The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54
The force of circumstances has given us these disagreeable neighbours, and we must be prepared to treat them as such. We must either go further than we have done or be prepared to fight for our existence in the East under such unfavourable circumstances that we cannot hope for success.
If we refuse to see the necessity of guaranteeing, in a measure, the integrity of these decaying oriental powers, rapidly degenerating from bad to worse—powers the genius of whose religion and whose modes of life are suited only to a primitive civilisation—as an offset against the page 23 advantages of administering Kurdistán and South-West Persia, or if mutual conditional guarantees cannot be satisfactorily arranged, then the inevitable is that we must occupy ourselves or purchase the keys of our Empire that lie within their domains; occupying them, by permission, if Russia persistently advance so as to threaten to absorb them, and their lawful owners be unable to resist her—lest she gain vantage ground, from which it will be impossible to eject her, and they be here forever.
To render the contingency of occupation possible and its possession effective, the strategical communications and works described are emphatically necessary.
The argument that no party Government will meet a possible danger of this nature, or endeavour to overcome the political difficulties in connection with it, is to argue that our patriotism is dead and our intellect dulled, and we a decaying, and no longer a progressive race. Any ministry undertaking it, if convinced of its necessity, may be assured of the support of every patriot.
By deed of gift, Turkey may, by stress of circumstances, make them over to us as already suggested (see pages 2, 3).
It is a most fortunate circumstance, and one that ought to be seriously considered, that the keys of Afghánistán, Persia, and Turkey in Asia are held by neither Afgháns, Persians or Turks but chiefly by aboriginal nationalities still but partially conquered, and from whom taxes are gathered by force only. Reference is made to the Kurds, Lurs, and other wild tribes inhabiting the Zagros range, and the Arab tribes to their west and south. They have the spirit of independence amongst them, a spirit allied to our own, that of freedom, and opposed to that of Russia, serfdom. Within and to the immediate rear of these hills, the plains stretching to the Gulf and the Euphrates, lie the keys to the Eastern Empire necessary to the security of the British Empire.
The administration of this belt from the line Van-Urfa in a south-east direction to the lines Muhammerah, Burújírd and Bushire, Shiriz, together with the construction of the public works advocated, suffice to put us in the position required for our own safety, and, as well, that necessary to safeguard that of Turkey in Asia and Persia and keeps Russia for ever making, in her own words, 'earthen pots in Turkistán.'
Loss of territory, by giving up districts to be administered, need not mean loss of revenue to the giver, but the reverse; by sympathy it also necessitates the better government of the remainder: a well governed region will pay for the public works necessary to develop it, for the army necessary to ensure its tranquillity and leave a handsome surplus. Cyprus is an example of this. Indeed, so unable are Turkey and Persia to govern these districts that their alienation would be to them a source of strength and an infinite boon to their oppressed inhabitants.
In its various parts it is rich in the sinews of war, i.e., men, transport animals, grain, fodder, butter, milk, firewood, &c. The Lurs and Kurds and certain Arab tribes are composed of men whose pastime till recent years has been war and plunder; they are good sportsmen, hardy and courageous. Luristán is the breeding ground of mules; donkeys abound; the Arab horse is reared in the Mesopotamian plains; the camel abounds; grain is abundant in all the valleys, those of the Tigris, Euphrates, Kárún, Hindiyán and lesser streams; the fodder in the Zagros hills is inexhaustible, page 24 and there sheep, cows, butter and milk are plentiful; oak and other trees are found in abundance in certain zones of the hills, &c. "The nature of the rivers and the lie of the country generally favour irrigation. Such a country is worth to a commercial company a thousand new Borneos, and is of equal value to a second India.
The men are of course valueless until trained, for each would eat more than his worth.
Both India and Afghánistán are secured by a position taken up about the bend of the Halmand connected by rail with India and the Gulf, and the strengthening of our secondary base Kábal, Kandahar, by rail to Kábal and Kandahar, the construction of the necessary entrenched camps to secure vital base centres and the stretching of the Indian limits to the Hindu Kush.
Afghánistán is the fulcrum of the lever by which General Hamley assumes that Russia will open her way to the Mediterranean. Thus secured, the lever cannot be worked.
