America’s preoccupation with communism and the shah’s fixation on national defense meant that Iran’s decisions regarding social, political, and economic development occurred within a Cold War security framework. The US and the shah were both concerned with cementing the US-Iranian alliance.
Given the emerging bipolarization of international politics (and Cold War Iran’s unpleasant history with the Soviet Union), the shah favored the US as his principal ally.
Iran Moves Closer to the United States
On October 11, 1955, Iran declared its intent to join the Pact of Mutual Cooperation between Iraq and Turkey, known as the Baghdad Pact.
While America was not a member, the US wanted Iran to play a central role primarily for strategic and military reasons having to do with the Soviet Union.
When strong Iranian opposition to the alliance emerged, the American delegation urged increased US military assistance to Iran, arguing that
the shah had taken a potentially dangerous position; in fact, ‘he has staked his own life as well as that of his country in making this choice.’
Increased economic assistance was soon forthcoming, and Iran was further placated by enactment of the Eisenhower Doctrine in 1957. This congressional resolution authorized the president
to employ, as he deemed necessary, American armed forces to protect the integrity and independence of any nation or group of nations in the general area of the Middle East requesting such aid against ‘overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by international communism.’
The declaration made America’s intentions toward the Soviet Union quite clear but, perhaps more importantly, allowed the president greater freedom in extending already appropriated funds for military and economic aid in the Middle East. It also was a step forward in the US effort toward cementing the US-Iranian alliance.
Cold War Iran believed that endorsement of the decree constituted an implicit understanding that because of Iran’s own “increasing capabilities” American aid would
accelerate progress in Iran’s economic development program and toward the Government’s goal of a better standard of living, with full national security, for its people.
In this context, the shah kept pressing for both economic aid and more modern weapons as well.
However, only moderate amounts of military aid were offered.
Five US military training teams,
consisting of a total of 65 officers and 125 enlisted men, were attached to the Iranian army at the division and brigade levels, and plans were made to train Iranian army units to defend strategic passes in the Zagros Mountains. The United States also agreed . . . to provide Iran with F-84G jet fighters and other modern equipment.
The Iraqi Revolution of 1958
Cold War Iran’s growing sense of security was disturbed by the Iraqi revolution of 1958, an event which spurred a reappraisal of Iran’s relations with its neighbors, including the Soviet Union.
The most immediate effect of the Iraqi revolution on Iran’s foreign policy concerned its relations with the US through the Baghdad Pact. This organization was renamed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after the withdrawal of Iraq.
Fears of regional spin offs from the upheaval were so real that military considerations began to dominate US thinking regarding the shah’s regime, and efforts toward cementing the US-Iranian alliance intensified.
The US-Iranian Alliance is Formalized
On March 5, 1959, Iran signed an executive agreement with the United States which stated for the first time that Iran’s independence and integrity were vital to the American national interest.
The US agreed to continue to furnish Cold War Iran with military and economic assistance and to come to Iran’s assistance in case of aggression.
The US had finally made a direct commitment to Iran’s national security.
Nevertheless, the shah was disappointed since he had wanted the US to pledge its support for Iran against any kind of aggression, not just that controlled by international communism.
The shah was also dissatisfied with the level of American financial backing.
As the 1950s ended, Iran and the United States were still not in agreement regarding the American role in Iran and they had differing opinions regarding the US obligation to provide military and economic assistance to that country.
Wartime military aid and early postwar aid had quite different purposes from the type of support that the shah was now demanding.