Advance or Retreat
October 1, 1951 — The Sydney Morning Herald
A remarkably barefaced defense of British imperialism, this editorial appeared in the late edition of The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday, October 1, 1951. At the time, the major Australian newspaper was in their 121st year of publication.
ELEVENTH-HOUR RESORT TO
Britain’s reference of the Persian oil dispute to the Security Council no doubt reflects the Attlee Government’s [Prime Minister Clement Attlee] genuine concern to avoid drastic action even when it is fully entitled to take it. But there is a point when the search for alternatives becomes almost indistinguishable from evasion.
U.N. IN OIL CRISIS
And relief felt at the latest invocation of United Nations authority must, indeed, be qualified by the depressing reflection that the British Cabinet has been extraordinarily inept in its handling of the Anglo-Iranian issue. With right supremely on its side, it has shrunk timidly from the use of might. As a result, Dr. Mussadiq and his fanatical clique, acting wholly in breach of an international contract, have gone from one act of defiance to another, with swelling insolence and intransigence, as they push their wretched people towards economic chaos.
Teheran’s decision last week to expel the remaining A.I.O.C. [Anglo-Iranian Oil Company] technicians by next Thursday confronted the Government in London with a crucial choice. It was between standing firm on its previous assurance that it would not evacuate Persia “entirely” and throwing into the Shatt-el-Arab the last reserves of British prestige in the Middle East. While it was hesitating—with its warships off the Persian coast, its R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] squadrons in nearby Iraq, and its brigade of paratroops in Cyprus—a detachment of the “Imperial Iranian Army” seized the Abadan refinery and locked out the British staff.
Outmanoeuvred on the spot and almost certainly influenced by President Truman’s appeal not to use force, the Attlee government has sought an eleventh-hour substitute for the choice between advance, with its obvious risks, and retreat, with its further humiliations. By taking the dispute to the Security Council, Britain seeks to marshal the political forces of the United Nations behind the legal authority of the International Court of Justice, whose injunction against Persia the Teheran Government contemptuously brushed aside last July.
It would be unwise to expect an enforcable decision in the Security Council itself. Dr. Mussadiq’s eagerness to lead the Persian delegation may derive from a conviction that, in the curious currents of U.N. politics, he can successfully misrepresent the whole British case against barefaced expropriation as interference by a great Power in a small nation’s domestic affairs. Moreover, the rabid nationalist of the Middle East may count on the Soviet spokesman in the Council to proclaim the justice of their cause, and, if need be, to frustrate a decision against Persia. In any event, there is nothing to indicate that Dr. Mussadiq, so long as he and his equally extremist colleagues hold office, would take the slightest heed of an inverse judgment.
If the position is not yet quite desperate, it is because a new initiative for a negotiated settlement may emerge in the Council chamber, or in the lobbies of the United Nations. This is admittedly a slender hope, and the possibilities must be quickly explored if the expulsion of the British technicians is not to transform disastrously the present critical situation at Abadan. Meanwhile, the British Government may be depending more upon pressures against the Mussadiq regime in Persia itself than upon the processes of [the] U.N. to resolve the painful dilemma to which its own blunders have so greatly contributed.