Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Syria : The Danger of Energy Geopolitics.

Back in September military action by the US and France over the alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad's forces on a suburb of Damascus seemed inevitable. Dossiers were being produced and ministers were waxing indignant about the need to 'punish' Assad.

The rapid climbdown by the US was forced upon it by  Russia's brilliantly timed diplomatic intervention when they struck a deal in which Assad would allow both  Russia and the US to oversee the destruction of the chemical weapons arsenal. The US was thereby allowed  to save face and claim its coercive diplomacy had worked.

War was averted. Yet the issue, of course, was never completely about chemical weapons, though the hardline on 'weapons of mass destruction' was also designed to send out a message to Iran that their alleged programme to build a nuclear bomb was of a piece with the dangerous rogue state of Syria which is its stalwart ally.

The reason why the US and France were drawn to the brink of intervening with missile strikes and aircraft carriers had been sent to the Eastern Mediterranean was the dangerous New Great Game over gas resources and pipeline routes, one that explains Western double standards over Syria and Egypt.

After the Egyptian army had mown down protesters and their barricades with bullets and bulldozers  in the streets of Cairo who were against the military coup, Western diplomats made weasel comments about the need for dialogue. When Assad was alleged to have used poison gas in Syria, the call was to remove him.

From the US perspective, there was far less to gain in intervening to try and put pressure on Assad than certain EU powers such as Britain and France. The US felt it needed to act because it was tied to the rhetoric about Assad's use of chemical weapons being a 'red line' that once, when crossed, necessitated action.

True, the US still has energy interests in the Middle East better served by shoring up the regional powers that are backing the Sunni insurgents seeking to overthrow Assad's Shia regime, most obviously Saudi Arabia and Turkey. But the shale gas 'revolution' in the US reduced dependence upon the other enemy of Assad-Qatar.

All three external powers backing and funding the insurgents against Assad decided to do so in order to get a new regime that would not oppose their energy interests, in particular the plan to build more gas pipelines to EU states, to export Qatari liquefied natural gas ( LNG ) and reduce dependence on Iran and Russia.

Energy geopolitics is a prime determiner of  the relations between states in the early twenty first century as the race is on to control supplies that are not keeping pace with the burgeoning demand. States haunted by the prospect of their decline such as Britain and France have been the most aggressive in struggling to retain influence.

Part of this is post-imperial hubris but that ties together with both these states role as large arms providers to Middle Eastern states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The BG group has major interests in exploiting Egyptian gas reserves ( hence the mealy mouthed denunciations of SCAF for their bloody coup d' etat ).

The problem with Syria, from France and Britain's perspective, is that he occupies a piece of strategic land through which Iran wants to extend its energy interests no less than Russia which has leased a naval port in Tarsous through which it can protect its energy interests in the Levant with new discoveries of undersea gas.

But Russia also seeks to guarantee the potential "Islamic pipeline' that would, in any post-civil war Syria, be built from the South Pars gas field that Iran shares with Qatar through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. That would cut the power of Qatar and Turkey as energy providers to the EU.

Despite the immediate crisis having diminished since September 2013, the longer term potential for intractable conflict remains. More than that, there is evidence that radicalised Muslims are going to and fro from Western nations to Syria to become hardened jihadists and who might carry out attacks there.

There is evidence that the secret services have been prepared to use these jihadists as 'assets' in the past from Afghanistan, to Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Kosovo in order to further energy interests. The prospect of 'blowback' being visited upon Britain and France is a lethal consequence of this New Great Game.

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