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[ 1 ] INTRODUCTION The Persian Gulf region is often associated with upheavals and conflicts . Since the 1970s, it has experienced oil shocks, wars and challenges from its own citizens; however, the basic entities of the Gulf States have remained largely in place. How did this resilient system come about for such seemingly unstable societies? In particular, the eventual emergence of the smaller but prosperous members such as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was not at all evident until 1971. Before then, nine separate entities had stood in parallel to each other as, in British terms, its ‘Protected States’. At various points, plans were discussed to amalgamate the nine into one, two, three or even four separate entities. What, then, drove the formation of the three states we see today? Was it the local call for self-rule against a century and a half of British presence? Or was it Britain’s carefully designed strategy to serve its economic interest and the ‘special relationship’ with the US in order to survive the Cold War? Why was the process so delayed? And who made crucial decisions in the final reckoning? These questions are not only pertinent to the current Middle East but they are also deeply related to the transformation of the modern world more broadly. The majority of peoples in the world today have experienced these challenges at some point in their histories. I myself am no exception. I was born in northern Japan. My mother used to recall with much affection how her blind grandmother sewed kimono. She was an Ainu, an ethnic minority, which imperial Japan once deemed barbaric subjects needing its ‘protection’, and it eventually divided Ainu territories with Russia. On my father’s side, my late grandmother described in her Tokyo accent how she had returned with her family from the Korean Peninsula to Japan at the end of the Second World War. I was curious to know in what capacity they had lived in Korea, but she never provided much detail. Today I happen to hold a Japanese passport, but that does not convince me that either the state or the nation of Japan has always been what a lot of its people would like to believe today. Self-determination versus ‘better together’ is an almost universal dilemma accompanying the rise of modern states and in some cases the concurrent decline of empires. This book will explore these fundamental dilemmas of the modern world by looking into the end of the British Empire in the Middle East. It will shed light on the last moment of the Empire, which, in SATO 9780719099687 PRINT.indd 1 04/12/2015 08:53 BRITAIN AND THE FORMATION OF THE GULF STATES [ 2 ] its hasty retreat from the ‘East of Suez’ in 1971, midwifed the birth of Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. The event was a crucial watershed in terms of both British decline and the rise of the new Persian Gulf States, and one which has naturally captured the attention of many authors. Given its profundity, it is unsurprising that some scholars have looked for comparably substantial causes, such as the worldwide ‘wind of change’ calling for decolonisation.1 Others have also looked to the major drivers of the post-war era like the long-term decline of the British economy and the related change in domestic opinion.2 Either way, the unspoken agenda has so far been to explain the big event with reference to big causes. When I first started to study the subject as a postgraduate student, I was hoping to make some modest modifications to the already established grand narratives. The picture I formed after eight years in the archives in both Britain and the Gulf, however, led me to explore a different dimension of the story. As emphasised by the existing literature , British economic retrenchment and, to a lesser extent, local self-­ determination no doubt played their part. However, the most consistent thread to the entire story was the absence of a central agent. For example, my research located a secret agreement signed between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which led to the independence of the UAE, in a somewhat unexpected place – the British National Archives. I enquired in the National Archives in the UAE but they did not seem to hold a copy. Why is such a crucial document of state-building not in the hands of its original party but in the safe of a former imperial metropole? As implied by...


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