Account for Anglo-American differences over the Baghdad Pact.
Home School: American Studies
Tutor: Dr S. Mawby
Suez and the End of Empire (V13247)
Word Count: 3007
Account for Anglo-American differences over the Baghdad Pact.
Britain had always been the most influential foreign power in the Eastern Part of the
Middle East because of vital political, economic and military interests. Described as a nodal
point, the region would be hugely important in times of warfare, and if there was any
vacuum of power it has been argued that the Soviets would move in.1 However, with the
relative decline of Britain, the main powers in the region battled for regional dominance. As a
result, Anglo-American differences became more apparent as the main powers struggled to
exert their own influence in the Middle East. In this study, it will be argued that the Baghdad
Pact created a triangular dilemma in the region. British neo-imperialism, US Cold War
objectives, and Egyptian Pan-Arabism were simply incompatible. In addition, the neo-
imperialist policies of Britain will be argued to be at the root of the Anglo-American
differences over the Baghdad Pact with the US perceiving itself to be caught between British
colonialism and Middle Eastern nationalism.2 Britains extravagant self-image meant that
she tried desperately to cling onto regional dominance, and this made the Baghdad Pact akin
to a house built on sand.3 Ultimately, the direction that Britain was taking the Baghdad Pact
was incompatible with the primary US policy of preventing the spread of communism.
Furthermore, Ritchie Ovendale contends that Washington did not join the pact due to it being
sensitive to Israeli demands and Arab nationalist reactions. 4 With the negatives of US
adherence outweighing the positives in regards to Americas Cold War objectives, Anglo-
American differences begin to boil to the surface over the Baghdad Pact.
1 Magnus Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East. The Formation of the
Baghdad Pact, (Lund, 1998), p.71.
2 Tore Tingvold Peterson, `Transfer of Power in the Middle East', The International History Review, 19:4 (1997),
3 Brian Holden Reid, `The Northern Tier and the Baghdad Pact," John W. Young, The Foreign Policy of Churchills
Peacetime Administration, 1951-1955 (Leicester, 1988), pp. 159-179.
4 Ritchie Ovendale, Anglo-American Relations in the Twentieth Century (London, 1998), p.110.
Ovendale challenges Magnus Perssons view that there has been an inadequacy in
literature surrounding the specific Anglo-American relations over this issue, with fruitful
discussion of the issue providing the possibility for valuable debate. Indeed, Elie Podeh tries
to come to terms with the historiography, and debates whether US and Britain dominated
negotiations to suit their own needs, with Turkey and Iraq acting as mere pawns. However,
there is the possibility that the regional character of the Pact, regardless of being an extension
of the idea of Western regional defence, was in fact initiated and controlled by Iraqi and
Turkish heads of state.5 Nonetheless, the majority of literature on the topic suggests that the
Pact was far from an indigenous effort. The relationship between the US and UK as they
engineered the Pact differed with respect to the direction of their respective policies and
interests in the Middle East.
One such argument, one that represents these different directions accounting for Anglo-
American differences, is the US conflict with British neo-imperialism. Dulles complained
that Britain contradicted the American stance in three ways. Firstly, Iraq was brought into the
pact without American knowledge, then Iran was brought in against previous advice, and
lastly Britain "tried to push Jordon" into the pact.6 Tore Peterson puts these decisions down to
British policy makers refusing to accept or acknowledge the fact that Britain was at the end of
its imperial decline and used all means at their disposal to maintain Britains long-standing
influence.7 The Baghdad Pact has been portrayed by historians as just this, with Nigel Ashton
claiming that it wasnt long before Eisenhower and Dulles began to see through Britains
strategy, concluding they were using the Pact to fulfil their old imperialist incentives. In a
5 Ellie Podeh, The quest for hegemony in the Arab World: the struggle over the Baghdad Pact (New York, 1995),
6 Interview with USNWR (April 21, 1956) J.F. Dulles Papers in Barry Rubin, `America and the Egyptian
Revolution, 1950 - 1957', Political Science Quarterly, 1:97, pp.73-90.
