When Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the British Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons in March that all permanent British forces in the Persian Gulf would be withdrawn by the beginning of 1972 he signaled the end of the last important vestige of the nineteenth century's Pax Britannica and opened the door to what could be a major, and possibly painful, reconstruction of the Middle Eastern map.

Ever since Britain signed her first Arabian treaty with the Sultan of Muscat in 1798, in a successful attempt to close the Gulf to French naval forces during the Napoleonic wars, a "special relationship" has existed between Britain and the territories around the Gulf. In Persia, as Iran was generally known until after the Second World War, the British established a sphere of interest so important to them as an answer to Russia's imperial designs upon India that for a time in the nineteenth century there were two separate British diplomatic missions in Tehran-one appointed by the British Government in India and the other from the London Foreign Office. On the Arab shore of the Gulf the relationship was for many decades more arbitrary and more tenuous, being based essentially upon the exercise of Britain's maritime power over a number of scattered, impoverished and generally piratical coastal tribes. These were compelled by the threats of gunboat diplomacy to sign a series of treaties suppressing piracy and the slave trade and eventually granting Britain exclusive rights to the control of their foreign affairs and defense, in return for a promise of British protection. At its peak, during and immediately after the First World War, this apparatus of British hegemony was complete from one end of the Gulf to the other, comprising special relationships, written or unwritten, with all the Gulf states, great or small, including Persia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The rise of local nationalism, the development of the Gulf oil industry and the fall of Britain's Indian Empire a quarter-of-a-century ago changed most of that. Today all that is left of the complex yet effective structure of British power in the Gulf, which imposed a rough stability upon its affairs for the better part of 150 years, is the so-called Trucial system in the lower Gulf, with which-after that first treaty with the Sultan of Muscat-it all began. In a few months from now that, too, will disappear; and for the first time since the heyday of Britain's East India Company all the territories around the Gulf will be at liberty to seek their own salvation without the threat of British intervention or the comfort of British protection.

This final remnant of the British Raj-for that, in effect, is what it is- has been for some years now an obvious, if in some ways charming, anachronism. Its basis was a "perpetual maritime truce" forced upon the unruly coastal tribes of Oman in 1853 and extended later to the nearby shaikhdoms of Qatar and Bahrein. Its result in our own day has been the extension of British protection to nine tiny, quasi-independent states which, since the discovery of oil, have included some of the richest, some of the smallest and some of the poorest states in the world.

Bahrein, with 200,000 people and a small oil field now 40 years old, has by far the largest and most sophisticated population of these nine states. The Trucial Shaikhdom of Abu Dhabi, with a population of around 25,000 and an oil income of some £120 million a year is by far the richest-per capita, the richest state in the world, bar none-although only ten years ago it was sunk in the traditional penury of desert isolation.

Qatar lies roughly midway in riches between these two and Dubai, the biggest of the seven Trucial Shaikhdoms, with about 70,000 people, whose flourishing entrepôt and gold smuggling trade as well as a small new offshore oil field make it the commercial center of the Trucial Coast.

The remaining five Trucial Shaikhdoms-Sharja, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al- Khaima and Fujaira-are scarcely more than strips of desert and lagoon interspersed with fishing villages. Their populations vary from about 5,000 to 20,000 each, their chief pastime is dreaming of the day when they, too, may strike it rich, and their principal sources of income meanwhile are bizarre excursions into the field of international philately and the money obtained from an almost equally bizarre assortment of oil companies for exploration concessions that have so far proved unrewarding. Of these five, only Sharja has any pretensions to prosperity, derived mostly from the presence of a British military base and airfield which will be among those partially sacrificed in the British withdrawal.


This withdrawal itself has two aspects. The first is the military one, involving the recall of about 6,000 British ground troops stationed in Bahrein and Sharja, together with their air support units. The second is political, and follows from the first: the termination of the old treaties of protection and their replacement by a simple treaty of friendship, carrying no significant obligations for either side. It is proposed, however, that a British "presence" shall continue in the Gulf through the use of existing airfields as staging posts for the Royal Air Force, as well as through occasional naval visits, specialized desert training for small British Army units and, most importantly, the provision of British officers and equipment for local armed forces. In addition, Britain will continue its present arrangements with the neighboring Sultanate of Oman where de facto British protection has existed since 1798. These arrangements are now regulated by an exchange of letters which took place between Britain and the former Sultan in 1955, in which Britain undertook to train and equip the Sultan's forces in exchange for staging rights on the airfield of Masirah, an island off the southern coast of the Sultanate.[i]

