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[ 140 ] CONCLUSION A map anticipated a spatial reality, not vice versa. In other words, a map was a model for, rather than a model of, what it purported to represent.1 This is a quote from Tongchai Winichakul’s study of how the modern map of Thailand was created. He argues that the map, based on a delineation of boundaries in the modern sense, was not indigenous to the local traditions but rather discursively constructed in response to European influence. Such a notion presents a striking parallel with the way in which Britain’s informal empire in the Persian Gulf laid the structural foundations of the international relations of the region. This book has examined the British withdrawal from the Gulf, asking why Britain was able to leave the region so peacefully and why this departure was accompanied by orderly independence for Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE. The findings suggest that Britain was able to do so because of its enduring collaborative relationship with the local rulers, which was structured by the norm of sovereignty. It has become clear that the whole process was not so much pre-planned as an accumulation of incremental, and sometimes disjointed, decisions that were neither taken by a single central agent nor fully thought out from the beginning. Nonetheless, the norm of sovereignty, which was instrumentally brought in by Britain, provided a structure wherein the collaborative relationship was rearranged in a more sustainable form, within the guise of legal equality. In the early nineteenth century, Britain sent military expeditions to the southern coast of the Gulf in order to secure a maritime route to India. Thanks to its subsequent military victory, London coerced the local forces into entering a series of treaties. These treaties were signed by those previously deemed to be ‘pirates’. The primary aim of these unequal treaties was to establish a peace in the region that was favourable to British commerce and communication by subjugating the local societies and establishing Britain as the dominant external power. Yet the very act of signing these treaties implied that Britain had acknowledged the legal status of its counterparts. Consequently, the territories concerned – no matter how vaguely defined and inferior in terms of the actual relationship – were given the status of sovereign states. They became ‘Protected States’. In the mid-twentieth century, the discovery of oil, or sometimes merely the hope thereof, prompted Britain to demarcate the borders between the nine Protected States of ‘Ajman, SATO 9780719099687 PRINT.indd 140 04/12/2015 08:53 Conclusion [ 141 ] Fujairah, Ra’s al-Khaimah, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar, resulting in an imperfect transplantation of the European idea of territoriality. In due course, these Protected States witnessed the independence of India and the nationalisation of the AIOC, as well as the Suez Crisis. They even experienced some nationalistic uprisings within their territories, but the foundation of Britain’s informal empire remained intact. In the Persian Gulf, in contrast with the oft-cited examples of decolonisation, such as the expulsion of France from Algeria or the ‘winds of change’ in Africa, the crucial impetus towards independence did not arise from the Gulf or even from wider international society. Nor was Harold Wilson expecting to initiate immediate substantial changes when he became Prime Minister in 1964. Conventionally, it is understood that Wilson’s Labour government took the decision to withdraw from Malaysia, Singapore and the Gulf due to economic retrenchment and anti-imperialistic beliefs. This is commonly known as the ‘East of Suez’ decision, but the evidence suggests that it was actually an amalgamation of two separate decisions: one to leave Malaysia and Singapore, and the other to withdraw from the Gulf. The former was resolved upon by the early half of 1967 for the economic and social reasons mentioned above, whereas the latter was only decided between December 1967 and January 1968 as a consequence of domestic politics. After the devaluation of the pound in November 1967, the Labour government was forced to reverse its own social policies. In order to justify the necessary reduction in social expenditure, it decided to withdraw from the Gulf in addition to the retreat from Malaysia and Singapore that had already been decided, and to present the two together as the withdrawal from ‘East of Suez’. The timing of the departure was a source of great debate between the Treasury, which had been calling for an early retreat, and the Foreign Office and the MOD, which were...


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