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The Attlee Government and the Collapse of British Power in Iran, 1945-1951

Taylor, Jack; (2015) The Attlee Government and the Collapse of British Power in Iran, 1945-1951. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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Despite the vast amount of literature concerned with the Attlee government’s management of the British Empire, there are still a number of key knowledge gaps, not least concerning Anglo-Iranian relations during this period. Although generally perceived as an independent nation, this thesis argues that Iran should be considered part of the informal empire, thanks to the disproportionate influence wielded there by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The company, a state owned, but privately managed organisation, was the leading source of taxes and foreign currency for the Iranian Exchequer and supplied not only jobs, but also roads, housing and even policing through its private security force. At the end of the Second World War it seemed to be in an insurmountable position: a totem of informal domination. Indeed, the vast Abadan oil refinery was Britain’s largest single overseas asset. However, within just six years the oil company had been nationalised and Britain’s informal hold in Iran destroyed. This thesis aims to outline why this happened and to argue that British power collapsed due to a noxious mixture of orientalism and mismanagement within both the government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company itself. It will argue that the British failed to understand the Iranian political system or Iranian society and applied wrongheaded policies with little by way of a long-term vision. As economic and political conditions in Iran deteriorated, the Foreign Office found it impossible to align the oil company’s goals with its own, exacerbating fissures between them. At the root of the crisis was a clash between Iranian nationalism and the Attlee government’s seemingly irreconcilable goals of building a New Jerusalem at home while simultaneously raising living standards across the empire. Watching from the sidelines, the United States, Britain’s most important ally, grew increasingly concerned that unrest in Iran could lead to communism, necessitating that they become ever more embroiled in an area with which they had few identifiable interests. Utilising primary research carried out in public and private archives on both sides of the Atlantic, plus a wide range of secondary materials, this thesis provides new insights into the collapse of British power in Iran and a valuable contribution to wider arguments as to the success of the Attlee government’s foreign policy. Particular emphasis is given to discussing the plurality of empire, the interplay between diplomatic and non-diplomatic actors operating at its fringes and the challenges of fusing the interests of the public and private sectors.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Attlee Government and the Collapse of British Power in Iran, 1945-1951
Event: University College London
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1472117
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