In spite of these qualifications, however, the purpose of the British withdrawal is clear: to disengage, as far as possible, from military and political commitments which have become increasingly untenable. In terms of the Gulf's history, where the British umbrella has provided the only guarantee of stability for the past 150 years, this is tantamount to a diplomatic and strategic revolution; and the fact that it is accompanied by equally radical economic, social and political changes within the Gulf territories themselves as a consequence of soaring oil wealth and burgeoning nationalism only multiplies the uncertainties and tensions which it must release throughout the region.

The decision to withdraw was not taken, therefore, without misgiving. As late as the beginning of 1968 Britain's Labour Government of the day was committed to maintaining the special British position in the Gulf in the belief that it might ensure stability there for a few more years. Only when a sharply deteriorating balance of payments forced London to reduce its overseas defense commitments did withdrawal from the Gulf become one of the imperatives of Labour's policy, with Harold Wilson's announcement that all British forces would be withdrawn from "East of Suez." In opposition, the Conservative Party condemned this policy as a "scuttle;" and after its return to power in June 1970, one of Sir Alec Douglas-Home's first moves was to begin a series of consultations with Gulf rulers, from the Shah of Iran downwards, to see whether a reversal of Labour policy was either practicable or desirable. Many critics in Britain and America believed strongly that it was both, pointing especially to the need to secure the Gulf's vital oil resources (amounting to approximately two-thirds of the non-communist world's proved reserves) against Arab intransigence or Soviet- inspired subversion and arguing that the low foreign exchange cost of maintaining the British forces there (estimated at about £17 million a year) was a minimal insurance premium for the £2,000 million or so of annual revenues to Western oil companies from their Gulf production. Without the British presence, the critics said, the Gulf might become an area of persistent unrest in which local conflicts between rival Arab states and subversive movements as well as international tension between Arabs and Iranians could erupt and be exploited by the Soviet Union, imperiling Western oil interests and supplies.

Such risks certainly cannot be ignored. Historically, the Gulf has usually been an area of division and flux rather than of unity and stability, partly because it marks the line of stress between rival Arab and Persian cultures and partly because it lacks any indigenous focus for its small and scattered Arab communities. Only sporadically and by conquest has unity been imposed upon its disparate elements: once by the Arabs after the birth of Islam when they swept into Persia with their new religion and, for a time, controlled both shores; more than once by the Persians who have several times occupied parts of the Arab shore; and in the last two centuries by the diffuse overlordship of the British imperial system. If the last-named disappears without any international or regional system of security to replace it the prospect of renewed instability must, on the face of things, be rated pretty high. For the sake of clarity it will be as well to consider the threats of disorder, in this case, under three separate though somewhat overlapping headings: territorial disputes, revolutionary movements and external influences.


The territorial disputes in the area comprise a formidable list, ranging from a general sense of territorial rivalry (as well as cultural suspicion) between Iran on one side and the Arabs on the other, to the intricate but damaging squabbles of the tiny Trucial Shaikhdoms. Between Iraq and Iran there are conflicting claims to navigation rights in the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the mouth of the Tigris-Euphrates and a long-standing dispute over Iranian sovereignty in the neighboring province of Khuzistan. In addition, Iraq has accused Iran of fomenting the sporadic Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq and also of using her position as the leading Shiite Muslim country to stir up trouble among the large Shiite community in Iraq.[ii] These disputes are exacerbated by the ideological antipathy of the "revolutionary" Baath (Socialist Renaissance) Party régime in Iraq for the allegedly "monarchist-imperialist" rule of the Shah in Iran.

Between Iran and Saudi Arabia and some of the smaller shaikhdoms there have been several disputes over the so-called median line in the Gulf, which demarcates the areas of offshore oil exploration and exploitation, and between Iran and two of the Trucial Shaikhdoms there is an urgent and possibly explosive contention over the disposition of three tiny islands near the mouth of the Gulf. The biggest of these, Abu Musa, has a shifting population of only a few dozen Arab fishermen and has been regarded up to now by the British, in their traditional capacity as arbiters of Gulf affairs, as being part of the territory of Sharja. The other two, known as the Tumbs, are even smaller and virtually uninhabited, and have been listed so far among the domains of Ras al-Khaima. Iran now argues that this allocation of sovereignty was mistaken and was acceptable only as long as Britain remained responsible for the foreign affairs of the Trucial States. Now that Britain is abandoning that responsibility Iran is reasserting its claim to sovereignty, supporting it with the strategic argument that possession of these islands by weak and unstable Arab régimes could lead to their occupation by revolutionary or hostile forces which might then be able to impose a blockade on Iran's vital oil trade through the mouth of the Gulf.

