal of universal values; or if one-sided support for Israel did not ignore the legitimate rights of Palestinians. The telegrams went unread. The tyrants had the oil and the Palestinians were powerless.
The reaction to the Arab spring
“After some hesitation, western leaders have decided that popular demand for representative government is by and large a good thing. Listening to some of these politicians one could almost imagine that they had always carried a torch for Arab democracy.”
He points out that support for the uprisings has been selective and conditional:
“Nato lent its military to the overthrow of Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi. But mention repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain and silence descends.” Why? Much of the world’s oil passes through Bahraini waters.
“Saudi Arabia is a no-go area. Much of the Islamist extremism within and without the Middle East has its roots in the Wahhabi fundamentalism that flourishes under the House of Saud. But Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. The Saudis also buy hugely expensive military kit . . . “
Stephens: “ . . . the deeply corrosive effect of the accumulated hypocrisies on the west’s standing and influence”
“Confronted with charges of double standards, western policy makers tend to shrug their shoulders and reply this is the world as it is. What the realpolitik misses, I think, is the deeply corrosive effect of the accumulated hypocrisies on the west’s standing and influence.”
More on this and allied subjects in due course from Vijay Mehta’s new book “The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels Wars and Poverty in the Developing World”, Pluto Press/Palgrave Macmillan in February 2012. Book website www.theeconomicsofkilling.org