COUNTRY: conventional long form: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; note - Great Britain includes the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales conventional short form: United Kingdom abbreviation: UK
In the nineteenth century a superior navy and administrative system made the United Kingdom the most powerful political entity on earth, ruling over an empire of such scope that pundits of the time coined the expression “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” At one time or another almost 20% of the planet was under British control, from the Malaysian peninsula all the way to the Canadian arctic. For this simulation, Britain is significant because as a result of its colonial endeavors it dominated much of the Middle East right up until the middle of the 20th century, and did not actually give up the last of its regional colonies (modern Oman) until 1971. In one way or another, Britain is largely responsible for drawing the modern boundaries of Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Oman, the U.A.E., Lebanon and Syria (with France), Saudi Arabia, and most importantly, the British Mandate of Palestine, which became modern Israel. Due to its strong relationship with the United States and the European Union, Britain remains a key player in Middle East politics, a role it has played for almost two centuries.
GEOGRAPHY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
AREA: total: 244,820 sq km; land: 241,590 sq km; water: 3,230 sq km;
CLIMATE: temperate; moderated by prevailing southwest winds over the North Atlantic Current; more than one-half of the days are overcast
TERRAIN: mostly rugged hills and low mountains; level to rolling plains in east and southeast
ELEVATION EXTREMES: lowest point: The Fens -4 m highest point: Ben Nevis 1,343 m
NATURAL RESOURCES: coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, lead, zinc, gold, tin, limestone, salt, clay, chalk, gypsum, potash, silica sand, slate, arable land
POPULATION: 60,270,708 (July 2004 est.)
ETHNIC GROUPS: English 81.5%, Scottish 9.6%, Irish 2.4%, Welsh 1.9%, Ulster 1.8%, West Indian, Indian, Pakistani, and other 2.8% Note that its strong connections to south Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh) give Britain one of the largest per capita Muslim populations in western Europe. This population has been a source of considerable concern since the London Bombings of July 2005, but Muslims remain an active and visible part of urban British society nonetheless.
RELIGIONS: Anglican and Roman Catholic 40 million, Muslim 1.5 million, Presbyterian 800,000, Methodist 760,000, Sikh 500,000, Hindu 500,000, Jewish 350,000
LANGUAGES: English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland)
TYPE: constitutional monarchy
England has existed as a unified entity since the 10th century; the union between England and Wales, begun in 1284 with the Statute of Rhuddlan, was not formalized until 1536 with an Act of Union; in another Act of Union in 1707, England and Scotland agreed to permanently join as Great Britain; the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland was implemented in 1801, with the adoption of the name the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 formalized a partition of Ireland; six northern Irish counties remained part of the United Kingdom as Northern Ireland and the current name of the country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was adopted in 1927
LEGAL SYSTEM: common law tradition with early Roman and modern continental influences; has judicial review of Acts of Parliament under the Human Rights Act of 1998; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
CHIEF OF STATE: chief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); Heir Apparent Prince CHARLES (son of the queen, born 14 November 1948)
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT: Prime Minister Anthony (Tony) BLAIR (since 2 May 1997)
CABINET: Cabinet of Ministers appointed by the prime minister
ELECTIONS: the monarchy is hereditary; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually the prime minister
POLITICAL PARTIES AND LEADERS: Conservative and Unionist Party [Michael HOWARD]; Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland) [Rev. Ian PAISLEY]; Labor Party [Anthony (Tony) BLAIR]; Liberal Democrats [Charles KENNEDY]; Party of Wales (Plaid Cymru) [Dafydd IWAN]; Scottish National Party or SNP [Alex SALMOND]; Sinn Fein (Northern Ireland) [Gerry ADAMS]; Social Democratic and Labor Party or SDLP (Northern Ireland) [Mark DURKAN]; Ulster Unionist Party (Northern Ireland) [David TRIMBLE]
OVERVIEW: The UK, a leading trading power and financial center, is one of the quartet of trillion dollar economies of Western Europe. Over the past two decades the government has greatly reduced public ownership and contained the growth of social welfare programs. Agriculture is intensive, highly mechanized, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 1% of the labor force. The UK has large coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation. Services, particularly banking, insurance, and business services, account by far for the largest proportion of GDP while industry continues to decline in importance. GDP growth slipped in 2001-03 as the global downturn, the high value of the pound, and the bursting of the "new economy" bubble hurt manufacturing and exports. Still, the economy is one of the strongest in Europe; inflation, interest rates, and unemployment remain low. The relatively good economic performance has complicated the BLAIR government's efforts to make a case for Britain to join the European Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
CURRENCY: British pound (GBP)
AGRICULTURE PRODUCTS: cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables; cattle, sheep, poultry; fish
INDUSTRIES: machine tools, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, electronics and communications equipment, metals, chemicals, coal, petroleum, paper and paper products, food processing, textiles, clothing, and other consumer goods
EXPORTS: manufactured goods, fuels, chemicals; food, beverages, tobacco
IMPORTS: manufactured goods, machinery, fuels; foodstuffs
BRANCHES: Army, Royal Navy (including Royal Marines), Royal Air Force
AGE AND OBLIGATION: 16 years of age for voluntary military service (January 2004)
EXPENDITURES DOLLAR FIGURE: $42,836.5 million (2003), 2.4% of GDP (2003)
Britain maintains one of the world's most powerful militaries, capable of conducting a wide variety of operations on land, sea, and air. This military has recently been challenged by the stresses of the Iraq war, but it remains a lynchpin of the western security order, and is a bulwark of the EU defense system.