On the Arab side, internecine territorial or family disputes are legion. Iraq has not wholly abandoned its hope of seizing the rich oil shaikhdom of Kuwait, to which the late General Kassem laid claim in 1961 only to be thwarted by the last major action of British forces in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia has recently reaffirmed its claim to the Oasis of Buraimi whose eight small villages have been shared until now between the Shaikhdoms of Abu Dhabi (six) and the Sultanate of Oman (two)-both under British protection. On the other hand, there is a traditional link of over-lordship between several of the shaikhs of the Trucial Coast and the Sultan of Oman that has been in abeyance for over a century but may well be revived in the near future; while between the Trucial Shaikhdoms themselves there are complex family jealousies and unresolved territorial disputes which resulted in frequent tribal war and murder up to 1948 and which might yet lead to more of the same in the absence of a British referee. One of these disputes currently under review involves the offshore boundaries of Sharja and Ajman and conflicting claims to exploration rights around the island of Abu Musa advanced by two American oil companies.

The second factor threatening the stability of the area-revolutionary movements-is partly a result of the rapid growth of oil wealth in recent years. All the traditional régimes around the Gulf are now subject to some degree to the menace of modern revolutionary movements feeding upon a combination of old tribal jealousies and the usual resentments of a disoriented new class. Until the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, much of the external support for these movements came from Cairo, but the change in Egyptian policies since then has left the field open to two other contenders for the revolutionary spoils. First is the Baathist régime in Baghdad, which is hostile to all forms of traditional government- particularly Shaikhs, Sultans and Shahs-and which has been extending its cells lately in Kuwait, Bahrein and even in Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the Trucial Coast. The second, and currently more menacing, movement is the so- called Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf (PFLOAG) which is an extension of the earlier Dhofar Liberation Front-an indigenous movement against the rule of the former Sultan of Muscat and Oman in his southernmost province of Dhofar. PFLOAG is now greatly influenced by the Marxist government of the People's Republic of Yemen (formerly South Arabia) which took over in Aden after the British withdrawal from there at the end of 1967; and there have been persistent reports from British sources of Chinese advisers and arms filtering through from Aden to aid the PFLOAG rebels in Dhofar.

Their grip on most of the interior of Dhofar and the threat of their extension through the mountains of Oman into the Gulf shaikhdoms was the principal reason for the palace coup of July 1970, in which the old and reactionary Sultan of Muscat was overthrown by his son, Qabus. He, in turn, is now trying to overcome the poverty and isolation of the last century in his kingdom by spending the Sultanate's new oil revenues of approximately £40 million a year on economic development. Qabus is handicapped in this, however, by the simultaneous need to increase his small armed forces to cope with the Dhofari rebels. Success on both fronts-if it can be achieved at all-is likely to come slowly. The situation in the Sultanate meanwhile cannot be regarded as stable; and from the British view there remains a risk that the obligations involved in the 1955 exchange of letters could drag U.K. forces into a minor war with the Dhofari rebels.

Finally, there are four chief external influences which (apart from the possibility of Chinese influence in southern Yemen and Dhofar) may increase the instability of the area. First, there is the residue of the old British presence which will remain after 1971. There is little doubt that as long as the current régimes in Bahrein, Qatar and the seven Trucial States remain in power they will continue to follow the habits of the past 150 years and look to Britain for help and advice, even if direct military protection is denied them. To this extent Britain may continue to contribute to stability. There is, however, an obvious risk that even the greatly diminished British presence will arouse hostility among the revolutionaries and the discontented, without providing the strength on the ground to combat that hostility. Next, there is the American commercial presence manifested chiefly in the big U.S. oil companies which control between them about two-thirds of all production from the territories around the Gulf, They, too, are a stabilizing force in so far as they produce the cash which all the Gulf régimes desire, but they are also natural targets for "anti-imperialist" hostility. Third, there is a cautiously expanding Russian influence in the area, expressed partly through arms and commercial deals with Iran, partly through the establishment of diplomatic missions, as in Kuwait, and partly through the classic medium of naval visits to Gulf ports. The direction of Soviet policy here, however, is still unclear and its capacity for creating trouble may be limited by the Russian desire to remain equally friendly, if possible, with both Iran and the Arabs as well as by the uncertain relationship of future Russian and world oil requirements.

