• Short Summary

    Speculation continues on whether Britain will continue to maintain a defence commitment East of the Suez Canal.

  • Description

    Speculation continues on whether Britain will continue to maintain a defence commitment East of the Suez Canal.

    The new Conservative Government has already committed itself to the retention of British troops in the Persian Gulf area in a number of pre-election statements. But, while a permanent British presence in the Far East is something to which most governments in the region would probably react quite favourably, this is not the case in the Gulf.

    Iran and Kuwait and almost all the Arab nationalist countries have already said they no longer welcome a British presence after 1971, and so far only Dubai of the Trucial states has come out publicly in favour of a continued presence.

    There are currently between six and seven thousand troops of the Irish Rangers stationed in the Gulf area, most of them in Bahrain and Sharjah, and if the British Government pulls out at the end of 1971 one result will be that the army will no longer have anywhere to go for desert training. The troops are in Bahrain as guests, their role being to help carry out the British Government's present defence commitments to the Gulf states .....a commitment now very much in doubt.

    The British Government has appointed Sir William Lace, a retired diplomat, as special trouble-shooter to help co-ordinate British policy in the Gulf, and he is expected to have a crucial role in formulating a new "East of Suez" policy.

    The discovery of oil in the Gulf in the 1930's heightened the importance of Britain's defence role, if there is a withdrawal in 1971, Bahrain is expected to play a major role in measures to ensure future stability in the area.

    Considered the most advanced of the nine Gulf states, Bahrain envisages a large degree of unity in the area with the creation of a Federal Cabinet, a constitution, a National Assembly a permanent capital and a common budget. The luck of enthusiasm for the idea to date is reflected in the fact that the rulers have not met since November.

    The British Navy too remains in the Gulf area and has done for some 200 years. At present the H.M.S Tartar is stationed in Bahrain and there is a squadron of minesweepers at sea. Before the discovery of oil and the need to settle boundaries, which only became important along with the oil boom the Navy played the main role.

    So far the presence of the British in the Gulf area has helped in keeping things stable, but many now fear a continued presence could lead to instability, and my even become a target for the Arab nationalist cause.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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