7 Peterson, `Transfer of Power in the Middle East', p.853.
memorandum between the Eisenhower and Dulles, this is clear, with the Secretary of State
stating how the "British have taken it over and run it as an instrument of British policy."8
Nigel Ashton supports this view, arguing that the Pact was an attempt by Britain to
manipulate Turkey, Iraq and the US during 1954-5, and this was all for her own imperial
ends.9 Therefore, it is possible to argue that it was the personal ideological disparities that
arose that accounted for Anglo-American differences.
In contrast, Douglas Little argues that Britain acted with the blessing of the US to take
the lead in the creation of the anti-Communist alliance. However, Dulles stated that the
British neo-imperialist policies in the region had "drawn down upon it a tremendous amount
of criticism." 10 Indeed, the NSC planning board stated that adherence to the Pact would lead
to charges of US imperialism in a new form.11 Importantly, it is the role of Dulles that is
crucial in the formation of Anglo-American differences. Louise Richardson argues that it was
the new concept and direction that Dulles gave American Foreign Policy which conflicted
with British policy. For example, Dulles applied a more activist approach in the region,
declaring that the area had been somewhat neglected previously. When Nasser insisted that
there were psychological constraints against area defence arrangements owing to continued
British influence, the US became aware of the implications that adherence would entail.12
As a result, Peter Boyle argues that the US officially consciously decided that their
government should not be part of the "British Kite" in the region.13 Therefore, there is a
strong argument that the US began realise that British neo-imperialism was incompatible with
8 Memorandum of Dulles-Eisenhower telephone conversation (April 7th 1956), in Foreign Relations of the
United States, 1956-60, vol. xII, Near East Region: Iraq, Iran (Washington, 1993), p. 270.
9 Nigel John Ashton, `The hijacking of a pact: the formation of the Baghdad Pact and Anglo-American tensions
in the Middle East, 1955-1958', Review of International Studies, 19:2 (1993), p.1.
10 Dulles-Eisenhower telephone conversation (April 7, 1956) FRUS, p.270.
11 Draft Paper by the NSC Planning Board Assistants (May 2, 1956), FRUS, p.295.
12 Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East, p.115.
13 Peter. G. Boyle, The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence (North Carolina, 2005), p.67.
Arab Nationalism and so began to implement their own policies without the consultation of
British officials. This diminishing of Anglo-American co-operation can be seen by the
Northern Tier policy; an American led policy that represented how British regional influence
was declining in relation to the US. 14
Kevin Ruane uses an economic perspective to show British decline in relation to the
United States. It was the severe balance-of-payments crisis that led to Anthony Eden
looking to make British foreign policy more affordable in 1952. As a result, Eden looked to
make the United States contribute towards the main financial weight of the Middle Eastern
defence organisations.15 One further dilemma for Britain was that it caught in a damaging
cycle. The UKs poor economic situation meant that it was becoming increasingly difficult to
maintain garrisons in the Middle East and this came at the same time as her economy was
becoming increasingly dependent upon Middle Eastern oil supplies. Ovendale suggests that
the main threat to this oil was Egypt and looked to strengthen the Baghdad Pact in order to
counter this. The adherence of the US would be the greatest single contribution towards this
aim.16 Indeed, by 1956, Cohen argues that the UKs interests in the Middle East can be
described in just one word - oil.17 British efforts to piggyback on American power to keep
this access to oil were ultimately rejected as the US began to realise they had the economic
might to no longer be subservient to Britain.18 The State Department started to implement
policies regardless of British opinion.19 This represented a general trend of decline for Britain
14 Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East, p.331.
15 Kevin Ruane, `SEATO, MEDO, and the Baghdad Pact: Anthony Eden, British Foreign Policy and the Collective
Defence of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, 1952-1955', Diplomacy & Statecraft, 16:1 (2005), p.169.
