Thursday, 12 November 2015

Britain and Resource Wars in the 21st Century.

Norton Taylor has drawn attention to the fact the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states would be a feature of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due to be unveiled on 23 November 2015. Yet it is vital to draw attention to the increased emphasis both NATO and the Britain has put on energy security.

The last SDSR in 2010 made plain that real threats to Britain's security are considered to be rising
'due to ourgrowing dependence on imports of fossil fuels at  the same time that global demand and competition for energy is increasing. Falling UK production of oil and gas, coupled with sustained demand, will make us increasingly reliant on fossil fuel imports'.
While Britain gets on a fraction of its oil from Saudi Arabia, with most coming from Norway or Russia or African OPEC nations -mostly Nigeria and Algeria-it imports an increasingly significant amount of LNG from Gulf States such as Qatar. Indeed Michael Fallon in 2013, as Energy Secratary, made this reliance clear.
"We are looking for more long-term gas supply contracts with Qatar – they have proved a very reliable partner...It's very important we strengthen our relationship with them. Already over half our gas comes from abroad and by 2030, it'll be three-quarters" LNG accounted for 28pc of the UK's gas imports last year, 98pc of those from Qatar.
In respect to Britain's geopolitical strategy, which involves building the base in Bahrain, supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen and supporting "moderate rebels" in Syria, in alignment with the Saudis and Qatar, the ambition is to secure crucial strategic chokepoints in the Persian Gulf and between the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

This is precisely why Philip Hammond is not that interested in the humanitarian consequences of Saudi Arabia bombing civilian targets in Houthi rebel held urban areas. The threat to the flow of oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Red Sea trade was a major concern for Saudi Arabia fearing Iranian proxy influence.

Even if Iran would be unlikely to cut off oil flows from Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, the pathological competition for influence and power in Syria is about the competition between Iran and Qatar for two rival gas pipelines between the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU energy markets.

The construction of Britain's Bahrain base is about reassuring Britain's Gulf allies that they are pledged to their defence in the event of any threat, not least that of terrorist attacks from within, Iranian backing for Shi'ite rebels or the looming spectre of ISIS As Hammond put it '“Your security is our security.”

By pledging Britain so unconditionally to the defence of the increasingly unstable Gulf states, Hammond has determined that Britain would be pulled into a regionwide conflagration should this happen, as appears increasingly probable rentier regimes incapable of diversifying from oil faced with Islamist militancy.

The Saudi oil price war with Russia, one spurred on by the US shale oil 'revolution', was intended as a means to reconfigure global geopolitics and use galling oil revenues to cripple those powers opposing US world domination such as Venezuela, Iran and, most obviously, Russia itself.

Far from promoting 'stability', the strategy could end up destabilising Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies which have blamed Riyadh for plummeting oil revenues. The Saudis have been drawn into a Yemen quagmire and costs have escalated as revenues to buy off discontent fallen drastically.

ISIS has made repeated incursions into Saudi oil producing regions and in the Bastra region of Iraq as well as Al Qaida into Algeria. An oil price shock would boost their as yet relatively meagre oil revenues greatly and send the global economy into a tailspin as the East Asian economies are dependent upon Middle East oil.

The Russian Factor.

The next cause of global instability is that sanctions have helped drive Putin into entering Syria in order to combat both ISIS, a threat to the Russian Caucasus and its oil and gas pipelines in the region, as well as to decisively back Assad's state army against Qatari and Saudi-backed "moderate rebels".

Russia sought to tilt the balance away from their prospective gains because of the threat a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline would pose to Russia's control over energy supplies into the EU, its oil revenues and its global power projection. This was threatened in March 2015 by the Army of Conquest militia formation being created.

The Russian intervention would seem to be a ploy to increase oil prices and shore up Putin's oil revenues. It is more probable the move was about blocking off the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and retaining a strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean so that it could gain a stake in offshore Syrian and Israeli gas projects

This had been threatened by Army of Conquest gains in north-west Syria as the Gulf States and Turkey upped their supply of weapons to it, a formation that includes Al Qaida affiliated militias such as al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, militant Sunni jihadists wanting a Caliphate not so dissilimar from that of IS in Raqqa.

Western propaganda, via a pliant media, replicates the untruth that Assad faces 'moderate rebels' Yet it is unclear how far either the West would go in defending their interests should Russia succeed in 'degrading' the military capacity of the Army of Conquest, backed by a NATO member in the form of Erdogan's Turkey.

The Gulf States have put pressure on the Western Powers to back them in Syria. Meanwhile Saudi-Russian relations have continued to deteriorate amidst suspicions that Riyadh is covertly backing jihadists against Russia in Chechnya and Dagestan, as well as NGO groups in other strategic transit states in the Caucasus.

So Britain is pledged to defending the Gulf States. Even if the US is more focused the rise of China in 2015, the Saudi lobby and Republicans are staunchly for the alliance and a direct proxy war with Russia over both Syria and Ukraine.This could stimulate tensions in a region the SDSR cited as crucial to energy security-the Caspian.

There are all sorts of dangers that are being created by the adherence to a Cold War era alliance system in the Middle East. There needs to be a change in strategic thinking and a greater emphasis on energy independence through nuclear power and in energy saving measures.

These are the chilling realities of the world in the 21st century. 

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