One of the more fascinating issues to come out of the Farage-Clegg debate, and something which I am sure the Cameron-Miliband-Clegg gang was not expecting, was the detour taken with regard to foreign policy. No doubt, in the minds of the people behind the debate, it was merely to be a dry argument about how many jobs are/are not created by the EU, and would Honda stop selling cars to Europe if we left. The next round promises even more fireworks if Farage can again take the discussion to areas which our political masters and media shepherds have deemed off limits to public discussion.
Take for example Farage’s statement that the EU had “blood on it’s hands” over the Ukraine and Syria wars. This elicited the following response from Nick Clegg:
“To suggest that somehow it is the EU’s fault that the Ukrainian people rose up, as many did on the streets of Kiev, against their government seeking to claim greater democracy, greater freedom, is such a perverse way of looking at things.”
This is interesting, because the protestors in the Ukraine appear to have been largely EU/ US funded, organised by the Right Sector which is an openly Nazi organisation, and toppled a democratically elected government. However, the British media response (from left to right) regarding the Ukraine issue has been overwhelmingly in line with the version of events being promoted by Clegg, which is not a great advert for the freedom of the British press.
Then we have the Syria debacle, this failed to garner such clear “across the board” and focused political and media support as the Ukraine issue, but there was still largely support for intervention. Even Miliband’s opposition, which amounted to no more than requesting a further vote be required for direct military intervention, caused a backlash from the media. This is hardly a healthy case of competing interpretations – hard core intervention versus more measured intervention? What about no intervention?
The claim that intervention was about humanitarianism or Democracy is also patently rubbish, proof of this can be seen in the government response to Labour actions on the failed Syria vote – note that it was not “Labour should have been thinking about the humanitarian crisis”, but “Labour should have been thinking about the national interest”.
The question at this point becomes what is the national interest in bombing Syria, and intervening in the Ukraine? The answer appears to be mainly twofold; firstly there is the gas issue, and secondly Middle East geo-politics. This may seem odd at first, and must leave most people questioning why the Ukraine issue would have any bearing on the Middle East, and what has Syria got to do with gas and the Ukraine. But the answer is quite simple, and actually starts in the sea between Qatar and Iran.
In this sea between Iran and Qatar, there is a gas field called South Pars/North Dome: it is the largest gas field in the world by some distance . It is mainly in Qatari territorial waters, but is also shared by Iran. The UK and the EU really need natural gas for energy. There are two ways to get this gas to Europe: in ships carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG), or in a pipeline. The UK in particular relies heavily on Qatari gas being shipped as LNG as no pipeline exists from Qatar to Europe yet. Europe relies heavily on gas being piped from Russia. To get this Qatari gas to Europe and the UK in greater quantities than is possible via shipping LNG, and more cheaply, a pipeline running from Qatar through Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey was proposed. Assad, the Syrian Premier, said no to this pipeline (one reason given being the damage it would cause to Russia’s gas interests in Europe), and instead signed an agreement for an “Islamic pipeline” running from Iran (and Iran’s section of the South Pars/North Dome field) through Iraq, Syria, Turkey and finally Europe (cutting Saudi Arabia and Qatar out of the equation and benefiting Iran greatly). Then with not exactly coincidental timing the Syrian uprising began, and then the Qatari, Saudi, EU and USA intervention attempts began on the side of the anti-Assad rebels, only to be met with Iran and Russian counter interventions in Assad’s favour.
The issue is complicated more by the fact that each country has it’s own take on the gas transit routes to Europe, as well as it’s own political motivations (including the influence of Israel and it’s security needs) but in a nutshell Syria is the main transit route for any gas pipeline between the Middle East and Europe. If you can control this area, you control the energy supply, and you also reduce Russian dominance of European gas supplies – a Russia which John McCain has just labelled a “a gas station masquerading as a country”. You also reduce gas costs, thereby hurting Russian income, as well as securing alternative energy supplies for Europe. It’s interesting to note that many speculate the success of Reagan (and Thatcher) in ending the Cold War was in large part a result of his persuading the OPEC countries to flood the world market with cheap oil, thereby undermining Russian income at that time, and precipitating economic collapse. Same game, same actors.
Then we have the Ukrainian situation. This was not primarily about the gas pipelines in the Ukraine, it was about the Crimea, and Russia’s access to a warm water naval base in the Black Sea. If Russia lost this military outlet, their ability to influence events in the Middle East, including Syria, would be severely curtailed, as would it’s ability to dominate the Black Sea. It is also the only warm water naval base Russian has. Any further naval, military and logistic assistance to Russian allies in the Middle East would need to be supplied through it’s Baltic bases, which would severely curtail Russian abilities, as it’s other ports in the Black Sea are insufficient for real military usage . This is why Russia immediately secured Crimea, and is less concerned about the eastern part of Ukraine.
The attacks on Farage for his criticism of EU foreign policy will not mention any of this, they will merely stick to the humanitarian and democracy line.
But Farage is also right with regard to the vanity aspect of the foreign policy of the EU. It is an empire and the attempted addition of the Ukraine and provocation of Russia was folly.
Farage is also likely causing great consternation within the EU and the British government by criticising foreign policy, as it is likely they will need to revisit the Syria issue again. It should also be noted that Obama is currently in Saudi Arabia discussing Syria with King Abdullah the Saudi premier. One thing is for sure: Europe is looking to diversify it’s energy supply and windmills just don’t cut it.
But then, the energy issue is another point that Clegg would not be keen to bring into the open, because if the EU’s obsession with green energy is such a brilliant plan, then why are we importing vast amounts of gas, and helping to destabilize countries to ensure gas pipelines are created?
Is our energy policy such a disastrous mess that the EU has to help create chaos in places like the Ukraine and Syria to obtain gas?
The next debate could be very interesting indeed if off-limits issues are raised again.