UK support for Gulf rulers, 1969

Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary to Secretary of State for Defence, 21 March 1969

‘As of course you know it has been our policy to assist local forces in the Persian Gulf where they have come into being. We have done this to give ourselves influence and a means of ensuring stability and thus contributing to the protection of our oil and other interests in the area… After our withdrawal the local forces will depend for their continued efficiency and expansion on the assistance of expatriate personnel. It would be in our interest if these were serving British officers and men. The efficacy of these forces should contribute to order in the area of our oil operations.

British personnel would contribute to this more surely than others and the continuance of friendly relations through their presence should also tend to ensure a continuing market for arms. On the other hand there is the danger that, in identifying ourselves too closely with the local forces, we might give credence to the charge that our withdrawal was a sham. This could be overcome to some extent by assisting in, or at least promoting, the recruitment of British retired officers and men on contract who, as private individuals would not be as likely to be associated in local eyes with Her Majesty’s Government. Unfortunately, contract personnel quickly lose touch with the latest developments… A different but complementary factor is that we retain influence over seconded personnel; control of loaned personnel; but little influence and no control over contract personnel…

On balance, therefore, it would appear to be in our best interest to continue to provide serving British officers and mean so long as the need remains and so long as the Rulers wish us to do so and are prepared to pay for them. We should not only contribute to the maintenance of the stability so necessary for our commercial interests but we would also have a very good chance of retaining and securing for the future the very profitable market in military equipment which would probably be diverted elsewhere if the Rulers were to seek assistance from another source. [It would be necessary to] ‘ensure that did not become a source of political embarrassment to us’.

National Archives, DEFE31/40

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