The new British Imperialism in the Persian Gulf

10 October 2016 - 9:15am
News

Ross Hemingway, Senior Media & Communications Officer, War on Want. A version of this article was carried by the Morning Star

The British government is playing a key role in arming repression throughout the Persian Gulf with devastating consequences for democracy and human rights.

Driving government complicity in state violence in the region is a secret “Gulf Strategy Unit” and a murky network of British officials and corporations operating in the region.

Prince Charles heads to the Gulf in November on behalf of the British government. His mission: “to strengthen the UK’s warm bilateral relations with key partners in the region.” Charles is no stranger to the region but on this occasion, before he packs his royal sun hat, I suggest he reads War on Want’s new report Arming Repression: The new British Imperialism in the Persian Gulf.

The report, written by Dr Sam Raphael, details for the first time the sheer scope of weapons exports and training provided to regimes in the Gulf in order to police their own populations.

The report uncovers the extent of British complicity in state violence in the Gulf and reveals a disturbing truth at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy. For “warm bilateral relations,” read opaque and loosely connected network of British state and corporate actors operating in the region and focussed on assisting repressive regimes with “stabilisation” and “internal security.” Charles should think again.

British governments have long regarded the Gulf states as “key partners” in securing Britain’s energy security and military interests. Yet today the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf is taking on a new significance.

The British government is in the process of building a permanent presence in the region and establishing a dedicated British Defence Staff to oversee it.

Co-ordinating this new level of strategic engagement is the mentioned Gulf Strategy Unit which operates in secret. Central to the new strategy is the establishment of a network of facilities and partnerships.

New and enlarged bases in countries including Dubai, Oman and Bahrain will enable Britain to present a more assertive position in the region and to safeguard the all-important outward flow of gas and oil.

At the same time, British arms companies continue to sell vast amounts of weaponry to support the Gulf states’ own military expansion.

Since 2010, the British government has approved over 6,000 individual export licences to arms companies serving the region, with a combined value of £16 billion.

More than 120 licences, valued at £45.6 million, included the sale of items specifically designed for aggressive crowd control. From tear gas and ammunition, to CS grenades, water cannon and acoustic devices designed to cause severe discomfort and disperse crowds. These items were destined for Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

British strategy has also centred on arming and training police and security forces across the region in order to maintain internal security. Some 300 College of Policing staff and associates have delivered training to Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia since 2012.

Britain’s strategy is not just government-led. There is a growing involvement of private security companies and defence contractors working hand-in-glove with the British foreign policy and defence establishment, as the privatisation of war continues to pick up pace.

And surprise, surprise, it’s the usual suspects including BAE Systems, Olive Group and G4S providing training to the police and military in the region.

This is the latest chapter in the long and violent history of British imperialism in the Persian Gulf and the government’s renewed military and economic plan is putting Britain’s access to oil front and centre and makes a mockery of any commitment to democracy and human rights.

The government has a serious case to answer when clandestine meetings between public intelligence and security agencies are driving Britain’s role in arming repression in the Gulf.

It’s time the government came clean on the personnel, objectives and activities of the secretive Gulf Strategy Unit.

It’s time too for an immediate ban on exports of arms and repressive technologies where there is a risk of supporting internal repression and human rights abuses.

Read War on Want's report: Arming Repression: The new British Imperialism in the Persian Gulf

Take action: Tell your MP to ban the export of repression 

Latest news

Comment: Supreme Court must find for worker's rights in gig economy case

20 February 2018 - 11:30am

Speaking ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on the ‘Pimlico Plumbers’ Gig Economy Case, Owen Espley Labour Rights campaigner at War on Want said:

“The supreme court case must confirm what many courts have already decided, that claiming these workers were self-employed is a ploy to dodge taxes and deny worker’s rights, such as holiday and sick pay.

Read more

War on Want's commitment to safeguarding and code of conduct

16 February 2018 - 10:30am

The recent reports regarding the conduct of staff working for international humanitarian and development charities focussing on Oxfam, is a crucial reminder of the importance that charities should place on ensuring effective policies and practices in safeguarding, including commitments to recognise and uphold the dignity of local communities that the sector works with.

Read more

Join the conversation

THIS FRIDAY: Don't miss @BZephaniah live at #SoundsofResistance – dedicated to the ongoing struggle of the Palestin… https://t.co/cV6hinFs4U 17 hours 26 min ago
This #SocialJusticeDay, focused on workers on the move, we must pledge to #StandWithMigrantWorkers and demand equal… https://t.co/6BkjHdh8r7 18 hours 23 min ago
This #SocialJusticeDay, #StandWithMigrantWorkers and demand that all workers get their basic rights at work respect… https://t.co/3GtuIVNT1d 19 hours 43 min ago