Lastly, and probably most importantly, there remains beyond these great- power interests the influence of the Arab-Israeli dispute. If there is no peace agreement there a renewal of extremist Palestinian activity is likely, together with a general strengthening of left-wing and possibly Maoist influences throughout the Arab world. This could be reflected in unrest in Kuwait, where the immigrant Palestinian population is large and potentially restive and also in Saudi Arabia, where the aging King Faisal has suffered several attempts in recent years to overthrow or modify his régime. A Libyan-type coup d'état in Saudi Arabia would have profound repercussions throughout the Gulf, and cannot be discounted. A further round of Arab-Israeli fighting might also exacerbate relations between the Arab states and Iran, whose National Oil Company is Israel's chief source of oil. The Western oil companies also might be subjected to growing Arab pressure, if only as a means of gaining revenge for Western failure to "compel" Israel to make peace on terms acceptable to the Arab governments.


In view of all these actual or potential sources of radical change or instability the Gulf must be regarded as on the brink of a period of upheaval greater than anything it has known since the British Raj took it under its capacious wing. It is understandable, therefore, that the British decision to withdraw was greeted in some quarters with dismay. Yet two crucial arguments support the decision. First, the value of British troops as an "insurance premium" for the Gulf's oil supplies has proved illusory in the past and looks still more illusory for the future. British forces were unable to do anything to prevent Dr. Mossadeq from cutting off Iranian oil supplies in the Abadan crisis of 1951, or to ensure the uninterrupted flow of oil from Saudi Arabia or Iraq in the Suez crisis of 1956 and the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. They were also utterly irrelevant to the Tehran oil negotiations earlier this year when the oil-producing countries drove an unprecedentedly hard bargain with the companies purely on the basis of their strength in a sellers' market. Second, to retain British forces in the Gulf once their withdrawal had been promised would have done more than any other single thing to promote the disorder which their continued presence would have been supposed to prevent.

In his consultations after June 1970, Sir Alec Douglas-Home was clearly looking for someone in the Gulf who would give him the excuse to say that the British would stay. But no such excuse was offered him. All the major powers of the Gulf-Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait-were adamant that Britain should honor her withdrawal commitment. So were all the other Arab states beyond the Gulf; and although the smaller Gulf shaikhdoms evinced a clear private preference for the old British protection, only one-Dubai-was prepared to so much as hint in public that Britain should change her mind. Under these circumstances any effort by Britain to retain permanent forces in the area after 1971 would have been interpreted as a return to "imperialism" and would have provided the Iraqi and Dhofari revolutionaries- not to mention the Soviet Union and China-with the best possible grounds for capturing young hearts and minds throughout the Gulf. Egypt then would almost certainly have felt obliged to return to the fray, adding powerfully to the chorus of denunciation in order to retain her leadership in the rest of the Arab world. The result would have been, inevitably, to place Britain and the Western interests she would have been ostensibly defending in an impossible position-pilloried by their enemies and deserted by their friends, with the prospect in the fairly near future of British forces being employed to protect shaikhly rulers and their disputed territorial boundaries against local revolution or aggression.

This prospect is now excluded; yet the vacuum of power which will remain after 1971 will also be dangerous, and it is not easy to see how it will be filled. No external power seems likely to replace the old British presence with its own. The U.S. Government is in no mood to take on new Middle East commitments, nor would its intervention be welcomed by any of the states concerned. The Soviet Union would find overt support to revolutionary movements damaging to its current posture in Iran and Kuwait. On the other hand, local security arrangements are still embryonic and, in their present form, seem increasingly likely to be stillborn. Indeed, the most unfortunate aspect of the uncertainty about British intentions introduced by the Conservative Party and Government after 1968 was the encouragement it offered, until March of this year, to Bahrein, Qatar and the Trucial Shaikhdoms to postpone firm decisions about their own future in the hope that Britain might, after all, decide to stay on. Now, with only a few months left before the British withdrawal, the creation of realistic local arrangements to take the place of the old British protection is going to be a hurried and probably botched affair.