16 Ovendale, Anglo-American Relations, p.110.
17 Cohen, Strategy and Politics, p.119.
18 Cohen, Strategy and Politics, p.107.
19 Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East., p.331.
as she passed over her position as the main external actor shaping the regional policy of the
British decline however, was not readily accepted among British policy makers who
continued to attempt to make policy on their own terms in the region. Indeed, it has been
argued that it was more the personal attitudes that the issue brought about on both sides that
resulted in difference. For example, the American sense of arrogant superiority towards the
British and the British perception of Americans as self-righteous, prejudiced, and ignorant,
resulted in a tension that may have had political consequences.20 In addition, Boyle argues
that despite Britain and American sharing common interests in the Middle East, their many
differences made them suspicious rivals as much as close allies in the region.21
Furthermore, Eisenhower realised that the relative decline of Britain in comparison to the US,
and the importance of other allies in NATO, meant that a close and exclusive alliance was no
longer necessary. However, this did not affect communication between the US and the UK.
For example, Takeyh argues how they were able to co-operate closely on trying to resolve the
Arab-Israeli dispute.22 Nevertheless, the areas of difference become more apparent with the
issues that the Baghdad Pact created, and these differences were exemplified as Britain
refused to accept that the US had now become much more dominant in the region and could
now orchestrate her own direction in policy. Indeed, Perrson argues it was the
competitiveness of Anglo-American cooperation that created tension. Takeyh gives an
example of this and asserts that the US administration was encouraged by British
participation, but then tried to restrain the UKs design.23 He argues that the US required
20 Boyle, The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence , p.67.
21 Boyle, The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence, p.71.
22 Ray Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine (New York, 2000), p.55.
23 Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, p.57.
British co-operation in formulating the Northern Tier alignment, however the key problem in
US policy was that it had to be on American terms.
However, a main issue is that the Baghdad Pact was not entirely on American terms
and was much more complex than simply a co-operative broad alliance between states that
were actively concerned with the defence and stability of the region. 24 For example, the
Anglo-American discussions after the Czech-Egyptian arms deal suggest that the US was
committed to the Arab-Israeli question and this proves to be a crucial obstacle that stands
between the cooperation of the UK and US. To expand upon this point, Perrson argues that
the UK wanted the US to punish Egypt by adhering to the Pact. However, Dulles refused to
join as this would require giving Israel a security guarantee, stating that they would be under
"irresistible pressures" to do so.25 This would have led to Egypt declaring the borders fixed
and determined, risking further conflict.26
On the other hand, Persson argues that if the Pact was really a threat to Israel then US
membership would counter this and labels the Arab-Israeli issue as a doubtful interpretation
for American non-adherence. However, US policy was to a certain extent influenced by the
powerful Jewish lobby and its link with the Democratic Party.27 As a result, any policy that
looked to undermine Israel would face harsh criticism and this was particularly influential in
the 1956 presidential election year. Therefore, the Arab-Israeli issue is critical in this
argument. To expand, Takeyh maintains that the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict
ranked higher than the defence network for the US, since it could lead to a viable
24 Richard. L. Jasse., `The Baghdad Pact: Cold War or Colonialism', Middle Eastern Studies, 27:1 (1991), p.140.
25 Dulles to Wilson Letter (April 23, 1956), FRUS, p.294.
26 Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East, p.310.
27 Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, p.67.
implementation of the containment doctrine.28 In addition, in an NSC Planning Board draft
paper, it was stated that adherence to the Baghdad Pact would drive the Egypt-Syria- axis
further towards the USSR as well as further exacerbating US - USSR relations.29 The US
were therefore unable to adhere to the Baghdad Pact in the way that Britain wanted, and
despite the relationship between the US and Britain continuing to be special in the Middle
East, Washingtons non-adherence at this time was the political effect that adherence would
have on the Israel-Palestine conflict.30 This argument is made stronger by Harold Macmillan,
who conceded that he had received a clear promise from the US that if Arab-Israeli tension
could be reduced, America would join the Baghdad Pact. He suggests that all attempts to
consolidate stability in the region were bedevilled by the conflict.31 Therefore,
Macmillans words suggest that the primary reason for American non-adherance was indeed
the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, this argument does not take into account the issue of the
complex Arab politics in the region and the significance of their nationalist aspirations.
