Monday, 17 February 2014

Syria: The Failure of the Geneva II Conference and Energy Power Politics.

The Geneva II talks between those representing both sides in the Syrian Civil War have  been suspended without any set date for their resumption. The appalling scale of the killing of civilians goes on without any prospect of resolution. At present the death toll is estimated at around 140,000 dead.

Jonathan Steele writes in the Observer,
'Rather than trying to score propaganda points or blame the other for Geneva's lack of progress, Washington and Moscow need to build on the common ground between them. Neither wants the total collapse of Syria's institutions or its secular multicultural tradition'.
Steele is right to emphasise the fact that neither global power has an interest in Syria's secular institutions being overthrown and the country becoming dominated by Islamist fanatics and a base for those affiliated to Al Qaida. The spectre haunting them is Syria becoming like Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The problem is that the West ( the USA, France and Britain ) are reluctant to put too much pressure on Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia is intent on financially backing jihadists to overthrow Assad just as Qatar is giving aid and arms to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

True, Washington has been prepared to engage with Iran over its nuclear programme to the displeasure of Qatar. Getting Iran to work with other regional players such Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey is going to be difficult because of the lucrative energy interests at stake in this war.

Having been prevented in 2013 from launching missile strikes against Assad by Russia negotiating with the Syrian state to surrender its arsenal of chemical weapons, the US has sought to take a more diplomatic direction and exploit the new Iranian president's desire for sanctions on it to be removed.

Western policy, indeed, has been based on the fear of Iran shoring up Assad as a client and thus being able to realise its plan to export LNG from the South Pars gas field via pipeline by 2016. The pipeline would go through a Shia dominated Iraq via Syria onto the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU markets.

France and Britain have been far more reluctant to do anything that would challenge Qatar over its backing for jihadists than the US. One reason is  the rival Qatari pipeline that would bring LNG to Europe direct instead of having to be loaded onto tankers rounding the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz.

Both France and Britain have become ever more dependent upon Qatari LNG. Consumer complaints about high gas prices in Britain mean the need to accept the emirates policy in Syria as it helps in enabling British corporations such as Centrica to strike deals over LNG rather than see it shipped elsewhere.

One additional reason for the stalemate at Geneva II and why France and Britain want Assad to go and a regime favourable to its energy interests to be installed is the that both depend on a colossal amount of investment from Qatar vital to boost their ailing economies.

As regards Britain, Milad Jokar points out,
'The Qatari investments are also important in Great Britain. With 20 percent of the shares of the London Stock Exchange, Qatar is the main shareholder of Barclays. The Emirate has also invested massively in the Olympic Games, it has financed 95 percent of the highest building in London (the Shard).'
The US, in its turn, has broad strategy of isolating Iran by thwarting its influence west through a pipeline via Syria and to the east through the planned pipeline to Pakistan. By retaining influence in Afghanistan, thus ensuring the war aim of construction of the TAPI pipeline, Iran's regional power against the USA's Gulf allies can be degraded.

These salient geopolitical factors are all part of the New Great Game for control over supplies of oil and gas that are being used up and diminishing across the globe with worldwide industrialisation. Those concerned with the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria need to be concerned with it and urgently..

Monday, 10 February 2014

Drone Warfare and Resource Conflicts

News that Britain's RAF have fired missiles during the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan comes as no surprise as the UK is at the forefront with the US in applying this technology to the new challenge of 21st century warfare: containing and killing Islamist militants and securing access to resources.

The use of drones in covert operations in Afghanistan has been veiled in secrecy because they are a major military tool that is being tested out in preparation for a new epoch of resource wars. Afghanistan remains a theatre of operation for the British and US through military experts and private sector mercenaries.

The future of warfare is going to consist not, as in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014, of having combat troops on the ground and suffering casualties against those such as the Taliban in some struggle for 'nation building'. It will be to protect mineral resources, fortified compounds and pipeline routes.

The Afghanistan War has continued for thirteen years with relatively heavy British casualties. Apart from the fact these are British troops, the problem is in 'perception management' with regards convincing the public that wars fought for purposes that are difficult to mention means drones are convenient.

Wars for the minerals such as lithium in Afghanistan and the construction of the TAPI pipeline and other infrastructure projects vital for advancing Western geopolitical ambitions in Central Asia require drones to be used in order to fend off Taliban attacks on the New Silk Route project.

As the earlier nation building plans of the 2000s in both Iraq and Afghanistan are now considered to be too expensive after the 2008 economic crisis, requiring ground troops over a long term, a new shift has seen  focus on protecting strategic zones with drones and training regional militias in places such as Somalia too.

For the US, that means defending sea lanes and strategic areas such as Yemen which is strategically located between Saudi Arabia and Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa where more than 3 billion barrels of oil a day pass the country's coast on their way west.

Drones are in use in Yemen and Somalia against Al Qaida affiliates such as Al Shabaab that are threatening to disrupt international commerce and the flow of vital hydrocarbons north towards the Suez Canal. As in Afghanistan, so too in Somalia  and Yemen is it the protection of resource interests ultimately at stake. 

It could be argued that drones are useful and good in rolling back terrorist attempts to attack the West's vital interests. But evidence shows in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan that drones sometimes kill civilians, thus recruiting new jihadists in these lands and even in the West due to recent patterns of migration.