A beginning with local security systems was made, in some panic, when the Union of Arab Emirates thrust itself upon a somewhat skeptical world in 1968, immediately after the Labour Government's announcement of its intention to withdraw British forces from the Gulf by the end of this year. The Union declared itself to be a federation (the implied contradiction between these two terms is typical of its inability so far to make up its mind on the most fundamental matters) of "the nine"-Bahrein, Qatar and the seven Trucial States-which together would compose a viable, independent entity to which Britain could transfer its defense and foreign affairs responsibilities before withdrawing from the scene. To the surprise of no one who knows the Gulf, however, the Union proved a decidedly spastic infant whose future now seems certain to lie alongside such other short- lived postcolonial federations as those of South Arabia, Malaysia and Central Africa. In spite of repeated meetings, much rhetoric and a good deal of unconcealed arm-twisting by Britain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the nine have achieved little beyond declarations of intent whose pious promises are more than outweighed by the sort of practical rivalry that has resulted in three separate "international" airports on the Trucial Coast within 100 miles of each other (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharja), and at least four separate armed forces (Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Ras al-Khaima and the Trucial Oman Scouts, the last-named a unified force under British command).

Much of the reluctance to advance toward federation results from old inter- tribal jealousies, especially among the four principal shaikhdoms. The ruling families of Bahrein and Qatar have a long history of enmity, as also do those of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On the other hand, Dubai and Qatar have close ties of marriage which in turn make the relationship of Dubai and Bahrein uneasy, while all four have contended jealously for a special position within a federation based on their respective claims to influence. With its relatively large and well-educated population-almost twice that of all seven Trucial States together-Bahrein insists upon additional power and preferably the privilege of providing the federal capital as well. Abu Dhabi replies that as the richest of the nine it is entitled to equally preferential treatment. Qatar tries to keep up with both. And Dubai, with two-thirds of Trucial Oman's population and a highly successful record of commercial enterprise, bolstered by a large Iranian immigrant community and the benevolent interest of Tehran, is inclined to opt out of the federal structure altogether and continue independently as a free port-the Hong Kong or Beirut of the Gulf.


To resolve these ancient conflicts in the time now available before British withdrawal seems impossible; other avenues will need to be explored. Pressure is already growing rapidly in Bahrein for independence on the Kuwaiti model, with membership in the United Nations, a gradual increase in representative forms of government under the ruling shaikh and a degree of protection from Saudi Arabia. If that happens, Qatar will probably follow suit, finding an equal protection in Saudi Arabia, with which there are, in any case, close religious ties through the puritanical Wahhabi sect of the Sunni Muslims. A federation of the seven Trucial Shaikhdoms would then seem the last possibility.

But this, too, could disappear over the horizon within the coming year as a result of a threefold rivalry between Abu Dhabi, Dubai and a revivified Sultanate of Oman under its new ruler, Qabus. The four tiniest shaikhdoms have already shown some interest in restoring relations with the Sultanate which could, in time, lead to the creation of a "Greater Oman" such as sometimes existed under earlier Sultans before the British froze the tribal pattern as they happened to find it in the nineteenth century. Dubai, supported by Iran, would then seek to remain independent, and Abu Dhabi would be confronted with the choice of either entering some kind of federal relationship with the new Oman or, conceivably, falling prey to Saudi Arabia, intent upon asserting its claim to Buraimi. An alternative scenario suggests that Abu Dhabi may use its wealth and its new armed forces-with 4,000 soldiers and a small but modern air force this is now easily the strongest of the nine shaikhdoms-to absorb at least four of the other Trucial States, leaving Dubai and possibly Sharja to fend for themselves as best they could.

Meanwhile, two more immediate problems must be solved if the lower Gulf is not to be abandoned to turmoil. One is the disposition of the Trucial Oman Scouts, a competent force of some 2,000 men which has kept the peace throughout the Trucial Coast for nearly 20 years under British authority and now is looking for a new master. The other, potentially more dangerous, is the fate of the three small islands at the mouth of the Gulf to which Iran lays claim. There was some hope in 1970 that Iran's claim might be settled as part of a package deal over a similar claim to Iranian sovereignty in Bahrein. Initially, Iran refused to accept any federation of the nine shaikhdoms until its Bahrein aspirations had been dealt with, although these were neither historically nor geographically well founded. Two years of delicate negotiation were required before all parties agreed last year to the face-saving device of a U.N. mission of inquiry which duly reported that the Bahreinis believed themselves to be Arabs rather than Persians and wished to exercise their right to self-determination in that capacity.

