The Foreign Office and Anglo-Italian Involvement in the Red Sea and Arabia, 1925-28

By Tripodi, Christian W. E. | Canadian Journal of History, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

The Foreign Office and Anglo-Italian Involvement in the Red Sea and Arabia, 1925-28


Tripodi, Christian W. E., Canadian Journal of History


This article examines Britain's response to Italy's forward policy in the Red Sea region during the mid-to-late 1920s. Previous examination and understanding of Anglo-Italian relations during this period has tended to focus on issues other than such concrete case studies, consequently failing to create a sense of the often tense relationship between the two countries over a number of matters during this period. In this respect, Italian activity in the Yemen between 1925 and 1928 was particularly representative of the style and nature of Anglo-Italian relations during this period.

Dans cet article, nous examinons la reponse de la Grande-Bretagne envers les politiques d'avantgarde de l'Italie sur la region de la mer Rouge pendant la seconde moitie des annees 1920. Des examens et tentatives de comprehension des relations anglo-italiennes de l'epoque avaient tendance a se concentrer plutot sur des sujets autres que de telles etudes de cas concrets. C'est pourquoi ils' n'arriverent pas a convier l'esprit des rapports souvent tendus entre les deux pays sur un bon nombre de questions durant cette periode. A cet egard, les activites italiennes dans le Yemen entre 1925 et 1928 etaient particulierement representatives du style et de la nature des relations anglo-italiennes a cette epoque.

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This study seeks to understand the chain of events in the Red Sea and Arabian Peninsula in the mid-1920s that led to Britain and Italy facing each other across the negotiating table at the Talks of Rome in January 1927 and the way in which the Anglo-Italian relationship dictated the British attitude towards Italian activity in this region. (1) This article also seeks to examine the style and effectiveness of British foreign policymaking in the Red Sea region during this period. Complicated by local tribal politics and overlapping areas of responsibility and cocern, numerous government departments sought to influence policy, with mixed results. This-examination of the Foreign Office's reaction to Italy's forward policy in the Yemen clarifies the nature and methods of British foreign policymaking there and the degree of success achieved by Britain, and specifically the Foreign Office, in addressing Italian expansion and simultaneously preventing a fracture in Anglo-Italian relations. (2)

Although this particular period of Anglo-Italian interaction ended with what was essentially a successful outcome in British eyes, certain questions are raised. Why was British policy successful? Was it effective policy, or was it simply British strength as a whole, which was able to compensate for any localised shortcomings in diplomacy? Could it have been more successful in terms of formulation and execution? Alternatively, did the reason for the relative success of British policy lie at the feet of Italy's inability, at that time, to fully exploit the conditions that it encountered, or did Italy merely achieve what was possible in the circumstances? This article will attempt to answer these questions, and in so doing, provide a clearer picture of Anglo-Italian relations in the Red Sea during the period 1925-28.

1. The Red Sea Region 1925-28

During the 1920s the Red Sea and Suez canal were of huge commercial and military importance to Britain. The cessation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance and the building of the Singapore naval base demanded.rapid movement of the fleet to the Far East in times of trouble. November 1918 had seen the British Empire reach its peak, and the fact that some 70 per cent of this territory now lay beyond Suez reinforced the importance of the Red Sea route in British strategy. (3) The magnitude of this route to Britain's strategic interests was summed up by the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID), which stated that, "along this route lies the most pressing of our commitments. All lines of communication are vulnerable, and this route particularly so ... This vital cord in our defence system is weak. …

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