Afghanistan: The Buffer State. Great Britain and Russia in Central Asia


Afghanistan: The Buffer State. Great Britain and Russia in Central Asia is an overview of Anglo-Russian rivalry and the perceived Russian threat to British India, written by a former officer and Russian-language interpreter in the Indian Army. It is intended as a succinct introduction to a complex subject and provides insight into a certain type of British imperial thinking that prevailed right up until World War I. Chapter one discusses the importance of India to the British Empire. British objectives, the book argues, must be to safeguard “all lines of communication connecting India with the Mother Country” and to safeguard India itself. To achieve these objectives, Great Britain “must so direct her policy that Persia, Afghanistan, and Western China, shall remain independent and undivided, and, if possible, more prone to British influence than that of any other power.” Also essential were keeping the Bosporus and Dardanelles “always closed to Russia” and preventing Russia from ever obtaining a port in the Persian Gulf. Chapter two is an overview of past invasions of India, from the time of the ancient Assyrians and Persians to that of Nadir Shah in the 18th century. Chapters three and four deal with the Russian presence and policies in Central Asia. Chapter five covers the “theater of operations” in which an Anglo-Russian conflict might be fought. Chapter six deals with the role of states or principalities that would influence the course of any such conflict, most importantly, Afghanistan but also Baluchistan, Tibet, Kashmir, and China. The concluding chapter discusses the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, which reaffirmed the predominant influence of Great Britain in Afghanistan. Published both in London and Madras (present-day Chennai, India), the book contains two detailed fold-out maps illustrating the Russian “advance” into Central Asia. The book has little to say about Germany, with which, ironically, Britain would be at war (in alliance with Russia) within a few years.

Last updated: August 17, 2016