A British think tank that bills itself as a global authority on military and diplomatic affairs has been accused of jeopardising its independence after leaked documents showed it has secretly received £25m from the Bahraini royal family, which has been criticised for its poor human rights record.
Confidential documents seen by the Guardian show that the country’s repressive rulers donated the sum to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) over the last five years.
The documents also reveal that IISS and the Bahraini royals agreed to “take all necessary steps” to keep most of the donations secret. The Bahrain donations make up more than a quarter of IISS’s income.
The disclosure comes as Theresa May, the prime minister, is on a two-day visit to Bahrain to discuss post-Brexit trade with Gulf leaders. Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, is due to give a speech in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, on Friday at a conference organised by IISS and paid for by Bahrain’s ruling family. The royals are footing the bill for all delegates to stay in villas at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
IISS's Manama Dialogue 2016, a regional security summit (more info. here), is taking place December 9-11 in Bahrain. An archive of past dialogues can be found here.
The annual IISS conference has been hailed as "the central pillar" of discussions about about security in the Middle East. Delegations from around 30 countries reportedly attend.
It has been reported that almost 30 percent of the Bahraini delegates at the 2015 Manama Dialogue were members of the Al Khalifa royal family.
The UK Charity Commission is reportedly investigating whether the think tank compromised its independence by accepting the financing.
Here is a list of IISS's sources of funding, and no, Bahrain is not included. Here is more from Bahrain Watch. Here is the most recent IISS financial report statement.
In 2016 IISS, which was founded in 1958, was ranked as the world's 7th best think tank by the University of Pennsylvania think tank rankings. It was also ranked as the world's 2nd best think tank for defense and national security research.
IISS, which is considered one of four major British think tanks specializing in foreign affairs, is headquartered in London and has offices in Washington, DC, Singapore, and Manama, Bahrain. Besides the Manama Dialogue, the think tank is well known for its annual Military Balance assessment of the world's armed forces, and the Shangri-La Dialogue, which was launched in Singapore in 2002.
Bahrain is also known to give to influential think tanks in the United States, including the Atlantic Council. But with President-elect Donald Trump's general indifference about think tanks, it seems that Bahrain has decided to bypass think tanks and go directly to the source of influence.
We should also note that think tanks hiding their funding sources is extremely prevalent in the United States as well as think tanks overseas.
Update: It is being reported that John Jenkins quietly stepped down as executive director of IISS-Middle East in late November. Sources close to IISS management reportedly said that there had been various internal management disputes on issues such as "lack of oversight." His bio can be found here.
Also, Middle East Eye has been doing its own investigation into IISS and says that it believes the think tank's financial dependence on Bahrain may be significantly greater than The Guardian has suggested.