The country lying between Sistán and South-West Persia is secured by the position which it is supposed has been taken up in Afghánistán and Baluchistán, and that in the belt of country which may be described as Kurdistán and South-West Persia, inhabited by Kurds, Lurs and Arabs and not by Turks or Persians.
Such positions are to us places-of-arms of Imperial importance, inasmuch as they overshadow those of Russia in the Caucasus and Trans- Caspia.
Their occupation renders it impossible that Persia shall fall as a ripe pear into Russia's lap by being pressed out of life between Afghanistan and the Caspian; they relieve Turkey in Asia of the fear of annexation and absorption, which must be her fate if the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea become Russian lakes. The importance of our well understanding their strategical and tactical value is great, and the necessity of arranging communications to suit our needs urgent.
If the belt is occupied by Russia, the doom of both Turkey and Persia, the Persian Gulf and the Dardanelles, is sealed, and she will have gained a position from which she cannot be ousted, strengthened as it would be by art and backed by a million of soldiers.
Occupied on the offensive-defensive principle as already suggested, it forms an impregnable position against which Russia would break her strength. The difficulties of ground if enlisted on the side of the defensive multiply its strength; if given over to the offensive, defence is impossible except by prohibitive numbers.
A few years back the line of the Caucasus could have been held from sea to sea on the defensive and Turkey in Asia and Persia for ever protected; the opportunity was lost and the chief defence of these countries fell to Russia; but one mare defensible belt is left; it is the last lino of defence, and, if it be lost, the opportunity of protecting them has gone forever. If Russia be allowed to possess herself of the western outlets of the Kurdistán range leading into the plain of Mesopotamia, nothing can prevent her from overrunning them at will, and to thus obtain her greatest desires, a Mediterranean sea-board and the security, ever from menace, of her southern borders in the Black Sea.page 25
Napoleon considered the valley of the Tigris to be the strategical key of the whole world. Such sayings are not unimportant, although the present generation may be unable to assign specific reasons for them. This paper has endeavoured to show that that nation which commands it is mistress of the destinies of the East. All Europe knows its value to us, and its security must form an integral part of any scheme for colonial defence, which is intimately bound up with the defence of India.
It may be said that this paper has left untouched the most difficult question in connection with the subject treated, viz., that of diplomacy. Diplomacy has for its aim the gaining of the military end by peaceful means, if possible. What the military requirements are this paper has endeavoured to show; and in no other, except in this legitimate way, has the work of the diplomatist been trenched upon, because it would be impertinence to do so. It is when the eloquence of the tongue and the conceits of the brain fail that diplomacy calls to its aid the violence of military power, to gain by force what it has been unable to attain by other means.
The diplomatist has to be as much guided by common-sense views of geography, peoples, and Imperial requirements as others; the instinct of self-preservation and patriotism is as strong in him as in others, and the considerations set forth in this paper will, it is hoped, assist him in his difficult task.
With India, Afghánistán, and Baluchistan secured as recommended on page 24, the contest for Eastern empire between Russia and Great Britain must be fought in the regions where were enacted the opening scene of the world's history, Before and after the Flood; and fortunately no more favourable battlefield need be sought by us to witness its closing drama, if we but take ordinary precautions to prepare it to suit our needs.
It may be said that the necessity of the works proposed in this paper are apparent, but that to carry them out is impossible, because the nations through whose territories they run do not wish for them or the terms asked are prohibitive. Doubtless the difficulties in their initiation are enormous; but equally doubtless is it that, if guarantees are given by both sides, the difficulties will disappear. Boldness and decisive action will give us decided influence at Constantinople and Tehrán. We cannot expect valuable concessions for nothing, and must be prepared to pay a fair price, both in money and assumed responsibility, for security.
If this work of regeneration be undertaken, let it be carried out with a determined spirit. If it be set about in a half-hearted manner, with a thought of withdrawing from it in the face of the many difficulties which must confront it, it could be better not to attempt it at all.
Many have preached on the same text before. They were prophets in those days; for they began to prophesy when the shadows thrown were faint, and the light throwing them obscure—and they were not believed. The shadows now loom black and lowering; and the light casting them is as clear as the sun in the heavens at noonday. Let us hope that the coming of events foretold by them may be realised before the words "too late" must be uttered.
Mark S. Bell, Lieut.-Colonel.page break