Although Stalin appeared to be resolute in his determination to protect Soviet oil revenues, in reality, he was much more concerned with dominance and prestige. As the Soviet scholar Georgiy Mirsky argues: “Oil was not so terribly vital to the interests of the Soviet Union … The USSR had plenty of it to begin with.”
Stalin’s refusal to withdraw his troops from Iran had most to do — not with oil — but with his concern over Iran’s position vis-a-vis the postwar balance of power. His recalcitrance regarding troop withdrawal led to a debate in the Security Council of the United Nations, the first test for the infant organization.
During the Security Council debate, the United States provided support and leadership, at the same time becoming inextricably embroiled in Iran’s domestic politics.
The Soviets finally promised to withdraw their troops.
The USSR left the region in May 1946 after the Iranians promised them an oil concession. There was a caveat: the concession was subject to approval by the Iranian Majles.
In December 1946, Stalin suffered a diplomatic defeat when the Majles refused to approve the concession.
Iran’s situation remained precarious. Riots occurred throughout the country.
Iran’s largest tribe, the Qasha’i, revolted in the south in opposition to government policy regarding Iran’s communist leaning party, the Tudeh Party. Meanwhile, the Tudeh held daily demonstrations in most of Iran’s large cities.
In order to show its support for the shah’s government, the United States decided “that a limited amount of armaments not to exceed $10 million in value would be sold to Iran. The United States would also give favorable consideration to the credits necessary to furnish such arms.”
Based on the American showing of support, the Iranian government sent security forces into Azerbaijan, finally suppressing a Soviet-sponsored revolt.
In addition to the $10 million in armaments mentioned above, in 1947, the United States provided Iran with a $51 million credit for the purchase of weaponry and associated expenditures. Subsequently, American resources poured into the country, enabling a build-up of Iran’s armed forces.
Over the next three years, Iran rapidly evolved into a state consumed by issues of national security. The shah embraced American assistance as a means of eliminating the Soviet presence in his country, preserving the integrity of Iran’s borders, and solidifying support for his policies internally.
The Iranian air force increased its fighting force fivefold, the army was modernized, and the navy was expanded.
Meanwhile, the United States, moving into the great power position that Britain could no longer maintain, had survived its introduction to realpolitik in the developing world.
The concept of balance of power and the strategy of containment took on increased meaning as paradigms for success in dealing with the Soviet Union — especially in the Third World.
The take-away: precedent was established in Iran regarding the importance of economic and military support for Third World countries allying themselves with the Western security system.