Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Tobin Miller Shearer

Commitee Members

Mehrdad Kia, Richard Drake, Robert Greene


Cold War, Human Rights, Iran, Middle East, Pahlavi, Persian Gulf, Rhetoric, Security, Shah


University of Montana


In the spring of 1968, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s personal rule and Iran’s domestic stability were at an all-time high. For five years, Iran had enjoyed the boons of the Shah’s White Revolution. This program of economic and social reform had placed Iran on the path to becoming one of the most populous, prosperous, and powerful nations in the Middle East. In January 1968 the United Kingdom announced it would withdraw its military from the Persian Gulf. The Shah seized upon this opportunity and that provided by the promulgation of the Nixon Doctrine in 1969 to put Iran on the road to regional hegemony. The Shah pursued a variety of security goals aimed at positioning Iran as the hegemon of the Persian Gulf and leader of the littoral Indian Ocean nations. He also embarked on a rhetorical campaign to reinforce the legitimacy of the Pahlavi dynasty and establish himself as the heir to the power and prestige of ancient Persian monarchs like Cyrus the Great. In addition to the power of Cyrus, the Shah connected himself to the legacy of the Cyrus Cylinder, which he claimed as the first code of human rights in the world. To establish himself as the leader of the post-colonial Indian Ocean nations, the Shah not only pursued realpolitik security initiatives, he utilized the rhetoric of human rights. In 1968, Tehran hosted the first International Conference on Human Rights. At this conference and in a variety of other international theatres, the Shah’s rhetoric emerged in force. His human rights rhetoric, however, was divided; he elevated socioeconomic rights and national development above, and as the path to, political agency and civil justice. This thesis examines the ways in which the Shah’s international human rights rhetoric had unintended consequences for Iran’s domestic stability and the Shah’s regional security goals. In dividing human rights in both rhetoric and practice, the Shah created conditions that collided with economic downturn and civil unrest to create revolution in 1978-1979. By exploring this level of discourse between the Shah’s international rhetoric and domestic audience, this thesis demonstrates the necessity of considering human rights as indivisible and as an integral part of any security policy.



© Copyright 2012 Bennett Gabriel Sherry