Indeed, the difficulty that American adherence would cause to Arab nationalism is an
important source of Anglo-American contention. To expand, Elie Podeh contends that the
Egyptian-Iraqi struggle for power in the Arab world was a drive for hegemony. The Arab
system of local balance of power involved a fight for allies within the Arab World.32 When
the Baghdad Pact was formed in 1955, Egypt looked to form a counter-coalition of Yemen,
Saudi Arabia and Syria. Coupled with the Czech arms deal, this was a move that shifted the
balance back in the direction of Egypt. Indeed, Dulles was aware that the Pact, despite being
based on the Northern Tier concept, had become "deeply involved in Arab politics and
28 Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, p.55.
29 NSC Planning Board Assistants Draft Paper (May 2, 1956) FRUS, p.295.
30 Persson, Great Britain, the United States, and the Security of the Middle East, p.368.
31 Harold Macmillan, Riding the Storm (London, 1971), p.69.
32 Podeh, The Quest for Hegemony in the Arab World, p.4.
intrigue."33 Developing upon this argument, Daniel C. Williamson contends that it was the
American fear of further antagonizing Arab nationalism that led to their refusal to join.34
However, the major source of contention for Arab nationalism was the continuing British
influence in the region. In particular, Nassers Pan-Arabismt objectives were incompatible
with British imperialism as it prevented Nasser from being the main regional leader. Boyle
agrees with this argument, saying that Britains colonialist attitudes were liable to alienate
the Arab nations.35 As a result, this would provide opportunities for Soviet influence to
spread in the region. Takeyh contends that the US had to keep Nasser on side, arguing that
Egypt would remain key to American planning, since its regional leadership was
instrumental.36 Once again, Dulles activist foreign policy determined that America would
put its own Cold War objectives first, and was therefore unable to adhere to the Pact. In this
respect, it is the incompatibility of three ideologies and therefore the triangular dilemma that
accounts for Anglo-American differences.
The root of Anglo-American difference lies with British neo-imperialist policies.
Britains desire to maintain a presence in the region being the basis for difference between
the main powers in the region. In British discussions, the negative consequences that the
Baghdad Pact causes the Arab-Israeli conflict were not considered and were instead based
more on the British relationship with Iraq in order to maintain influence in the region.
Remove Britains neo-imperialist policies and the Anglo-America alliance could have
worked purely on the task of Soviet deterrence based on the Northern Tier of states. Firstly,
British neo-imperialism made Americas adherence to the Pact conflict with Arab
33 Letter from Dulles to Wilson (April 23, 1956), FRUS, p.294.
34 Daniel C. Williamson, `Understandable Failure: The Eisenhower Administration's Strategic Goals in Iraq,
1953-1958', Diplmacy & Statecraft, 16:3 (2006), p.598.
35 Boyle, The Eden-Eisenhower Correspondence, p.70.
36 Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, p.51.
Nationalism. Secondly, US Cold War objectives conflict with Arab Nationalism as
adherence would "greatly embarrass" Arab-American relations due to the need to provide a
security guarantee to Israel, however once again this problem arises from Britain.37
Therefore, the three ideologies are unable to coincide, but the root of the problem comes from
British neo-imperialism in the region. Michael Cohen portrays Britain as a spent colonial
power, still hankering, pathetically, after vanished imperial glories.38 Indeed, Britain tried to
promote the Baghdad Pact solely for the containment of communism. However, historians
have argued that it was more a convenient avenue for British goals, one which would be the
resurrection of its imperial power.39 The US on the other hand, was totally committed to the
containment of communism, and was therefore concentrated on the resolution of the Arab-
Israeli conflict. This heightened interest led to an increased effort by Dulles to achieve his
aims of placing America as the dominant power in the region. If the Soviet Union gained a
foothold in Egypt, this would severely hinder the American security policy and therefore if
British policy during the Baghdad Pact negotiations could be perceived to be putting the
region at risk whilst serving their own interests then American would not be subservient to
Britain. Regional dominance ultimately shifted to the US due to their economic superiority
and aversion to British neo-imperialism, and was exemplified by the personality of Dulles.
The road of change to lead up to this shift accounted for the main Anglo-American
differences over the Baghdad Pact.
37 Memorandum by Secretary of State (November 16, 1956), FRUS, p.331.
38 Michael J. Cohen., Strategy and Politics in the Middle East 1954-1960 (Oxford, 2005), p.107.
39 Ray Takeyh, The Origins of the Eisenhower Doctrine, p.46.