World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Challenging Retrenchment: The United States, Great Britain and the Middle East, 1970 - 1985 (334) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 11.30 am-1.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Leeds (United Kingdom)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Professor Clive Jones

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: A panel summary, which should exhibit a clear description of the overall purpose of the panel and a brief abstract of each paper presented in the panel. It must be single spaced and up to 1,000 words. This panel sets out to re-examine Anglo-American relations in the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s. This period has been defined by, on the one hand British retrenchment from the region, while on the other, a growing reliance by the United States on regional powers to protect strategic interests defined by the wider context of the Cold War. New evidence however challenges this picture of both British decline and American omnipotence across the Middle East. This panel therefore examines how both Washington and London continued to exercise power and influence in the region, an influence that went on to shape the political contours of the region in the post-Cold War world.

Chair: Professor Clive Jones, University of Leeds

Paper presenter: Professor Tore. T. Petersen (NTNU Trondheim, Norway), “From a Gulf to a Lake? Richard Nixon and the Anglo-American Strategy in the Gulf Region 1970-74.”

This paper offers a new interpretation of both United States and British policy towards the Persian Gulf in the 1970s. When Britain announced the withdrawal of its military forces from the Persian Gulf on January 16, 1968, Washington was dismayed. In turn the United States encouraged greater cooperation between the regional powers, most importantly Iran and Saudi Arabia to safeguard Gulf stability. This paper explores how Nixon deliberately broke up the long and successful partnership between the major western oil companies and the western powers, thereby increase oil prices so that rapidly increasing oil revenues could allow Tehran and Riyadh to pay for the necessary military hardware in the Gulf.

Paper presenter: Professor Simon C. Smith (University of Hull, United Kingdom), “Protecting its legacy: Britain and the Gulf from formal withdrawal to the Iranian revolution 1971-1979”

Despite formal withdrawal from the Gulf in 1971, Britain had no intention of relinquishing its interests – economic and strategic – and actively sought to preserve its residual assets. But Britain’s tendency to exploit the growth of the Iranian market, partly to compensate for the contraction of Britain’s market share elsewhere in the Gulf had the effect of blinding it to the political and strategic costs which such a policy would entail. Indeed, the Iranian revolution and the fall of the Shah appear to have been as unexpected to British policy-makers as they were deleterious to British interests.

Paper presenter: Dr Clea Bunch (University of Arkansas, USA), “Beyond the Handshake: Donald Rumsfeld’s Mission in the Middle East, 1983-1984”

Donald Rumsfeld’s meeting with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq in December 1983 has been scrutinized by the media and denigrated in popular histories in light the recent wars between the United States and Iraq. The prevailing interpretation of this meeting is that President Ronald Reagan planned to contain the power of the Ayatollah Khomeini by providing support to Iraq. Documents from the Reagan Library display a more nuanced picture of this meeting. The focus of Rumsfeld’s visit to the region was not however to containing Iranian power. Rather it was to enhance the stability of Lebanon in preparation for a withdrawal of US forces. As such, his meeting with Hussein should be contextualized in the broader narrative of President Reagan’s effort to withdraw from Lebanon.

Paper presenter:Dr Michael Thornhill (Boston University (London, UK) “Anglo-Egyptian Relations in the 1970s: Assessing the Imperial Legacy”

Even for scholars who point to continuing British power and influence in the Gulf, the withdrawal from eastern Arabia and the concomitant creation of the UAE in 1971 is often seen as the end of the imperial road. Yet, as the other panellists here will argue, Britain’s extensive connections with Middle Eastern powers, especially in the Gulf, are quietly maintained and developed throughout the 1970s. Egypt’s place in this revisionist assessment of the 1970s might still appear highly contentious: surely the onerous imperial baggage of the Suez debacle militated against the rekindling of any notable British influence, even after Nasser’s death in September 1970? The testing of this rejoinder – utilising British official documents now available up to 1979, as well as the burgeoning scholarly literature on the Sadat years – will constitute the analytical focus of this presentation.

Paper presenter: Dr James Worrall (University of Leeds, UK) “Creating Secure States or Security States: The British Role In The Establishment of Policing Structures In The Lower Gulf & Oman In The 1970s”

The British government’s announcement of its intention to withdraw ‘East of Suez’ by the end of 1971 was the catalyst for renewed efforts to resolve many disputes in the Gulf region. Beyond the creation of a Union of Arab Emirates (UAE) and the resolution of as many border disputes as possible however was the urgent need to ensure that these new states had the necessary tools with which to uphold their sovereignty both internally and externally. Yet the rigorous application of the rentier state model would never be sufficient to secure the position of the ruling elites in a post pax Britannica Gulf. Internal security and the creation of efficient policing structures within these new nation states was just as important. This paper examines the development of British policy and asks whether this process has led to the creation of secure, ordered states or a form of security state.