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Imperial Crossroads: The Great Powers and the Persian Gulf

Imperial Crossroads: The Great Powers and the Persian Gulf, edited by Jeffrey R. Macris and Saul Kelly, Naval Institute Press, 2012, 235 pp.  

This book provides an excellent survey of Great Power influence in the region from the Portuguese in the 1600s to the role of the United States in modern times. In addition, the work explores the historical and contemporary roles of India and China in the region. The book provides a useful guide to studying the importance of the region and the interaction among great and regional powers.

The influence of the Portuguese and the Dutch is an often neglected component of the Great Power history of the Persian Gulf. Especially interesting was the analysis of how the Portuguese ultimately failed to establish control in the region. The analysis of the Dutch role in the region ties into the role of economics, specifically the importance of the Dutch East India Company. This provides an important analysis of mercantilist economic principles and the significance of international politics.

A large portion of the work deals with Britain's role. An understanding of this role is essential in understanding the development of the British Empire--in particular its attempts to secure the subcontinent from potential Russian encroachment. The author discusses in detail how the British strategy evolved into what would be labeled in the later twentieth century as the Northern Tier strategy to keep the Russians away from the Persian Gulf and to safeguard British interests in India. The work also discusses the internal problems Britain faced in maintaining its military presence as well as other political and military commitments Britain had to deal with at the end of World War II. This portion of the work illustrates the difficulty of maintaining empire and the eventual economic problems it can cause.

A major contribution of this work is that while the British did loosen their military commitments in the region post 1971, they did not disengage completely. This was illustrated by Britain's relations with the sultanate of Oman and its support for Sultan Qaboos in the aftermath of the coup that brought him to power. The support the British gave to Oman in putting down the rebellion in Dhofar is also discussed.

Another major contribution of this work is a discussion of the internal policy formulation in the United States. This includes the development of the Twin Pillar policy, where the United States armed Iran and Saudi Arabia. This served several purposes for the United States, as it enabled a strong pro-Western influence in the region without directly tying down large numbers of American military forces. In addition, it also enabled the United States to subsidize its defense industry. While this seems to have been a complementary relationship, it also led to some disagreements among allies. The United States wanted to keep a small naval force in the region, to which Iran objected. This illustrates the problems that often occur among great and small power allies. The work also indicates the political discussions within the administration that ultimately led to the establishment of the Carter Doctrine.

The book also examines the significance of the Iranian revolution on American policy in the region that resulted in the growth of importance of Saudi Arabia. It analyzes the internal workings of American foreign policy and the conflict between special interest in the US government over arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In addition, a major value of this work, which is not discussed enough in the literature, is that the author presents added value to the literature by discussing the significance of India and China in the region. In the case of India, he explores possible strategic scenarios and discusses the historical presence of China in the region and why the region has become important in Chinese foreign policy. The work also discusses how Chinese policy can be complementary to American strategic objectives.

In conclusion, this work is of immense value on a number of levels. First it provides a strong historical analysis of Great Power interest in the region, which would be valuable to historians and international relations scholars specializing in the region. Additionally, this work is of great value to historians of the British Empire who would like to get a brief but comprehensive discussion of the development and evolution of British policy in the Middle East. The authors combine an in-depth historical analysis with a discussion of the evolution of military strategy among the Great Powers. Moreover, they analyze the internal domestics of Britain and the United States and how their policies evolved over time. It would also be valuable to scholars of American foreign policy, as it illustrates the development of US policy in the region and the implications domestic politics have on foreign policy.

John Miglietta

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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