Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Arms and the Middle East

Saudi Arabian military and security officers were out in force at the biennial “defence and security equipment international” sales exhibition, DSEI, held at Excel Stadium (part of ADNEC, the Abu Dhabi exhibitions company) in London’s Docklands in mid-September. Hundreds of companies from literally around the globe were represented. It was a strange event, a bit like a cross between a rock memorabilia convention and the UN. Like the latter, it was also replete with prostitution of the overt sexual variety. A number of impossibly sexy Russian women had been shipped in to tout their wares alongside their fellow countrymen.

Saudi Arabia did not have its own exhibition area as it is not quite in the market for selling its wares. It is though in the market for big purchases. The US$100 bn extra spend announced in May by King Abdullah includes a large allocation to the interior ministry – a logical response to the Arab Spring, and this will not just be a boost to manpower. In addition the National Guard, run by Abdullah’s son Miteb, are in the midst of an extensive modernisation programme (and a stabilisation programme in Bahrain), and the Saudi defence ministry (MoDA), are apparently moving to actualise the large US contract announced two years or so ago. The Bahrainis were also in town, although much of their defence, internal and external, is effectively contracted out to the post-British successor protector state, Saudi Arabia. Saudi ambitions to develop indigenous defence industry capability seem to be largely focused on the partnership with BAE SYSTEMS, who employ 5,000 people in country and have set up a tail fin assembly facility for the EuroFighter (Typhoon) in the Kingdom. MoDA has also long run a small defence manufacturing outfit, but this is far from cutting edge.

Much optimism was in the air at DSEI as far as sales in general and specifically in the Middle East were concerned. UK defence procurement minister Gerald Howarth was lively first thing in the morning, wowing assembled UK defence journalists and British civil servants with morally uplifting talk of the virtues of the country’s defence industries. Defence secretary Liam Fox was due to speak later in the day. However two UK government ministers in one day would have been a bit much to take, so I had made my excuses before he hit the stage.

Cassidian, a Welsh company that forms part of the French-led Euro consortium, EADS, boasted, a tad ironically perhaps, of “defending world security”, and hosted on the spot briefers to talk to industry issues. BAES had a large display on one side of the stadium, including an array of armoured vehicles. Needing a breather I went dockside and witnessed Sonardyne’s “Sentinel” sonar detection technology in a simulated threat to the British warship HMS Tyne, which had berthed at DSEI alongside some fellow NATO craft. This was disappointingly dull as a large number of DSEI attendees crowded around television screens on a wind-swept poop deck. However one of Sonardyne’s PR people put impetus into proceedings when he indicated that the sonar could be used to induce vomiting or even a blow akin to being hit over the head by a baseball bat, should an intruder be foolish enough to get too close to the mammoth vessel. Then suddenly the presentation conducted by UK naval personnel in partnership with officials of British company Sonardyne was rudely interrupted by a heavily American accented robotic voice announcing that there was a “suspicious diver at 3 o’clock”.

In terms of Middle East-produced wares, Jordan had a large exhibit, mostly revolving around KADDB, a company founded in 1999 to develop indigenous defence engineering capabilities. Two of the model armoured vehicles on display, I was told by a Jordanian officer on the stand, were designed and made in-country at the 100% Jordanian staffed company. I guess that goes for the life size versions too. One of these may be “under development”, but, if wholly true, this seems an impressive and rare feat in that part of the world. Rare, that is, apart from the Israelis, who were, so to speak, out in force. Uzi and other sub machine guns were menacingly pointed at punters (see picture), while a freely distributed English language journal, Israel Defense, talked of “a return to the southern front” in light of changes in Egypt following the so-called Arab Spring.

The event was (almost) disappointingly free of protestors – they had been rerouted upriver to the House of Parliament, while the police, transport and regular, were heavy on the ground. In terms of the protestors’ concerns, some of the kit could no doubt be used to put down domestic opposition, whether in Jordan, Israel, the Gulf, or, for that matter, Europe where economic woes and criminal ambition are motivating civil disturbances. Whether that is a reason not to sell seems a moot point. Much of the kit could also be used to undermine another country’s national sovereignty, whether blessed by the UN or not, but that does not seems to be mobilising the anti arms trade people so much these days.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Saudi and the Arab Uprisings

For comment on Saudi Arabia's response to developments in the Middle East, check out this article on BBC Newsonline. Timely as the Yemeni government apparently reneges on a GCC deal it never really backed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Middle East in turmoil

Crisis what crisis? If I hear the word revolution (or thawra) one more time I think I will engage in high projectile vomiting. If I may paraphrase al-Masri Al-Yowm (Egyptian daily) the revolution in that country still has some way to go. Not many partner. I may be in danger of being conditioned by so-called "People's" revolutions of the 20th century, but who ever heard of a revolution that leaves the Field Marshal/defence minister still in place and now more obviously in charge? The revolution has a kind of substance in Libya, although a shoot out for regional and tribal dominance fuelled (ouch) by petroleum ambitions (those of the LIBYANS!) seems closer to the money (as it were). Has anybody talked any sense among the western opinionistas since the Arab spring first saw the light of day? Not too many, though I would cite the attractive presentation of Anita McNought on Al-Jazeera English who on April 11 was the first person I heard say simply that the fight in Libya is a fight for life, literally, on the part of the Qadaffi family and their erstwhile green comrades in Benghazi. What's bothering me is that the so-called Arab democracy wave/spring/awakening becomes a western conflict with flaky Arab state support, just like yesteryear.This is becoming Iraq circa 1992-2002, with Benghazi increasingly shaping up to be the protected northern Kurdish regional government…….) Next stop ground troops (first they came as advisors).....Then there is the current Gulf role...more than ignoring sanctions as they did in the 90s ---we now have a few Qatari planes and the UAE still standing by with their US pilots....

Here is a link to something that gives a different spin on what's happening within the Gulf

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Stiffs and stuff

Thought I would fire this up after a five month lull, in part to see if any of my legions of followers are still out there, or still alive for that matter. A few stiffs have been registered of late. Among those who made a particular mark on my radar were Captain Beefheart, Gerry Rafferty and Anthony Howard. The Captain could disappear up his own arse musically but particular album highlights for me were "Decals", "Spotlight Kid" and Ice Cream for Crow. If you want accessible Captain, try Bluejeans and Moonbeams, which includes a JJ Cale cover, Same ol Blues Again. The infamous Trout Mask has its moments (in short doses or longer if you're in the right, assisted, mood), Dachau Blues was one track that made an impression on me among others. Anthony Howard is best remembered for editing "The Crossman Diaries" and general press and TV punditry. Gerry Rafferty's late 70s album "City to City" is very good (whatever one thinks of Baker Street). Then there is what became the psycho soundtrack "Stuck in the Middle With You" because it was used in Reservoir Dogs. (It was written during the Stealer's Wheel phase 20 years earlier). Having read his very sad obituary in The Guardian, his late 60s/early 70s solo number Mary Skeffington also took on a very poignant note. It's about his mother.