Saudi Arabia & the West: the Future of a Toxic Relationship

The war in Yemen and the Khashoggi murder have highlighted the ruthless and brutal nature of the Saudi regime and the extent to which it has been supported over many years by the west. The need for petrodollars and access to the sovereign wealth of Saudi Arabia to ease western current account  deficits  has led to western connivance with the Saudi regime in its regional objectives in the Middle East generally and specifically in the Yemen, where western arms and military advisors are used by the Saudi regime to fight a war that is resulting in a humanitarian disaster.

David Wearing is a teaching fellow in International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London,  and has studied relations between the West  and Saudi Arabia over many years.  He has provided expert comment and analysis on numerous occasions for Sky News and BBC tv and radio, as well as writing regularly for outlets such as the Guardian, the Independent, CNN, New Humanist, the New Statesman, London Review of Books, openDemocracy and Le Monde Diplomatique. In September 2017 he published ‘AngloArabia: Why Gulf Wealth Matters  to Britain’. He will look at the nature of the Saudi regime and its foreign policy under the Crown Prince and how far it will be possible for western policymakers to change, recalibrate and disentangle existing relationships which are so dependent on the flow of Saudi money to the west.   See all Guardian articles.  See David on Twitter.

1st April 2019


Plastics & Us: A Relationship Gone Bad?

Plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material. It is cheap, durable, low-weight and versatile, and our building and construction industry, industrial and agricultural machinery, transportation, electrical goods, textiles, medical supplies and packaging are all dependent on its various forms. The accumulative amount produced since mass production began in the 1950s – 8.3 billion tonnes – is roughly equivalent to the entire weight of the human beings living on the planet, and almost half the items made from it are for single use. This results in huge amounts of detritus, which is polluting our landmasses and contaminating our oceans, affecting over 700 marine species. More recently, the presence of minute ‘microplastics’, less than 5 mm across and often invisible to the human eye, has been causing grave concern. These are ubiquitous in habitats as diverse as the deep Indian Ocean floor to Arctic sea ice. They can cause harm to marine invertebrates if ingested, and potentially carry a cocktail of chemicals. Recently, their presence in foods destined for human consumption has prompted concern regarding possible human health effects, which are still unknown. Tonight’s speaker Stephanie Wright is an environmental health scientist, researching this particular aspect of the problem in the Analytical, Environmental and Forensic Sciences Department of King’s College London. She will discuss the whole issue with us, including what can be done to limit the damage and re-align our relationship with plastic through smarter use and better waste disposal of this essential material. 

Dr Stephanie Wright – 18.45 on Monday 25th February


The Impact of Foreign Interventions in Africa

Western involvement in Africa extends from massive corporate investment in mineral extraction and technology, to direct government aid and a network of programmes  run by NGOs. In addition China is now also heavily involved in investment in Africa. But the impact of these interventions may produce either different outcomes from those intended or be detrimental to the economic, social and political development of the countries concerned.

Alastair Fraser lectures at SOAS in the Department of Politics and International Studies and he is on the Editorial Working Group of the Review of African Political Economy. His research includes: the politics of ‘call-in’ radio and television; the privatisation of the copper mining industry, including relations between workers, the state and Western and Chinese investors; the strategies African states deploy to negotiate with foreign aid donors; the ideological effects on trade unions and NGOs of ties to the international development industry; and the relationships between technocracy, democratisation and populist modes of political mobilisation. He will look at how foreign aid donors, international NGOs and multinational companies promote their preferred economic and social agendas in Africa, and how African elites and citizens respond to these influences. See full academic biography

4th February 2019


The Threat of Surveillance in an age of Technology

In recent years, the British state has spied on law-abiding environmental activists, democratically elected politicians, victims of torture and police brutality, and hundreds of journalists. With the development of new and emerging technologies, this often lawless use of sophisticated surveillance is becoming increasingly alarming. In 2016 a law called the Investigatory Powers Act was passed in the UK, enabling the British state indiscriminately to hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population, making it the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. The prospect of a free trade agreement in mass surveillance between the UK and the US has exacerbated the situation, with the US President committed to monitoring all mosques, investigating Black Lives Matter activists, and deporting two to three million people. Silkie Carlo will discuss this critical issue with us. She is the Director of Big Brother Watch, a non-party, non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting privacy and civil liberties in the UK. She is a passionate campaigner for the protection of human rights and freedom, and after working for Edward Snowden’s official defence fund, became the Senior Advocacy Officer  at Liberty, where she led a programme on Technology and Human Rights, and launched a legal challenge to the Investigatory Powers Act.   She co-wrote the handbook “Information Security for Journalists” which was commissioned by the Centre for Investigative Journalism.  See also article on Apple´s monopoly on free speech.

21st January 2019