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British Dilemmas: Arms Sales and Human Rights in Anglo-Iranian Relations (1968-1979)

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posted on 23.07.2020, 09:28 by Okhan Erciyas
This thesis examines the impact of the arms trade and human rights on British perceptions of and foreign policy towards Iran (1968 1979). This thesis aims to further understanding of Britain’s commercial interests in Iran and how this affected the UK’s response to developments leading to the fall of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 197 9. By critically analysing archival documents, the thesis explains how inter departmental perceptions of Iran varied. After presenting the historical background and methodological considerations in the Introduction, Chapter One discusses the UK’s dilemma with regard to promoting British defence sales and contributing to Iran’s foreign indebtedness by analysing the views of both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( and the Ministry of Defence ( The chapter also highlights British views on the Shah’s personality and the lack of planning in Iranian arms procurement. Chapter Two explores Britain’s efforts to keep its share in the Iranian arms market. It also discusses the UK’s dilemma in terms of balancing arms sales with public criticism of Iran’s poo r human rights record. Chapter Three looks at Iranian discontent with the Shah’s regime. The chapter shows how Iran’s response to demands for political freedom caused a dilemma for the FCO authorities. Chapter Four, which examines the dilemmas described in Chapter Three, highlights the fundamental difference between the FCO and the Home Office ( in the case of the student occupation in 1975. It also discusses Foreign Secretary David Owen’s exchanges with the Iranians on the issue of human rights in 1977. The primary finding of this thesis is that the UK’s emphasis on its commercial interests in Iran blinded it to the rise in discontent with the Shah’s rule and the possible consequences of this. Secondly, it argues that the FCO adopted a norm of promoting British arms sales to Iran and avoiding criticism of the human rights record of the Iranian regime.



Mark Phythian

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Department of Politics and International Relations

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University of Leicester

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