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Signed on August 31, 1907, in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907 was an agreement on their disputes in Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. It delineated spheres of influence in Persia, stipulated that neither country would interfere in Tibet’s internal affairs, and recognized Britain’s influence over Afghanistan. The agreement led to the formation of the Triple Entente.
During the last third of the nineteenth century, Russian imperial advances into Central Asia and the consolidation of British imperial domination in south Asia led to intense rivalry between the two European empires. The conflicting interests centered on Afghanistan, Iran, and Tibet, three states that constituted buffers between Britain's and Russia's colonial possessions in Asia. The emergence of Germany as a world power and the humiliating defeat in 1905 of Russia by a nascent Asian power, Japan, helped to persuade some British and Russian officials of a need to resolve their respective differences in Asia. Consequently, in 1907, Britain and Russia signed an agreement to regulate their economic and political interests. With respect to Iran, the Anglo–Russian Agreement recognized the country's strict independence and integrity, but then divided it into three separate zones.
The agreement designated all of northern Iran, which bordered Russia's possessions in Transcaucasia and Central Asia, as an exclusive sphere of influence for Russian interests. This northern zone was defined as beginning at Qasr-e Shirin in the west, on the border with the Ottoman Empire, and running through Tehran, Isfahan, and Yazd to the eastern border, where the frontiers of Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia intersected. A smaller zone in southeastern Iran, which bordered Britain India, was recognized as an exclusive sphere for Britain. The British zone extended west as far as Kerman in the north and Bandar Abbas in the south. The area separating these two spheres, including part of central Iran and the entire southwest, was designated a neutral zone where both countries and their respective private citizens could compete for influence and commercial privileges. For Britain and Russia, the agreement was important in establishing a diplomatic alliance that endured until World War I. The government of Iran, however, had not been consulted about the agreement; it was informed after the fact. Although not in a position to prevent Britain and Russia from implementing the Anglo–Russian Agreement, the Iranian government refused to recognize the accord's legitimacy, since from an Iranian perspective, it threatened the country's integrity and independence. Iranian nationalists, in particular, felt betrayed by Britain, a country they had idealized as a democratic beacon during the Constitutional Revolution (1905–1907). Thus, an important legacy of the agreement was the growth of anti-British sentiment specifically and anti-Western attitudes more generally as strong components of Iranian nationalism.
The Anglo–Russian Agreement did not eliminate all competition between the two powers with respect to their policies in Iran, but after 1907 it did foster broad cooperation, often to the detriment of Iranian interests. In particular, Britain and Russia intervened in Iran's domestic politics by supporting the royalists in their contest with the constitutionalists, and increasingly, their intervention assumed military dimensions. The agreement lapsed in 1918 after it was renounced by a new revolutionary government in Russia.
The Great Game
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During the 19th century, Britain had firm control over India and considered that control a top priority. However, Russia had been expanding to the south and east, the latter directing to move towards India. By 1813 and 1828, it had wrested Transcaucasia and Dagestan from Persia taking over the Caucasus from the latter, and by 1829, it had expanded even further to the south, now at the expense of Ottoman Turkey. Thus, in some 30 years, it had dramatically expanded its borders to the south at the expense of its two neighboring rivals, Persia and Turkey. “The Great Game” refers to the rivalry between Britain and Russia over territorial and political control in Central Asia. In the course of the next few decades, it annexed all the khanates and territories in Central Asia, reaching a new territorial frontier in the geopolitical with Britain, the middle zone of land that was located between India and Russian holdings at that time: Persia, Afghanistan and Tibet.
Britain feared that a Russian presence might result in a Russian invasion that might challenge the British hold on India. In essence, the British aimed to keep “Russian influence from the borders of British India.” On the other hand, Russia wanted more land on its southern border, namely in Afghanistan and feared a British surge towards its territories.
The push only compounded the issue and kept Britain diplomatically suspicious of every Russian move. Using tactics similar to its economic marriage to Iran, Britain took Tibet under its influence by first invading it in 1903 and then making it a trade partner. It ultimately allowed Tibet to accumulate a large debt and forfeit even more control to Britain. Though each of the Great Powers was spared from outright war, the rivalry was a constant factor in both country's political psyches.