With that, Iran generously abandoned her claim, only, however, to insist more vigorously upon her other claim to Abu Musa and the Tumbs. Hopes of a package deal have been dashed, and the Shah seems adamant in his determination to take possession of these islands, willy-nilly. The Iranians point out that it will be easier for him to do so before the British leave than afterward, for Britain-as a final act of penitence for the "sins" of the Raj, perhaps?-can easily bear the Arab odium that may be involved in handing them to Iran.

After Britain has ceased to be responsible for the affairs of the Trucial States, on the other hand, any attempt to seize the islands by force might place Iran in the embarrassing position of taking action against fellow members of the United Nations, assuming that the Trucial States had by then attained some internationally recognized and independent form. Iran is willing to pay the Trucial rulers compensation, and there is little doubt that if Arab pride could be surmounted the rulers would happily settle for that. But Arab pride is easily touched; and the "sacrifice" to Iran of portions of the "sacred soil of Arabism"-however small and unproductive- might undermine the fragile solidarity between Iran and the Arab traditionalists in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere, and would certainly present the Iraqi and Dhofari revolutionaries with an apt rallying cry. The fundamental division of the Gulf between Arabs and Persians would then be uppermost, with serious and possibly violent repercussions on both sides.

In the last resort there is little doubt that Iran would win a purely military contest among the Gulf states, with her powerful armed forces and her larger and more cohesive population. But the struggle, if it comes, is unlikely to be a purely military one. Diplomatic, ideological and commercial battles would be more probable, in which the Western powers-and probably Russia, too-might be forced to choose between Iran and the Arabs. For the Western powers, especially, that choice might be all the more uncomfortable for knowing that it would be linked in Arab minds with their stance on the Arab-Israeli crisis as well, in view of Iran's oil shipments to Israel.

One cannot safely look more than a year or two ahead in the Gulf in any case; and it is not at all out of the reckoning that within the next few months we shall be forced to recognize the Gulf as an area of major international instability and concern. The fact is that whatever happens the Gulf has already entered a new period of flux in which neither existing boundaries nor traditional régimes can be expected to prevail. The combination of the economic and social revolutions now under way in the wake of oil riches and modern nationalism, and the diplomatic and strategic revolution implicit in the British withdrawal will obviously generate extensive change, although perhaps not immediately. If one looks for comfort in what must seem to many a disturbing scene, it is probably best found in the element that inspires most of the concern: oil.

It is true that oil and the wealth it has generated have been the principal catalysts of change in the Gulf so far, and will no doubt continue to be so for years to come. But it is also true that oil has been, and may remain, one of the best safeguards against total disorder. As the late President Nasser once remarked, "You can't drink it;" and as the major markets for the Gulf's immense reserves will remain beyond local control, there will always be an incentive, even for the revolutionaries, to come to some terms with those who buy it.

Moreover, if the dispute over Abu Musa and the Tumbs can be resolved before the end of 1971 there is at least a fair chance that other matters in the Gulf can evolve peacefully over the next year or two, as long as Iran and the larger Arab states (except Iraq) can maintain a modus vivendi in opposition to the revolutionary movements. A breathing space of this kind would give the last remnant of the British Raj more time to work out its destiny.

Meanwhile, we must recognize that the best policy now may be to stand back as far as possible from the Gulf and let its constituent peoples find their own levels, untrammelled at least by the old requirements of foreign hegemony; for as the twentieth century moves toward its final quarter we can hardly conceive of this region's destiny in terms of the arrangements, or divisions, thought appropriate at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Pax Britannica has served its turn in the Gulf, not ignobly and not without profit to practically all concerned. But its day is over, and we must be prepared now for some fairly bracing years of readjustment, if not of revolution, in its wake.

[i] The Sultanate of Muscat and Oman changed its name officially to the Sultanate of Oman after the palace coup of July 1970.

[ii] The division between Shiite and Sunni Muslims is the chief religious schism in Islam. A majority of Arabs belong to the Sunni groups, while almost all Iranians are Shiite. There are significant Shiite communities among the Gulf Arabs, however, especially in Iraq and Bahrein.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now