Letters: Oil and arms: the US-British-Saudi connection

The following letters appear in the 5th January edition of the Independent

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As expressed compellingly in your editorial (4 January) – “as long as the wells keep pumping and the Saudis keep buying our arms” – the West has been happy to ignore gross Saudi human rights abuses, and this has been an essential part of our economic life at least for the past 50 years.  

From the early 1970s onwards, the Middle East became the world’s chief importer of weaponry, taking the lead position from South-east Asia. A significant amount of Saudi oil income (petrodollars) was invested in buying armaments and turned into weapon-dollars. Wars and tensions in the Middle East created the conditions for a type of dollar recycling based on arms trading. 

Since the 1940s, the role of Saudi Arabia in the world economy had been intimately linked to oil exports, and from the 1970s onwards, this trade became the basis of the petrodollar system, which was then accompanied by another dimension – turning a good amount of this oil income into weapon-dollars. These two flows (oil going out, and weapons coming in) provided a powerful new lease of life for the US economy (and its close ally Britain’s economy). 

The combination of these two flows was associated with the generation of substantial profits for the US-British arms manufacturing industry, and American-British giant oil companies. Thus, for example, in 1974, Saudi Arabia’s arms imports were worth $2.6bn, whereas after 1985 they increased ten times and reached $25.4bn.  

Sharply intensified armed conflict and fast-rising tensions in the Gulf region mean much greater involvement of the US and Britain in the region militarily, and greater consolidation of the alliance between the US-British arms trade and energy interests.  

This is the central story of our times, probably more than anything else, involving not only foreign policy but also national economies of key Western countries. 

Bulent Gokay

Professor of International Relations  

Keele University


I wholeheartedly agree with the view of Amnesty expressed in the article “Cameron condemned for silence on Saudi killings” (4 January) that the Government must be “firmer” with its condemnation of the killings. 

How can we be shocked that disillusioned British citizens are partaking in other atrocities in the Middle East if we do not condemn mass executions publicly.

Phoebe Stronach

Newcastle Upon Tyne


You report on the sense of outrage felt by human rights groups over David Cameron’s pusillanimous failure to speak out about the Saudi executions.

But, in view of his fiery but impotent rhetoric to EU leaders about renegotiating our terms of membership, and his frequent U-turns, does anyone take notice of Dave’s pronouncements?

Angus McPherson

Findon, West Sussex


In August 2014, Cameron criticised Isis for beheading a few dozen people. But Saudi Arabia, a country with an appalling human rights record, is still beheading far more people. This, however, is perfectly OK because Britain still sells arms to this regime.

Cameron wouldn’t recognise an ethical principle if he tripped over one.

Paul Dewhirst



Speaking out for race equality

I read with interest Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s thoughts on progress towards eliminating race discrimination (4 January); however, her claim that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has been “silent” on racism and discrimination is incorrect. Indeed, I note that her article echoes some of the problems we highlighted in our recent review Is Britain Fairer?, the most comprehensive report to date on progress on equality and human rights in this country.

A headline finding was that, despite improvements in educational performance, people from almost every ethnic minority group suffered higher rates of unemployment and lower pay. Over the five-year period to 2013, people from black communities had the largest drop in hourly pay (a fall of £1.20) bringing their pay down to £10.20.

This is why we have consistently said that the Government needs to do more to tackle the roadblocks to opportunity that ethnic minorities still face. 

We have just completed a public consultation on our strategic plan for 2016-19, to address key challenges arising out of our review. We will now be developing a work programme, based on input from all our stakeholders, which will enable us to continue to be a strong voice for greater fairness and race equality.

Rebecca Hilsenrath 

Chief Executive, Equality and Human Rights Commission, London EC4


The religion of enlightenment

You won’t find that Christianity is the religion which enables humanity to leave religion (letter, 22 December) if you go to Calvinist Scotland, or to the heart of Catholic Europe. The dogmas of original sin, predestination and the Trinity, among others, are too firmly and authoritatively upheld.

It was rather the Socinians (Unitarians) who, from the late 16th century, by stressing that God gave humankind reason, found a way out of all-encompassing devoutness. From Poland their influence spread to Holland and England, and their ideas subtly coloured the Anglican Church.  

By dispensing with the irrational notion of the Trinity they helped to open up the way for rational science, something that Islam, with its notion of the One God, had understood centuries earlier and which had led to the developments of Islamic medieval science.  

Reason can coexist with religion, and the best societies show a healthy balance between the two. A clear understanding of the historical interplay between the two is necessary today.

Christopher Walker

London SW18


One of the roles of the BBC is to represent and serve the interests of society. One of these interest groups are Christians (editorial, 2 January), and if statistics are even slightly true, they do not nearly get enough airtime.

Christian believers in the UK are not a tiny, insignificant group. Of England’s population 2.79 per cent regularly go to a football match (sports intelligence.com 2013) while 10 per cent go to church each week (news.bbc.co.uk 2007). 

Based on these rough figures the BBC should give three times more airtime to the Christian faith than to football! 

Richard Bagwell

London N10


They also serve who only listen and vote

I am not impressed by your blanket criticism of “silent lords” (1 January). 

Frequently, as a member of a large assembly, I have been annoyed at the amount of time wasted by people repeating almost verbatim arguments already made by others. Equally frequently, I have felt that I fulfilled my duty best by listening in silence and voting after having heard the arguments. 

Spouting unnecessary words is not necessarily the only way to show that you take your role seriously. Of course, I have never been a member of a body which paid me for my attendance. Perhaps that would have persuaded me that redundant eloquence is a boon to society.

Revd Robert Gould



Flooding: How can I help?

Every time there is an international disaster such as the earthquakes in Nepal, Syrian refugees or Ebola in Africa we are advised where we can send money in order to help. I am struggling to find out where to make a donation that will go directly to help the people hit by the recent flooding in the North of the UK.

There are no numbers on the bottom of our TV screens as there often are with international disasters. Your own newspaper has an appeal for GOSH but no advice on how to get money to the people in the North.

Stephen Fox



How much do cattle warm the globe?

Aidan Harrison (letter, 2 January) claims livestock production only contributes 2 per cent of “the greenhouse effect”, whereas a previous writer (Nitin Mehta, 29 December) claims that this was “the biggest cause of global warming”. 

Current research suggests the truth lies between these two extremes. For example, the last (2013) report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates the contribution from livestock production to be 14.5 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse releases (measured as carbon dioxide equivalent).

John Bullock



A passing smile at Christmas

Amusing as they are, the best-selling Ladybird Books for Grown-ups will no doubt end up on the shelves of charity shops before the month is out. My family enjoyed passing them round at Christmas, with wry smiles, but they hardly warrant a second reading.

Oh that I could think up a winner like that in time for next Christmas.

Elizabeth Blake

Godalming, Surrey