J. E. Peterson, Defending Arabia (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986).

Defending Arabia provides a sensible and readable account of British and American efforts to maintain the status quo around the Arabian Peninsula from World War I to the present. Particularly insightful is the chapter on Great Britain’s use of aircraft to promote domestic and interstate tranquility during the 1920s and 1930s; equally useful — albeit sketchy — is the discussion of Anglo-American rivalry during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Short but cogent overviews of Britain’s interventions in Oman (1957-59) and Kuwait (1961) illustrate Peterson’s contention that carrying out military operations in the Gulf in the absence of permanent bases and secure lines of supply has become virtually impossible.

Much less adequate are the treatments of “American interests in the Gulf” and “threats to Gulf security.” Here the author repeats stock observations about the massive quantities of petroleum to be found in the region and the growing potential for local unrest of various sorts. Although the chapter on the history and mission of the US Rapid Deployment Force summarizes the most important points raised by both proponents and establishment critics of this command, it never questions the conventional assumption that it is Iranian and Soviet actions — rather than those of the US and its allies — that represent the primary source of “instability” in this part of the world. Thus the conclusion that “the GCC states have taken significant steps to acquire the ability to buy time until outside help arrives” ends up vitiating an otherwise exemplary analysis of Arabian affairs, as well as providing an implicit justification for American intervention in the Gulf.

How to cite this article:

Fred H. Lawson "Peterson, Defending Arabia," Middle East Report 148 (September/October 1987).

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