Thursday, 4 October 2012

Bahrain, Britain and Strategic Interests.

Britain's co-operation in protecting the government in Bahrain has come under criticism for suppressing demonstrations for full democracy, whilst elsewhere it staunchly defends the rebels in their fight against dictatorships. Of course, Bahrain is not a dictatorship but a strong monarchy.

Even so, Louisa Luckless wrote recently in The Guardian,

The British government has supplied the security forces of Bahrain with crowd control weapons and British advisers have been co-opted into the abortive reform process. But British involvement doesn't there, our oldest institutions continue to train a steady stream of Bahraini nationals for active service. 

According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, this training comes at a high cost to the British state. Although it costs £78,000 to train a single recruit, Bahrain only pays £48,400 an individual. The Ministry of Defence has therefore subsidised Bahraini military training with at least £380,000 in the past three years alone.

The reason is that Bahrain is of strategic importance to the USA and Britain due to the need to retain the regional balance of power in the Middle East and to support Saudi policy. That, in turn, is made necessary by the over dependence of Western nations upon oil.

Unless, the Western nations find an alternative to the oil of Saudi Arabia, it is far more convenient to shore up these undemocratic regimes with a profitable arms trade and lucrative defence deals. No amount of dissent in Britain is going to change that if the root cause of the foreign policy is not addressed.

The fear is that as both the King of Saudi Arabia and King Hamad of Bahrain rule in the name of Sunni Islam over territories were most are Shiite Muslims and, set against the growth of Iranian influence in the region, especially Bahrain of 1.2 million population approximately 70 per cent is Shiite.

With the Arab Revolutions, the Western powers have tried to tilt the balance of power their way ( for example in Libya and Syria ) but where democracy threatens to bring in a Shiite Islamist state based on "General Will" principles they will do everything to prevent the creation of states friendly to Iran.

The potential for Saudi Arabia to become destabilised was on the minds of Bush and Blair even before the Arab Revolutions and dates back to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when strategic planners wanted to secure the oil of that nation and ensure a diversified supply of oil.

In addition, Bahrain accommodates the US Fifth Fleet to patrol the Gulf through which 40% of the world's oil is transported. Any collapse in the balance of power could lead to oil prices rocketing and to wreck the struggling economies of the West in the aftermath of the 2008 crash.

These are the strategic realities underlying the double standards of British foreign policy in the region. The pressing need is to find alternatives and to try to restructure the Western economies so as to retain a degree of energy independence and not get trapped into potential conflicts in the Middle East.

As Mark Almond puts the dilemma,

    ...if we remain unmoved while a brutal crackdown silences the Bahraini people’s demands for democracy and human rights, Iran will crow about Western hypocrisy...So we face a choice between our principles, and our security and economies.

Ultimately, dissent over foreign policy and its double standards are needed. Yet few of them seem to have any realistic notion of how the West can extricate itself from this lethal quagmire without there being a global oil price shock that would lead to even more poverty and unemployment.

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