HISTORY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
WORLD WAR I AND THE MANDATORY STATES
In 1914 Britain, France and Russia went to war with Germany and her allies in what later became known as the first world war. This war was a turning point in the history of the Middle East because its aftermath marked the destruction of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the Middle East from Istanbul (in modern Turkey) since 1453. Due to a secret pact between the French and British governments, the majority of this territory was divided up in 1920 into French and British colonies, with the British getting the better part of the deal: Iraq, Kuwait, and Palestine (modern Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Territories) while France got the areas of modern Lebanon and Syria. As a side effect, this maneuvering also created the modern borders of Saudi Arabia. France and Britain were confirmed as the colonial protectors of these new colonies by the League of Nations (the international organization that preceded the UN) until such time as Britain and France decided that the Arab colonies were ready for full independence. Once again, the opinions of the locals were not an important consideration in this imperial logic.
The British Palestine mandate comprised modern Jordan and Israel, and compared with the other colonial winnings, was an economic backwater. It is said that the British only took this territory for sentimental reasons, due to its biblical history, but it is just as probable that the British wanted this area to defend their interests in Egypt, another British colony, and the Suez Canal route to India. In any event, Palestine was considered an insignificant part of an empire that included India, Australia, and most of North America. For that reasons, the British paid little heed that they had also inherited a small colony of European Jews, who had begun immigrating to the area when it was still an Ottoman province. These Jews were part of the World Zionist Fund, a European-based group that intended to avoid anti-semitic treatment in Europe by establishing a homeland for the Jews of the world in Palestine. To this end they began buying up small plots of land from local landlords and establishing farming communities throughout the coastal region of the territory. The Jews claimed to seek coexistence with their Arab neighbors, but even from the earliest period communal violence between Arabs and Jews certainly occurred, largely over competing claims to land ownership. The British encouraged this immigration initially, due to the publication in 1917 of a short memorandum by British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. This “Balfour Declaration” stated:
Dear Lord Rothschild, I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country". I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.
Yours sincerely Arthur James Balfour
This document, which has been interpreted from a variety of different perspectives over the years, was a cornerstone of the Zionist immigration project throughout the 1920s, until 1929, when serious Arab-Jewish violence wracked Jerusalem and the other major cities, finally alerting the British to the fact that they had a serious problem on their hands in the form of the Zionist settlers.
WORLD WAR II AND THE CREATION OF ISRAEL
Following the 1929 riots the British cut off all Jewish immigration to Israel, but as anti-semitic persecution escalated with the rise of the Nazis, central European Jews became even more desperate to reach the safety of Palestine, which they continued to do illegally by the thousands, despite the British ban. The British responded with massive arrest and deportation campaigns, which in turn spawned the growth of anti-British Jewish terrorist groups committed to the expulsion of the British to make way for an independent Jewish state. At the same time, the obvious increase in the Jewish population infuriated local Arabs, who had been promised that their lands would not be further pressured by new European immigration. Combined with the sheer devastation which the British empire suffered as a result of the Nazi onslaught, in 1947 the much-weakened British declared that they would be leaving the mandate of Palestine in 1948: its fate was left up to the new-formed United Nations, who decided by a close vote, which Britain abstained from, to partition the region west of the Jordan river into separate Arab and Jewish states (the eastern region had been turned into the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan shortly beforehand).
