Tuesday, January 14, 2003
Securing Energy Supplies - 14th January 2003, 23.02

One of the more interesting reflections of Jack Straw in his speech to the diplomatic conference last week was a reiteration that one of Britain's vital interests remained the security of energy supplies. This was also reflected in the Guardian.

The US and British governments officially deny that oil is a factor in the looming war with Iraq, but some ministers and officials in Whitehall say privately that oil is more important in the calculation than weapons of mass destruction.

These ministers and officials have pointed to the instability of current oil sources - the Middle East, Caspian region and Algeria - and the need for secure alternatives. Iraq has the second biggest known oil reserves in the world.

Mr Straw told ambassadors that, following a review he ordered last year, the Foreign Office drew up a list of seven medium to long-term strategic priorities, including "to bolster the security of British and global energy supplies".

A history of the region since the Second World War shows that heavy-handed intervention in the Middle East has often resulted in a short-term interruption to the oil supply and has not undermined the permanent insecurity that overshadows every country around the Gulf. This government may be starting to raise the issue because it has realised that Bush promised the spoils to France, Russia, Turkey and its own companies for their support.

More realistic reasons for the possible war are welcome from this government, since it at least displays a practical assessment of British interests. However it is unclear how British security of energy supply has been obtained on a permanent basis, since US force remains the lynchpin upon which this security rests.


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