PEARLS AND SAPPHIRE

Kuwait 2019 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW: UK-KUWAIT TIES

Kuwait and the UK are celebrating 120 years of friendship and cooperation, a relationship that has celebrated triumphs and seen tragedies.

2019 marks 120 years of cooperation and friendship between Kuwait and the UK. It is a relationship that promises only to strengthen in the 21st century as both countries enter new arenas of cooperation.

When the first Treaty of Friendship was signed between the Sheikhdom of Kuwait and the British Empire in 1899, it is unlikely that either side imagined 120 years later both countries would have such a close and mutually beneficial relationship. That today thousands of British and Kuwaiti students, oil and gas experts, diplomats, and travelers would call each other's countries' home would have seemed outlandish, perhaps.

The treaty was a smart move for both parties. Kuwaitis would assert their independence from the Ottoman Empire, and the British would defend Kuwaiti sovereignty. The British would deliver an annual tribute of GBP1,000, or about GBP127,434 today, and Kuwait would reciprocate as an exporter of valuable pearls, in abundance in Kuwaiti waters. Both countries enjoy a mutually beneficial, multi-billion-dollar trade relationship after those humble beginnings. Indeed, investment by Kuwait in London and investment by the UK in Kuwait has hit an annual volume of USD4.5 billion.
Neither side could have imagined that this small start would blossom into the robust trade in petrochemicals, security collaboration, and educational exchange so vital to both countries today.

“Defense and security are high priority areas for us and always have been. Kuwait is a key friend and ally for us in the region, and more broadly. We have longstanding and excellent bilateral cooperation in this area, and actually have a permanent British presence in Kuwait in the form of the British Military Mission and 36 officers embedded with the Kuwaiti Armed Forces," Britain's Ambassador to Kuwait, Michael Davenport, told TBY. “We see Kuwait and other countries of the Gulf as very important allies for the UK in defending our joint interests in the region."

“The relationship has evolved in positive directions. We are able to work together in areas that require a lot of trust and confidence on both sides. Our bilateral relationship is flourishing and, from our experience, we can observe a 20% YoY increase in British exports to Kuwait," Davenport added.

Kuwait is a key diplomatic partner for all of its allies for its strategic location and deep port, making it a longstanding hub for trade in the region, but also because of its humanitarian and far-sighted role in raising and delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar, where warfare and ethnic cleansing have forced millions of people to flee for their lives. In this sense, Kuwait helps the UK achieve its wider foreign policy goals of promoting human rights and protecting the vulnerable.
“The UK has proven to be a trustworthy partner over the years and has stood by Kuwait through thick and thin," Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al Sabah, Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, told The Arab Times in January.
The friendship between the two countries was forged over the last 120 years by prosperous trade and security arrangements, but also in the conflagration of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was keen on seizing Kuwait's oil wealth and realizing illegitimate territorial claims. The invasion force not only harmed Kuwaitis, but also took British citizens hostage, among other nationalities. Although both countries had changed drastically in the intervening decades since the Friendship Treaty's signing, the UK and its ally the US came to the defense of Kuwaiti sovereignty, just as the original treaty agreement entailed. With the successful removal of Iraqi invasion forces, Kuwait was able to reassert its independence and control over its own destiny, a right it has gone on to help others achieve.

With peace has come opportunities for intellectual pursuits, for both Kuwaitis and British citizens, who study, work, and teach in each other's countries. A successful diplomatic union is the result of countless hours of conversations between citizens of the two countries involved. That conversation began more than a century ago between Britons and Kuwaitis, eager to find ways to help each other. Those conversations will certainly continue for the next century and beyond.