In May 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel, and war ensued with its Arab neighbors, all of whom had also gained independence as a result of the devastation wrought on Britain and France as a result of World War II. Britain retained its holdings in the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal, but washed its hands of the entire Palestine situation, and spent the post-war years pursuing other regional projects designed to bolster the wounded British economy.
In the aftermath of World War II, Iran felt like a European colony. Soviet forces had annexed northern Iran, American radar stations sat in the south, and Britain absolutely controlled Iran’s oil industry. This last issue was the most galling to Iran’s firebrand Prime Minister, the Swiss-trained lawyer Mohammad Mossadegh and his supporters: while other nations (most notably Saudi Arabia) were enjoying arrangements which allowed them to received at least 50-50 compensation with international oil companies for their native supplies, the terms of an old concession allowed Britain to pump Iranian oil while sharing less than 20% of its profits with Iran’s government. In truth, it might have been even less than this—the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company never allowed outsiders to audit its books. In 1951 Mossadegh and his “National Front” movement made this the central issue in Iranian politics. Tensions with Britain rose precipitously, and by 1953 Iran had fully nationalized its petroleum industry. Britain responded by appealing to the American government, and the Americans decided that they needed the loyalty of Britain more than they needed the respect of Iran.
Britain and the US proceeded to enact a compete embargo on Iranian oil, and Iran’s entire economy came to a screeching halt. Waves of street protests ensued by all possible factions, including nationalists, monarchists, constitutionalist, even Iran’s small communist party. For the Americans this last piece was the final straw: the Eisenhower administration was not about to allow the Soviets to annex Iran, since this would give them direct access to the Indian Ocean and threaten the oil fields of Arabia. With Britain’s enthusiastic support, the CIA launched a successful coup against the Mossadegh government, which culminated in the former’s consignment to house arrest and the return to power of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi as the Shah of Iran, now sure of his support from the West and fanatically afraid of communist aggression; in short, the perfect Cold War ally for the US during the age of the Red Scare, while Britain was allowed to continue its lucrative Iranian oil concession, until the Shah ironically nationalized the industry with the west’s blessing in the 1960s.
THE SUEZ CRISIS
Britain was again drawn into the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1956, this time over the fate of the Suez Canal. The charismatic Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal as part of a general policy of swinging Egypt away from the west and towards the Soviet bloc in the hopes of getting foreign support for the destruction of Israel. More specifically, the Canal was nationalized after the British and Americans withdrew all their funding from the construction of the Aswan High Dam, a massive irrigation project Nasser was implementing in southern Egypt. The British and French, who owned the majority of shares in what had previously been the private Suez Canal Company, were furious with the Egyptians, but initially attempted to solve the matter at the UN. This situation changed when they were encouraged to enter into a military alliance with Israel, which in 1956 was engaged in low-level economic warfare with Egypt and suffering desperately from a stringent Egyptian shipping embargo. The Israelis agreed to do the bulk of the fighting if the British and French would commit their own forces, thus giving the fight international credibility; the goal was to retake the Suez Canal, revert its ownership to the European shareholders, and overthrow Nasser, who all sides agreed was jeopardizing the flow of Gulf oil to Europe by nationalizing the Canal.
Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula in late October 1956, quickly overwhelming the Egyptian border force and speeding right for the Canal, which British and French paratroopers quickly secured in a well-executed assault. They could not imagine the scale of international outrage over their actions. Almost immediately, the Soviet Union threatened to launch full-scale attacks upon London and Paris if aggression did not cease against their Egyptian ally. Likewise, the Eisenhower administration in Washington D.C. was unwilling to risk a nuclear war with Russia just to help the British and French salve their wounded pride, so the Americans likewise threatened to bury the exchange-rate of British currency if the troops did not leave at once. The invaders left within a week, the Canal was now the property of Nasser’s Egypt, and it was clear that Britain and France had relinquished their regional authority to the new world powers, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Lately, British involvement with the Middle East has coincided with the American-led wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Following the invasion of Kuwait Britain joined the UN-backed coalition that repelled Iraqi forces, and remained in the region afterwards, helping America maintain its no-fly zones over the northern Kurdish regions and the Shiite communities in the south. In 2003 Britain once again joined America in war, this time helping with the overthrow of the Ba’athist regime and proceeding to occupy the southern regions of the country, from which they had once ruled Iraq when it was a colony after World War I.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Britain is a high-profile country around the world, especially so in the Middle East, where many remnants of the old British colonial order remain in place, especially in terms of economic interests.
