Vol. 75/No. 16
April 25, 2011
From Libya to Gulf states, London pushes war and exports to shore up faded power
In the opening decades of the 20th century, Britain had been the strongest imperialist power in the Mideast. It considered the Gulf region the western flank of its colony in India. At the opening of World War II, British companies controlled an estimated 72 percent of oil reserves in the region, as compared to 9.5 percent for U.S. firms. By 1967 U.S. corporations controlled nearly 60 percent of reserves, while British capital was reduced to under 30 percent.
To cite another example, Bahrain—where massive protests have recently met with murderous repression by the Khalifah family dynasty—was a British protectorate from 1861 until independence in 1971. Today the small kingdom is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Cameron traveled to the Gulf with a trade delegation, including top executives of arms firms such as BAe Systems, Thales UK, and others. Last year, the Gulf states reportedly bought £15 billion of British exports, roughly the same as China and India combined. Military export licenses alone over the first nine months of 2010 totaled £64.3 million to Saudi Arabia, £4 million to Egypt, £270 million to Algeria, and £15.9 million to the UAE (£1=US$1.64).
The BBC reports that “what makes Bahrain stand out for both Britain and the US is its geographical position and its value as a defence and security hub,” especially with regard to Iran. Democracy in the Middle East “may in theory sound like a good idea,” the BBC dispatch continues, “but when it comes to security arrangements, it is not always optimal.”
An opinion piece in the Telegraph about Cameron’s February visit put it bluntly, “When Britannia ruled the waves and half the world was coloured pink on the map, the world knew who we were and what we did. Now even the echoes of our imperial past are fading… .
“Selling our guns, our companies and our services to foreigners: this is what we do now. A British Prime Minister visits the Gulf not as the wielder of imperial power but as a commercial traveller,” the Telegraph said. “Western democracy is only one of the products he offers, and not always the most important one.”