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[ 95 ] CHAPTER FIVE The ‘secret’ agreement, July 1971 After Harold Wilson’s withdrawal announcement in January 1968 up until the first half of 1971, the negotiations between the rulers of the Protected States remained fraught and contested. At the beginning, they had responded promptly by seeking a regional solution, but they could not follow it through. The failure of the initiative put forward in the Dubai Agreement could be explained partly by the rivalries between the rulers and their neighbours, but it was also due to the fundamental difficulty in realising the modernisation of international relations. Consequently, the crucial questions remained unresolved. How was Britain going to implement withdrawal from the Persian Gulf? How, if at all, were the Protected States going to emerge into international society? This chapter examines how these problems were settled during the later stages of British retreat. On top of the empirical contribution, this chapter also attempts to address a more conceptual issue by suggesting that we need to critically re-examine the idea of ‘decolonisation’. Although the application of the terminology here is disputable, given that the Protected States were never colonised per se, the narratives of the literature essentially correspond with the paradigm supporting this same idea. Focusing on Britain’s informal empire in the Persian Gulf, the enquiry is therefore driven by one of the most typical questions of decolonisation: How was the outcome of the end of empire and the concurrent emergence of the new states determined? There are two principal schools of thought in the literature. On the one hand, a group of scholars attributes the utmost importance to the role of the former imperial metropole. Wm. Roger Louis emphasises the crucial nature of the British role in explaining the largely peaceful British withdrawal and the emergence of new states. In particular, he portrays Sir William Luce, a special envoy to the Gulf, as a key mediator between the jealous rulers of the Protected States. This line SATO 9780719099687 PRINT.indd 95 04/12/2015 08:53 BRITAIN AND THE FORMATION OF THE GULF STATES [ 96 ] of ­ argument is helpful in order to understand the British perspective.1 On the other hand, Frauke Heard-Bey and Simon C. Smith focus on the role of the local rulers. They trace the negotiations undertaken between the local rulers and demonstrate that the crucial turning point came in the summer of 1971. The important question concerns what brought about this change. Heard-Bey identifies a week-long period of negotiations in mid-July that could have been crucial, but she cannot assert this with certainty owing to limitations in the sources.2 Taking Heard-Bey’s case forward, Smith argues that Dubai’s Ruler was persuaded by one of his advisers to compromise with Abu Dhabi and set aside their longstanding rivalry in order to move forward towards independence. This explanation is insightful, but it does not show why Abu Dhabi accepted negotiating with Dubai and what exactly happened during this crucial one-week period. After all, Smith mainly bases his inference on one report issued later, in December 1971.3 Although there are significant overlaps between the different approaches, there is clearly a discernible difference in terms of their emphasis. Whereas Louis’s work highlights the British role, the narratives of Heard-Bey and Smith lean towards portraying the July negotiations as a success in regional settlement. The literature is thus essentially divided between those who emphasise the role of the former imperial metropole in deciding the outcome of decolonisation and those who hold that the formerly dependent territories took greater control over their own fate. This chapter revisits this debate by examining the role played by both Britain and the local rulers during the crucial stages of the withdrawal. Drawing on interviews with the British diplomat who was directly involved in the negotiations on the ground, as well as his memoirs and the declassified documents available from the British archives, on top of the Arabic sources, it puts forward a synthesised interpretation by illuminating the patterns of compromise and collaboration between Britain and the local rulers.4 In addition, it reveals that a ‘secret’ agreement was signed at a crucial point between some of the key players and then handed over to Britain in confidence. As in previous chapters, the fluctuations in the ambivalent relationship between Britain and the Protected States remain an underlying theme. This chapter starts by introducing a new British government, and then examines the July negotiations in...


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