On June 19th, a Russian cargo ship, the Alaed, allegedly carrying military equipment to Syria, was forced to turn back after its London-based insurers, the Standard Club, withdrew cover. The move was received with approval in the UK, where diplomatic efforts to bring Russia round to their way of thinking on Syria have so far failed. It seems self-evident that in the absence of (more) Russian helicopters and missiles, the number of civilian deaths in Syria will be reduced. Cause and effect is notoriously difficult to establish. Not so here. Standard Club withdraws insurance cover. The Alaed is forced to turn back because without insurance, it cannot refuel, nor unload its cargo in any port. The lives of innocent people are saved.
As for what forces the withdrawal of insurance cover? An EU arms embargo on Syria.
We have a habit in the UK of too readily believing what our politicians and journalists tell us. EU bad, UK government good. Simplistic, you think? Yes, so do I. But I stand by that analysis. The UK had a small Foreign Policy victory this week but it managed this through its membership of the EU forum, where all the member states agreed that sanctions against Syria were necessary. We talk a lot in Politics about the power of corporations but in this case what we see is the power of states over corporations when states come together to agree a sanction that is representative of 27 countries, rather than just one or a handful. With an arms embargo in place, corporate entities such as the Standard Club have a responsibility to act on any information they receive that suggests those for whom they act are in breach of said sanction. Failure to do so would bring negative repercussions for the Standard Club itself.
So, Russia received a lesson in what it means to live in a global economy. Russian shipping companies can, of course, seek insurance elsewhere. However, insurance is about protection against risk, and risks are extensive at sea. Therefore, an insurer’s reliability and the level of its reserves are important. The Standard Club is, according to its own website, a member of the International Group of Protection and Indemnity (P & I) clubs with free reserves of $353 million. The Financial Times points out that: “Around 95 per cent of the world’s ocean-going ships insure … through mutually owned [P&I] insurers, all of which reinsure through the London-based International Group of P&I Clubs.
The interconnectedness of the world in which policy is made is undeniable. It is something the UK needs to remember in the event that we are ever faced with a piece of paper that asks whether we want to be part of a European union or not. And before I get accused of being an apologist for the EU, let me just point out that I do realise it is a flawed entity but those flaws are infinitely preferable to where we would be without it. And you really do not have as much impact on another actor from without as you do from within. When listening to our politicians and media pundits, I am too often reminded of my experiences in the playground, when I or my friends didn’t get all we wanted just the way we wanted it. It is well past time to begin highlighting the successes of the EU rather than just its failures. I can’t bear the hypocrisy of a stance that points to the EU in answer for all our ills but which barely acknowledges its triumphs. And if people can’t think of any triumphs, perhaps that says far more about their ignorance than the EU’s failings.
Think Churchill and his comments on democracy. Now apply them to the EU.