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By Solomon Hughes in Britain:
British firms muscle in on Middle East
Thursday 11 October 2012
The government wants big companies working in the Middle East to use British private armed security firms where possible. They are promoting a private security strategy that was disastrous in Iraq and Afghanistan after discussions with a security company whose director is a Tory donor.
Trade Minister Lord Green runs a “Middle East task force” of company bosses to advice on government policy in the region.
Under Freedom of Information rules I got hold of papers from the task force covering meetings that took place in February 2012 and July 2011. The papers show the task force paid particular attention to the export of armed guards – what we used to call mercenaries.
According to the notes, “Security was a relatively new but increasingly important market for the UK in the region.” The task force wants big companies to get business for the typically smaller armed security firms by using them to guard their staff and facilities instead of relying on local police forces.
The notes say that security “crossed several sectors, particularly infrastructure” and argue that “it was important for larger companies to help the smaller in these markets.” Small and medium-sized enterprises “would not win business independently.”
Lord Green is promoting a strategy already tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, which acted as laboratories for testing the widespread use of armed private security guards.
The experiment has been disastrous, leaving these countries with fragmented security and problems of corruption. International contractors using private armed guards stops fragile post-conflict countries developing their own security forces.
Chris St George, co-chairman of a company called Olive Group, is a member of Lord Green’s task force. Olive describes itself as “a leading provider of innovative safety, security and technology solutions.”
Former army officers like St George built their business supplying armed men to defend businesses in Iraq during the occupation.
Chris’s brother and fellow Olive Group director David St George has given the Conservatives over £190,000 since 2006. The money entitled him to membership of the Conservative Party “leaders’ group” which regularly meets with David Cameron and the front bench over dinner and drinks. Olive is one of the private security firms flooding into Libya looking for work.
Lord Green’s task force said: “The suggested key markets for the group to focus on would be Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Egypt and Libya (particularly post-unrest).”
The task force also recommends promoting the more traditional arms industry in the Middle East. Last year there was some worry in Whitehall that Lord Green, who is an ordained Anglican priest, would not back the arms trade for religious reasons. However, the task force minutes show he has overcome any ethical worries. Mind you, his ethics are quite flexible – he was also chairman of HSBC from 2005-2011.
His task force says: “Key sectors for the UK economy would include infrastructure, energy, defence and security.”
The emphasis on defence reflects the group’s membership – many are bosses of weapons-making firms. They include Ian King, CEO of Britain’s leading arms firm BAE Systems.
He is joined by Sir Kevin Tebbit, chairman of Finmeccanica, the Italian-owned military helicopter and missile maker which dropped its National Gallery sponsorship this week after a series of protests. Sir Kevin used to be the top civil servant at the Ministry of Defence and is still chairman of the government’s advisory group on arms exports.
Douglas Caster of Ultra Electronics is also a task force member. His firm has big civil contracts like a recent £200 million deal to do the IT on Oman airports.
But Ultra is best known as an arms contractor, building the high-tech kit inside drones, fighter jets and tanks. It even provides “adventure” training to all recruits in the United Arab Emirates army.
Other firms with a mixture of civil and military business are represented on the task force. Qinetiq chief Leo Quinn is a member. His technology firm was spun out of privatisation of the boffins at British military science facility Porton Down.
QinetiQ is currently working on developing military robots – I know that sounds like a Terminator film, but it is true – with the Saudi and Bahraini autocrats.
Keith Clarke is also a member. He is chief of engineering firm Atkins, which is trying to sell various “security solutions” in the Middle East.
These defence firms told Lord Green that they needed both Cameron and the British army to help them sell weapons in the Middle East. And they wanted the PM and the generals to stay friendly with potential Middle Eastern clients without wavering.
The task force notes say that defence needed “continuity of political support from both governments throughout the project cycle. Intensive and ongoing government support was needed in these sectors – including prime ministerial support and engagement with senior military contacts – and a long-term outlook.”
The task force isn’t all about guns. It’s also about oil and gas. Malcolm Brindred of Shell is a member, as is Sir Robert Wilson of BG Group.
Engineering firms which work in the oil industry, such as Kier and Mott MacDonald, are also represented.
Oddly, the task force includes two members from Formula One team Williams.
Presumably this is one reason the British government refused to call for the cancellation of this year’s Bahraini Grand Prix when the kingdom’s dictators were trying to buy some glory and distract from the way they were shooting their own citizens in the streets.
This mix of arms firms, oil firms, mercenaries and Formula One drivers are getting a big voice in government through the task force.
According to Lord Green, “the government hoped that the METF (Middle East task force) could help ensure that strategic business considerations were fully factored into HMG’s (Her Majesty’s government’s) policies in the Middle East, and provide strategic business advice going forward, drawing on the huge experience and capabilities represented around the table.
“The Middle East would remain for the foreseeable future a vital region for the UK’s political and economic security including trade and investment.”