People in Glass Houses

21 06 2011

Category; Middle East, Media

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has been giving lectures on Western morality recently, and explaining that the West does not have the moral authority to condemn Arab dictators:

 …the West no longer has the moral high ground in the way that perhaps it did in the Middle East…we cannot really preach to the Arab world, we cannot really be seen to have the moral force we need… (BBC Newsnight, 15 June 2011)

He’s the sort of person who might think twice before lecturing others on morality on national television. But he’s also the sort of person who ought not to be invited onto news programmes as a neutral expert.

He was on the BBC’s Newsnight programme as part of a report about the West taking action in Libya, but not Syria, and about the wider Western role in the Arab world. He was referred to as a former UK Ambassador to Afghanistan.

However, his current role is Director of BAe Systems. He was appointed earlier this year with the role of boosting arms sales to Saudi Arabia. That’s the same Saudi Arabia ‘invited’  by Bahrain’s government to send troops to quell protest. And those troops travelled in armoured vehicles supplied by BAe – click here for more details about that.

Let’s be clear; a BAe Director with a remit for sales to Saudi Arabia cannot say anything that would offend or discomfort The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Sir Sherard and his employer do however have a vested interested in echoing and disseminating the aims and opinions of that country.

Sir Sherard has confirmed this himself. Here’s what he had to say to Matthew Sweet on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Nightwaves’ on 23rd May 2011 –  click here.

BAe doesn’t benefit directly from instability, it benefits from countries and governments taking measures to protect themselves against instability. I don’t see any conflict at all and I’m proud to work for BAe.

It’s in BAe’s interests for regimes that buy BAe’s weapons to quash protest. That’s not someone who can have the position of a neutral observer.

As for morality:

Sir Sherard was central to the dropping of charges against BAe in relation to the £43 billion al-Yamanah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. He was UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia at the time – (click here for a report about that time). The Serious Fraud Office Director Robert Wardle met Sir Sherard three times to discuss the investigation. It was dropped shortly after the final meeting.

 As the BBC’s Robert Peston reports  (click here for the report)

From these conversations, Wardle was persuaded that the investigation was putting an intolerable strain on diplomatic relations between the UK and Saudi, which could threaten our national security.

It was a delicate moment in the investigation. At the time (and subsequently) the SFO believed it was close to having built a case that could be prosecuted

There was more focus on the case after Sir Sherard’s appointment to BAe, when Wikileaks published cables showing the strength of the SFO’s case against BAe, and the extent of Sir Sherard’s role in the dropping of the case. Click here for those details 

Even before that revelation the Guardian noted (click here for articlein February, when he was appointed  that:

The move is likely to cause uproar among anti-corruption campaigners. It will also raise further questions over the close relationship between the government and BAE, and the circumstances in which the SFO investigation was controversially dropped in 2006.

And it should also raise questions as to why a man with his record and current employment is wheeled out by the media as a neutral observer.

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