Review by Dr. John M. Handley
British Diplomacy in Turkey: 1583 to the Present, by G. R. Berridge; Leiden, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2009, ISBN 978-90-04-17639-3. , 336 pages, $ 176.00
Professor G. R. Berridge’s publication, British Diplomacy in Turkey, addresses the evolution of the British embassy in Turkey from 1583 through 2008. With only 241 pages of text, plus nine appendices, the author managed to capture the breadth and depth of this evolution through scholarship and no lack of British humor. Each page is heavily footnoted with both source information and, for every historian, wonderful content footnotes full of interesting tidbits and factoids. As indicated in his introduction, since the early twentieth century the resident embassy has been supposed to be living on borrowed time. By means of his exhaustive historical account of the contribution of the British Embassy in Turkey to Britain’s diplomatic relationship with that state, this book shows this assumption to be false. Professor Berridge uses a simple but effective formula. He asks a series of questions and then proceeds to answer them. The book is divided into two parts. Part A analyses the evolution of the embassy as a working unit from its founding in 1583 up to the First World War: the buildings, diplomats, dragomans, consular network, and communications. Part B examines how, without any radical changes except in its communications, it successfully met the heavy demands made on it in the following century, for example by playing a key role in a multitude of bilateral negotiations and providing cover to secret agents and drugs liaison officers. This section includes chapters on the embassy during and after World War I and its abundance of military, especially naval, presence; the reluctant more to Ankara, 1924-1938; the embassy during World War II, 1939-1944; business as usual, 1945-1974; and culminates with a chapter on business above all, 1974-2008.
Although there are numerous vignettes throughout this book from the humorous and silly to the tragic and historically significant, one particular discussion both surprised and delighted me by its revelation of the art of diplomacy as practiced by the British embassy. In 1926, the relatively new Turkish government decided it was not happy with a treaty signed after World War I that ceded a large track of former Ottoman territory containing Mosul to the new state of Iraq. Turkey threatened war with Iraq to win Mosul back into its fold. Turkey was experiencing severe financial difficulties. Fortunately for both Britain and Iraq, they learned, through confidential sources, that Turkey might be willing to set aside its territorial desire in exchange for a large cash payment. The embassy informed London that a sum of somewhere between 300,000 to 500,000 pounds might settle this argument. London authorized the embassy to proceed with its negations to secure Turkish agreement at the lowest possible amount, but added that anything under 1,000,000 pounds would be considered reasonable if not cheap. After considerable negations, Turkey agreed to receive 500,000 pounds for Mosul and its surrounding area. The British drew up the treaty but realized it would appear unseemly to simply put a price-tag on Mosul, so the embassy convinced the Iraqis that to avoid wear they should offer Turkey 10% of all of Iraq’s oil revenues for 25 years, with an option for Turkey to “buy out” within one year the oil deal for 500,000 pounds. Iraq complied and within days of signing the treaty, Turkey asked for the money and Britain convinced Iraq to pay it.
Dr. John M. Handley, American Diplomacy Publishers Vice-President, is a Professor of International Relations for Webster University’s Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB campuses. A retired US Army Colonel, Dr. Handley spent his Army career in military intelligence, including as a Defense Attaché, the Dean of the School of Attaché Training at the Defense Intelligence College, and Deputy, Resource Management, for the Defense Intelligence Agency.