Mali, Algeria, Libya and the New Front Line In 'Energy Diplomacy'

15/02/2013 12:48 | Updated 16 April 2013

With the start of 2013 the 'War on Terror' has burst back into the headlines. The attack on a BP gas plant in Algeria sparked declarations from David Cameron which identified North Africa as the new front line. Already the UK has backed military intervention in Mali and upgraded military support for Algeria and Libya. In Algeria, Cameron announced a strengthened 'military partnership' to combat terrorism and "improve security in the region", and in Libya he pledged more British training for security forces and support for securing the country's borders.

The reality of the never-ending War on Terror is that it is integrally bound up with an imperialistic drive for resources. Central to understanding David Cameron's rapid reaction to events in North Africa is a government document published in November last year to little or no fanfare. That document is the UK's Energy Security Strategy, released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change: the first time the UK has ever produced such a strategy. The document rings the alarm for the UK's future energy security, stating, "Declining reserves of fossil fuels in the North Sea are making the UK increasingly dependent on imports at a time of rising global demand and increased resource competition", which is leaving the UK "increasingly exposed to the pressures and risks of global markets".

The point is illustrated with some dramatic statistics: UK oil production, which currently provides for 70% of UK oil demand, is "expected to decrease by 5% per year", meaning that within 20 years the North Sea oil supplies will have run out, leaving the UK completely dependent upon imports, whilst global demand for oil is predicted to increase by 15% by 2035. There will be even more competition for gas supplies, with global demand forecast to rise by 55% by 2035. Again, declining North Sea supplies mean that the UK will go from importing about 50% of the gas it uses currently "to nearly 70% by 2025".

At international level, the document identifies the importance of "energy diplomacy" in securing UK supplies of oil and gas for the future. Energy diplomacy, it says, includes "maximising commercial opportunities" for UK corporations, forcing open new markets to guarantee them unrestricted access to valuable energy resources. Here we get to the crux of the strategy: it is not the ordinary UK citizen that is being protected- for evidence look no further than the exorbitant energy bills crippling Britain's poor- but the interests of UK corporations which supply the energy.

This 'energy diplomacy' is of course a euphemism for militaristic British foreign policy. This includes the provision of military aid and weapons sales to regimes which control strategic energy reserves regardless of how repressive and violent they may be, as well as the readiness to use military force against states or groups which threaten UK energy security interests or those of UK allies. Of course, militaristic British policy focussed upon securing energy resources at the expense of human rights is not new, for evidence just look at Nigeria. What we are witnessing currently is an increased sense of urgency to take control of strategic energy resources. The Ministry of Defence in 2010 laid out its analysis of future strategic threats to the UK, and predicted that in coming years major powers are "likely to use their defence forces to safeguard supplies [of hydrocarbons]". It identified North Africa as a strategically important area where a key focus of European states' engagement will be on securing access to energy resources.

The military cooperation agreements announced last month with Algeria and Libya are part of UK 'energy diplomacy' aimed at securing access to strategic resources in North Africa. Both countries are identified in the UK Energy Security Strategy as producers of gas and oil which are important trading partners and hence countries which are important to the UK's energy security. Algeria now supplies 5% of the UK's gas needs, whilst Libya is not only an important trading partner, but is a country whose oil supply is so important to the global oil market that the price of oil rose by 10-20% when armed conflict erupted there in 2011. Before the conflict in Libya had even finished, it was reported that BP had begun talks with rebel leaders aimed at securing access to the country's oil wealth, and the French foreign minister publicly stated that it was "fair and logical" for French companies to benefit after French military intervention in the country.

In Mali, France's UK-backed intervention is in support of a regime which violently seized power in a coup d'etat last April which led to the country's suspension from the African Union. Could the large, as yet unexploited uranium and oil reserves thought to be contained in the deserts of Northern Mali and Eastern Niger explain the eagerness to back such a regime?

For a clear example of the link between Western commercial energy interests and militarism in North Africa, just look over the border from Mali at Niger. Last week, the president of Niger announced that French special forces have been deployed to the country to protect the huge Arlit uranium mine owned by French multinational Areva, in response to instability in the region. French companies used to have exclusive access to uranium supplies in Niger, however a change in government policy in 2007 ended the exclusivity, meaning they now face competition from Chinese and Indian companies.

The truth behind the War on Terror is that it is part of Western powers' imperialistic quest to secure natural resource reserves for their corporations. We should all fear for the peoples of energy-rich regions as the global resource grab plummets new depths.