Dr David Wearing has recently spoken to a number of different media outlets including; LBC, BBC, Sky News and Channel Four News, regarding the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the UK - one of his main research interests. We recently caught up with him to find out more about the relationship between the two countries and his new book; AngloArabia. Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain.
1. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your role within the Department of Politics and International Relations?
I’m in my second year as a Teaching Fellow in International Relations, running courses on US Foreign Policy for undergraduates and postgraduates. I have also introduced my own postgraduate module on the Political Economy of the Middle East. Before that I completed my PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and that research formed the basis of my new book.
2. Can you tell us about your new book; ‘AngloArabia. Why Gulf Wealth Matters to Britain’?
It’s the only comprehensive, in-depth survey of UK relations with the Gulf Arab monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. It looks at the roots of these alliances as they developed through the days of empire, and then examines the current relationship as it pertains to three key areas: oil and gas; trade and investment; and arms sales and military cooperation.
Although the book covers a particular case study, I believe it can tell us a great deal about the nature of British foreign relations more broadly. Specifically, the way in which the neoliberal economic settlement has affected our foreign relations, the way those relations are shaped by the historical legacy of centuries of empire, and the contribution that violence in the global south – direct and structural – continues to make to British power and prosperity.
3. What was your motivation behind writing and publish it?
Originally, I was struck by the dissonance between the talk we often hear of ‘Western democracy’, and of Western efforts at ‘democracy promotion’ in the Middle East, on the one hand, and on the other hand the decades of material support the West has given to these regimes, which are some of the most authoritarian in the world. I wanted to understand (and to understand at a close level of empirical detail) why it was that Britain had supported these regimes for so long, and continues to support them, including with the provision of the means of violence that sustains their rule.
I was also struck by the fact that there was so little scholarship on this topic. It seemed like there was a very significant and important gap in the literature that needed to be addressed. This task became more urgent at a time when the regime in Bahrain was violently crushing a peaceful pro-democracy movement and, later on, when Saudi Arabia and the UAE began playing a leading role in the creation of the current humanitarian disaster in Yemen. I think academics have an important public service function to perform in instances such as these, in terms of developing popular understanding of these issues, and our own government’s role in relation to them
4. You’ve recently spoken with a number of different media outlets including; LBC, BBC, Sky News and Channel Four News, regarding the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the UK. Can you tell us a bit more about this relationship and your interest in this subject?
My book was launched just before the scandal erupted over the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, almost certainly on the orders of the Saudi Crown Prince, which opened up a wide-ranging public debate about London’s alliance with Riyadh. So at the peak of the scandal I was darting from one broadcast studio to another, giving quotes to journalists over the phone, and writing my own articles for the likes of The Guardian and The Independent, providing expert comment as the story unfolded. I got the strong sense, both from the public and from the journalists who interviewed me (whether foreign policy specialists or otherwise), that this was a conversation people really wanted to have.
There are a number of myths and misconceptions around the UK-Saudi relationship, and this was an opportunity to clear some of those up, so as to empower people to engage with the topic more productively. The economic value of arms exports to Saudi Arabia to Britain as a whole is often overestimated, while the depth of the UK’s complicity in what’s happening in Yemen is widely underestimated. So hopefully in these media appearances I’ve been able to clarify the precise senses in which the relationship with the Saudis is, and is not, important to Britain, and what the options are if we want to change that relationship.
5. We hear that you introduced a new postgraduate course on the political economy of the Middle East when you joined the department in 2017. Can you tell us a bit more about the course and how it’s been received amongst students?
The aim of the course is to give students a deeper understanding of the roots of the ‘Arab uprisings’ which started in 2011, and whose effects are still being felt today all over the region, particularly in Syria and Yemen. We explore the modern history of the region since Ottoman times, the terms on which it was integrated into the global political economy, how these processes shaped the politics and the economics of the region’s states, and how those conditions led to the uprisings of 2011. Student feedback was very positive in the first year, and hopefully it will be better this year as I make a few small amendments in light of my experience teaching it.
6. Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests?
Researching, teaching, and writing about politics and international relations can be all-consuming, so I make a deliberate effort to switch off from it whenever possible. I’m into all sorts of things from music to football to cinema to art. I will travel long distances to see a good painting. Anything from Caravaggio to Yayoi Kusama.
7. What’s your favourite term at Royal Holloway and why?
Spring. I tend to think it’s a good thing if it’s no longer dark when I leave the house in the morning.
8. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…
I’ve really enjoyed having the autonomy to run and develop my own courses, and have also found the experience of supervising undergraduate disserations very rewarding. I am accumulating good experiences here which are helping me understand where my strengths and aptitudes lie, and where I need to develop further. All this will stand me in good stead as my career progresses.