“AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain” sheds light on the peculiar, intricate ties between Britain and Arab monarchies. Composed of six illuminating chapters, it delves into Britain’s historic imperial legacy and maps out the oil and gas wealth it has been able to accrue ever since, through controversial alliances with Gulf states. The complexities of the Arab Spring and the Yemeni War are also among the central topics of the book. And even though the title suggests exploration of all Gulf states, David Wearing, the author, focuses on Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, specifically.
It’s imperative to understand how the capitalist system functions and benefits highly capitalist Gulf states the most.
Through insightful geopolitical and socioeconomic analysis, Wearing explains how British-Gulf relations cannot be oversimplified by only looking at their energy (oil and gas) transactions. Rather, it’s imperative to understand how the capitalist system functions and benefits highly capitalist Gulf states the most, and how, in many cases, Britain has ranked right after the US – often being among the top five – as a beneficiary of Gulf wealth.
The first chapter of the book breaks down the history of British-Gulf relations. Wearing divides the GCC-Britain relationship into three main periods: (1) the end of the 18th century to World War II – the time when Britain was the main game changer and imperial power; (2) from the Cold War to 1971 – the period when the US became the hegemonic power of the world and when the Gulf’s official protectorate relationship with Britain ended in 1971; and (3) from 1971 to today, when the wealth from the oil and arms trade have become crucial, not only for world capitalism in general, but for the UK in particular.
One of the book’s successes is Wearing’s ability to prove that the British military withdrawal from the Gulf in the 1960s was not solely the policy of the Labor Party and liberal idealism. Instead, Wearing argues that it was due to three, more crucial, reasons: namely, that 7% of Britain’s GDP was tied to military expenses in 1960; then, the devaluation of the pound sterling in 1966 caused by the sterling crisis; and, finally, an increasing number of nationalist movements during the 1960s which popped up all over the Middle East and protested against Britain and its local collaborators (e.g. Britain’s being pushed out from Aden in 1967).
In the global context, the GCC (plus Iran and Iraq) are important sources of oil and gas. The GCC alone produced 23.4% of the world’s oil and 11.5% of the world’s gas in 2015. If one were to add Iran and Iraq’s production to those figures, they would be 32.1% and 16.9%, respectively. The GCC (plus Iran and Iraq) have 47% of the world’s proven oil reserves (89-92). Chapter 2 of the book, however, clearly identifies that the GCC’s significance to Britain is not solely based on supplying 3% of oil and 13% of gas imports to the country. And, even though British private companies like Shell, BP, and others have made significant investments with Gulf states such as UAE, Qatar, and Oman, British interest in the region cannot only be explained by these considerations either.
Thanks to its historic imperial network, British financial and industrial firms took part in the construction of Gulf countries’ economies, as well as in other sectors, considering that the Gulf’s wealth had increased overnight due to oil in post-World War II. According to Wearing’s research, investments from the GCC in the UK helped to stabilize the pound and account deficit during that period, with the city of London taking the lion’s share of GCC private and state funds.
The UK’s annual exports to the Gulf, another factor that cannot be underestimated, amounts to about £14 billion in goods—equal its exports to India and China combined.
The UK’s annual exports to the Gulf, another factor that cannot be underestimated, amounts to about £14 billion in goods—equal its exports to India and China combined. Wearing provides many tables and charts in Chapter 4 to illustrate how significant British exports are to the Gulf, as well as how Gulf investments are vital for Britain. Wearing explicitly states that investments made in the city of London and Britain in general by the Gulf are not purely for economic reasons, but also for the political purpose of maintaining close relationships with British elites and policy makers (236).
Chapter 5 is devoted to the contentious matter of arms sales and arms-related ties between Gulf states and Britain. Wearing examines this exchange in a variety of ways, primarily concluding that arms sales are not only one of the most basic trade transactions for Britain, it is also a tool for keeping its military industry strong in order to maintain its status as a global superpower. This relationship works as a type of diplomatic insurance for modern Gulf monarchs as well. Currently, Britain shares the second position in arms exports with France, while the US is first by a wide margin (288-290).
The two recent, historic incidents in the Gulf region – the Arab Spring and the Yemeni War, and their impact on GCC-Britain relations are outlined in Chapter 6. Wearing concludes that Britain was not a neutral party in either, but instead attempted to preserve the region’s political status quo with its repressive apparatus by continuing their pre-uprising arms deals and even increasing them in the affected countries.
As current events raise questions on the ties between such seemingly distinctive governments, the book not only expands on the historically reciprocal relationship between the GCC and Britain but reveals connections between the GCC and the capitalist world system at large—as Wearing considers them both to be very interconnected. Using Tony Norfield’s criteria of assessing British capitalism – the size of its economy (Britain is 5th in GDP in the world); its ownership of foreign assets (Britain ranks 2nd); the international prominence of its banking sector (Britain is ranked top); and finally, the international status of its currency (GBP is ranked 3rd) (182-183) – Wearing details how the UK’s economy – and the Gulf states – mutually benefit from the global capitalist system as do the US, China, Japan, Germany, and France (183).
Timely and revealing, the book is a captivating read, as it is the first comprehensive work which analyses modern Britain-GCC relations and does not oversimplify the power of oil and gas. Written from a liberal-progressive stance, the role of the state in capitalism, the length to which Britain has gone to support these regimes, and the invisible agreement between states which protects capital over any other value and human rights are highlighted throughout the book. Wearing also addresses the importance of the UK in world politics, which would be of particular interest to readers who do not think the UK plays a very important role in world politics anymore.
 Page numbers are from the Kindle version of the book; they may be different for the book’s printed edition.