Sunday, 31 August 2014

Britain and Qatar: Why National Security is Energy Security.

'Take Qatar. There is evidence that, as the US magazine The Atlantic puts it, “Qatar’s military and economic largesse has made its way to Jabhat al-Nusra”, an al-Qaida group operating in Syria. Less than two weeks ago, Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, was slapped down after pointing the finger at Qatar for funding Islamic State (Isis).

While there is no evidence to suggest Qatar’s regime is directly funding Isis, powerful private individuals within the state certainly are, and arms intended for other jihadi groups are likely to have fallen into their hands. According to a secret memo signed by Hillary Clinton, released by Wikileaks, Qatar has the worst record of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US.

And yet, where are the western demands for Qatar to stop funding international terrorism or being complicit in the rise of jihadi groups? Instead, Britain arms Qatar’s dictatorship, selling it millions of pounds worth of weaponry including “crowd-control ammunition” and missile parts. There are other reasons for Britain to keep stumm, too. Qatar owns lucrative chunks of Britain such as the Shard, a big portion of Sainsbury’s and a slice of the London Stock Exchange.To really combat terror, end support for Saudi Arabia, Owen Jones, Guardian, Sunday 31 August 2014
All true, but Jones omits that Britain gets 12% of its gas supply from Qatar in the form of liquefied natural gas. Without that it would have to get it from Russia or else fracking has to happen. If not, then nuclear power has to expanded because renewable sources would not be sufficient for a nation of 60million increasing.

The stock argument as regards the weapons sales would be that if they were not sold, Britain would lose both the money and also the special relationship which would enable it to exert at least some influence over Qatar, though there seems little evidence before 2014 that this had much effect.

The dependence upon Qatar increased following the decline of North Sea gas and the fact Britain became a net importer of gas in 2006. This trend is set to continue because Britain would prefer not to become more dependent upon Russian gas, not least given the Ukrainian crisis developing into a potential 'full war'.

The problem with Owen Jones' analysis is that it pretends the relationship is based on the idea of 'the Establishment' and the corporations putting profits from arms deals before Britain's security given Qatar's backing for Sunni militants in Syria, even those affiliated to Al Qaida.

The reality is more complicated and based upon a projection of energy needs and security. Britain’s dependence on gas imports will rise to 70% by 2020. In November 2013 the then Energy Minister Michael Fallon claimed Britain was already importing 50% of its energy.

Far from being only about corporate profits, energy analyst Graham Freedman made plain it that “until we get the next surge in LNG over the next three years we’ll see higher prices and of course utilities have to pass these on to consumers". Higher bills means less shopping and consumer driven 'growth'.

Energy security is set to become more problematic over time. Michael Fallon stated that by 2030, the UK would need to purchase three-quarters of its natural gas needs. So even if, unlike the US, Britain imports no oil from Saudi Arabia, Qatar is vital as a source of gas.

In November 2013, the Centrica corporation signed a GBP4 billion contract with Qatargas to import 3 million tonnes per year of LNG over a period of 4.5 years ( ending 2018 ), which adds up to equalling roughly some 13% of the UK’s annual residential gas demand.

The contract would not be connected to oil prices and Qatar has been prepared to divert LNG westwards, even though it could fetch a higher price in Asia. Fallon stated that “long-term deals of this kind with reliable suppliers like Qatar are vital for our future energy security.”

One reason Britain enjoys such a close relationship with Qatar is not only that it is a key energy and investment partner, thus recycling the petrocurrency into the London property market and the Stock Exchange, but also that Britain is committing itself to defending it.

Qatar is a major rival of Iran. One reason why Britain backed Qatar and Turkey in their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Free Syria Army, and failed to do anything when it was clear the Sunni jihadists were getting more ruthless, was to check Iranian influence in Syria.

Qatar in 2009 proposed a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would transport gas from the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf, which is shared with Iran, through Syria and Turkey, making Erdogan's country an east-west energy hub between the EU and the Middle East.

Not only was removing Assad vital to this geostrategy. Indeed, there were fears that Iran could build a rival 'Shi'ite Islamic pipeline' from the Gulf towards the Eastern Mediterranean via Iraq should the Shia Alawi ruler Assad not be removed as planned.

Hence Qatar is considered a vital geopolitical ally in containing Iran far more than with Saudi Arabia, which despises and fears Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria, as well as Hamas, could radicalise radical Islamists in the oil rich kingdom just west.

Both Gulf states see in Iran the main threat and that's both why they turned a blind eye to private donors funding Sunni jihadists in Syria and were even in competition with each other to back the most ruthless factions so that they could win the right to control Syria after Assad.

Philip Hammond in April 2014 made plain that Britain is not simply interested only in arms deals in the Middle East but in committing Britain to Qatar's defence and that the strategic aim was quite forthrightly about the security of Britain's energy interests.
“As we draw down from the combat situation in Afghanistan, where we have for many years had an opportunity to provide training to our forces through the deployments they do to Afghanistan, we have to think through how we will train our forces in desert warfare, in hot-conditions’ combat in the future, and certainly one of the options is to establish a more permanent facility, somewhere in the Gulf,
The West is crucially dependent on a stable energy market above all else. Our economic recovery is fragile. Anything that calls for a spike in the oil price would derail it.

The mostly likely scenario to cause that up spike is a surge in tension in this region, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz. It is very much in our interest to have a stable situation in the Gulf. That is why Western countries are prepared to invest so much in this region and supporting the Gulf states to maintain that stability,”

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