By the early 20th century, however, alarmed by the quick expansion of the Russian rail network in Central Asia and the high costs that an increase in Indian troop strength would necessitate, Britain began to pursue a two-pronged policy to clear the Russian threat. The first step involved an agreement with Japan to bind Russian forces and attention in Manchuria and Korea. The second move encompassed the Entente cordiale with France, partly in the hope of France restraining the ambitions of its Russian ally and act as a facilitator for better relations between Britain and Russia.
Likewise, Russia began to seek rapprochement with the British after the disaster following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. On one hand, the Russian leadership hoped to gain breathing space in dealing with the domestic problems plaguing the country. On the other hand, it hoped to gain greater freedom of external action.
Rise of Germany
On May 20, 1882, Germany entered into the Triple Alliance with Italy and Austria-Hungary, complementing its industrial and socio-political climb in the world arena. Furthermore, Germany dramatically increased its military output from the early 1900s up to the outbreak of World War I. Under a new “Prussian-German” empire, the German government worked to increase the nation's wealth and reach what was then the zenith of German power. While Britain and Russia were skeptical of Germany's imperialistic motives, members of the Triple Alliance were in turn somewhat threatened by Britain's and Russia's aggressive foreign policy tactics and wealth derived from their colonies.
Thus, military and territorial expansion was Germany's key to making itself a major player in the international arena of power. Germany's Middle East took a secondary position, one subordinate to Germany's primary policy toward Europe and America, throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While of secondary importance, it was a tool that was used to manipulate the Middle Eastern attempt to play off the Western powers against each other. Berlin peacefully penetrated the Ottoman Empire and had few colonial aspirations in the region.
Trouble in Iran
In 1905, revolutionary activity spread throughout Tehran, forcing the shah to accept a constitution, allow the formation of a majles (parliamentary assembly), and hold elections. Major figures in the revolution had secular goals, which then created rifts in the clergy to the advantage of the monarchy. Neither Britain nor Russia approved of the new liberal, unstable, political arrangement, as preferred a stable puppet government that submitted to foreign concessions and worked well with their imperialist goals.
To facilitate the situation in Iran, Britain and Russia discussed splitting Iran “into three zones. The agreement they wanted would allocate the north, including Isfahan, to Russia; the south-east, especially Kerman, Sistan, and Baluchistan to Britain; and demarcate the remaining land between the two powers as a "neutral zone." The division of Iran reinforced Great Power control over these respective territorial and economic interests in the country as well as allowed for contrived interference in Iran's political system. With foreign influence, revolution was outflanked by a combination of European and monarchist activities.
As a result, Iranians learned "that however predatory the two 'neighbors' were, they were even more dangerous when they put aside their rivalries."
- Dogger Bank Incident
- Entente Cordiale
- Franco-Russian Alliance
- The Great Game
- Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran
- Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Anglo-Russian Entente
- "Agreement concerning Persia" - Full Text
- Kazemzadeh, Firuz. Russia and Britain in Persia, 1864–1914: A Study in Imperialism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968.
- Siegel, Jennifer. Endgame: Britain, Russia, and the Final Struggle for Central Asia. London and New York: Tauris, 2002.
- White, John Albert. Transition to Global Rivalry: Alliance Diplomacy and the Quadruple Entente, 1895–1907. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
- "Central Asia: Afghanistan and Her Relation to British and Russian Territories". World Digital Library. 1885. Retrieved 2013-07-28.
- Clark, C. (2013). The Sleepwalkers. How Europe Went to War in 1914. London: Penguin Books, pp. 138-40
- Ibid., pp. 158
- Abrahamiam, Ervand, A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press, 2008)
- Adelson, Roger, London and the Invention of the Middle East: Money, Power, and War, 1902–1922 (St. Edmundsbury Press, 1995)
- Klein, Ira. "The Anglo-Russian Convention and the Problem of Central Asia, 1907-1914," Journal of British Studies (1971) 11#1 pp. 126–147 in JSTOR
- Palace, Wendy. The British Empire and Tibet (Studies in the Modern History of Asia), (Milton Park, England: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005)
- Siegel, Jennifer, Endgame: Britain, Russia and the Final Struggle for Central Asia (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2002)
- Tomaszewski, Fiona K., A Great Russia: Russia and the Triple Entente (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002)