The "East of Suez" Syndrome

By Copley, Gregory R. | Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, August 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The "East of Suez" Syndrome


Copley, Gregory R., Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy


Important New Strategic Literature The "East of Suez" Syndrome Imperial Crossroads: The Great Powers and the Persian Gulf. Annapolis, Maryland, July 2012: US Naval Institute Press. Edited by Jeffrey R. Macris and Saul Kelly. 235pp, notes, index. ISBN: 978-1-59114-489-2. Hardcover, $34.95 1 £27.95.

THE TIMELINESS AND CLARITY OF Imperial Crossroads: The Great Powers and the Persian Gulf, published by the US Naval Institute Press in July 2012, is remarkable, not just because the analysis by the book's numerous authors is so good, but equally for the vivid image which was created by what was not said.

The authors, covering the history of great power involvement in the Persian Gulf, show a consistent evolution of that activity from the arrival of Portuguese Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque at the Strait of Hormuz in 1507 until the present era. The clear message which the book conveys, but does not state, is that we are entering the first period since 1507 when Western "great power" dominance in the Persian Gulf has begun to evaporate. Indeed, the prospect now exists that, (/great power dominance is to continue in the Persian Gulf in the coming decades, it can come from one of only four probable sources:

* A revived and reasserting United States of America;

* Projection from the People's Republic of China (PRC);

* Projection from the Russian Federation (RF); or

* Projection from India.

Each of these prospects would face enormous challenge, from the regional situation as well as from possible competition from extra- regional players. Indeed, where the PRC may benefit from a strong sense of interest in becoming a new umbrella power in the region and has the economic capacity to consider the rôle, India - which lacks the economic resilience - has proximity and history to support it.

The other question is whether the regional states themselves have the capacity to manage affairs while holding external powers at a reserve, and at this juncture only Iran has a potential to be considered as a dominant local power.

Imperial Crossroads, by looking at the history of great power involvement over half-a-millennia, tracks the way in which external powers have ebbed and flowed in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. The British Labour Government's unilateral decision, under Prime Minister Harold Wilson, - without discussion with the US - to withdraw its forces from "East of Suez" (including the Persian Gulf) in 1971 is covered in the book from several angles, and exceedingly well. Again, what this starkly highlights is the present US strategic withdrawal from the Middle East which began, and continues, with the Administration of Pres. Barack Obama. This has already fueled massive regional disruption and instability, including a good measure of contribution to the so-called "Arab Spring", and the revived indirect war between Iran, Turkey, and some of the Arab states.

US justifiable criticism of Britain for the manner in which the UK's withdrawal from "East of Suez" affected alliance interests - and forced the US to step into the Persian Gulf to a greater extent - must now be expected to be revisited in Western criticism of the US for destabilizing the region by its (Washington's) unilateral withdrawal. …

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