Modern History and Politics-Britain and the Politics of Modernization in the Middle East, 1945-1958

By Alterman, Jon B. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1997 | Go to article overview

Modern History and Politics-Britain and the Politics of Modernization in the Middle East, 1945-1958


Alterman, Jon B., The Middle East Journal


Britain and the Politics of Modernization in the Middle East, 1945-1958, by Paul W.T. Kingston. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xi + 157 pages. Notes to p. 183. Bibl. to p. 188. Index to p. 191. $54.95.

A great deal has been written about post-World War II international diplomacy in the Middle East, much of it concentrated rather narrowly on political and military issues. Economic relations have received very little attention, and economic development issues less still. Publication of Paul Kingston's book is, therefore, especially welcome.

This book is an institutional history of the Development Division of the British Middle East Office (BMEO) in the post-war period. Kingston begins by discussing British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin's desire to promote sweeping regional development schemes in the Middle East after World War II, and how those efforts ran aground on problems of insufficient funding. He then describes how British attention turned to low-cost, small-scale pilot projects and technical assistance in the early 1950s. By remaining a small organization of highly skilled technicians, the BMEO was able to maintain a low profile while providing valuable technical assistance to Arab governments. Such assistance, Kingston tells the reader, was especially significant in the fields of forestry, statistics and rural credit-none of them headline-grabbing, but all of them the stuff on which development is built.

The heart of this book is a set of case studies concentrating on Iran, Iraq and Jordan. The last is by far the best and most informative. Kingston recounts how, in 1951-52, the British government insisted on the creation of a nine-person "development board" before granting technical assistance to Jordan. The board consisted of six Jordanians and representatives of the British and US governments and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), with the Briton serving as Secretary General. While the board was intended to coordinate Jordanian development, it soon became a forum for a rivalry between British and US schemes to develop the Yarmuk River. As the operations of the US technical assistance program-Point IV-grew in Jordan, US planners came to regard the board as "a diabolical device to give the British control of Point IV funds" (quoted on p. 132). The British relinquished control over the development board in early 1956, partly in response to suggestions from the World Bank. …

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