Egypt: Britain and Egypt currently have a very productive relationship, especially on economic issues. Britain is currently the largest non-Arab investor in Egypt, and operates a thriving scholarship program to allow Egyptian students to study at British universities.
European Union: Britain is one of the dominant powers of the European Union, though its proud population and idiosyncratic situation as an island nation have made it a reluctant player in many EU policies, most notably adoption of the Euro as the national currency. Britain is otherwise an active member of the organization, with a dominant voice on many international issues.
France: along with Germany, France and Britain are the military and economic powerhouses behind the European Union. These two countries, which have many political differences, are nonetheless very good neighbors for each other, with billions of dollars worth of economic ties and deeply connected defense policies under the provisions of the EU. The most divisive issue between them lately has been the Iraq war, which France denounced as imperialist adventuring. Despite these charges, most French ire has been targeted at the Americans, with Britain being cast as an unwitting accomplice along for the ride.
Iran: After the Mossadegh intervention, Britain’s history with this key regional power has remained problematic. In 1989, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared a death sentence against British citizen Salman Rushdie for writing a book which allegedly offended the honor of the prophet Muhammad. Diplomatic relations where broken off until relatively recently, when the Iranian government rescinded this death sentence (or at least agreed to stop encouraging its execution). More recently, the situation in Iraq has been troubling: British sailors have twice been detained by Iranian forces for reportedly slipping into Iranian waters on spy missions, and as recent as 2007 some British sailors remain in Iranian custody. On the all-important Iranian nuclear issue, Britain remains in lockstep with the U.S., arguing that Iran cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons under any circumstances, while still being more open to diplomacy than the American government.
Israel: Britain and Israel have a complicated relationship, not least because Israel considers the terrorist organizations that helped drive Britain out of Palestine in 1948 as national heroes. Under Tony Blair, Britain enjoyed warm relations with both the Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert governments, but it is adamantly opposed to the annexation of East Jerusalem, and consider the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to be an illegal act. Britain backs the 1993 Oslo Accords, and currently supports them as the best path to peace in the region. Israel and Britain have close diplomatic relations, and collaborate on several economic and scientific issues, though this does not stop Britain from joining the majority of the international community in demanding that Israel make more concerted efforts to reach a just peace with the Palestinians.
Palestinians: Britain maintains a strong tradition of supporting the Palestinians with relief programs. Since 2006 they have cut off these funds from the Palestinian Authority itself, since Britain has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, though at the same time the British spearheaded the international effort to continue providing services to the Palestinians by working directly on community-level projects. It is unclear whether Britain will review this status so long as Hamas remains in power, even in its new incarnation as a unity government with Fatah.
Saudi Arabia: Despite the Saudi regime’s dismal human rights record, the British government maintains that their relations with the Kingdom are excellent. This is certainly helped by the high amount of economic interpenetration between the two countries: Saudi Arabia is Britain’s largest export market in the region, and Saudi Arabia for its part is the fourth-largest overall investor in British business. Additionally, Britain has taken steps to partner with Saudi Arabia to ensure that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which is attended by many British Muslims, remains a smooth and peaceful affair, especially since Britain now fears the infiltration of Muslim terrorists from ‘radical’ Islamic countries, of which Saudi Arabia is certainly one.
Syria: Britain claims to seek better relations with the Syrian regime, but this is complicated by the fact that Britain strongly disapproves of the military role Syria has traditionally played in Lebanon, including the arming and supporting of Hezbollah, which Britain deems a terrorist organization. Britain has likewise accused Syria of funneling weaponry to fighters in Iraq, thereby endangering British troops while they participate in the occupation.
United States: For almost a century, these two nations have been each other’s closest military allies, as well as key political and economic partners. Ever since the Suez Crisis, Britain has emerged as the strongest supporter of the American-led western military order, even in the face of opposition from fellow EU countries, such as when Britain joined in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This war has placed a heavy strain on the “special relationship” these two countries are normally said to enjoy, but on virtually all issues of importance, these two nations see eye to eye.