740.0011 European War 1939/6126

Memorandum by the Acting Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Alling) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

Mr. Berle: Replying to the queries in your attached memorandum:23

I think we can be reasonably certain that the Turks will fight if the Germans move against the Dardanelles. Military opinion seems to be that the Turks could not withstand for long the thrust of the German armies, but I think the Germans would not have an easy time getting through the Anatolian plateau and the Taurus Mountains or keeping up the long line of communications. In this connection, a further question arises, i. e., would the Germans head for the Suez Canal or the Iraq oil fields? Possibly they would try both. Even if the capture of the Mosul fields did not give Germany refined products (there is only one small refinery in Iraq and transportation of large quantities of oil to Europe would be difficult), it would at least be possible for them to cut off British supplies now going to Haifa via the pipeline.
Probably Eu24 can estimate better than NE25 what action Russia might take. We are inclined to believe that Russia would not move in a military way either for or against the Turks. The following factors have been considered in arriving at that conclusion: (a) the Russians are undoubtedly growing more and more suspicious of Axis aims, (b) they do not wish to become involved in hostilities either in Turkey or elsewhere because of the strategic situation (Japan and Germany) and because of internal weaknesses (c) they may hope to pick up important bits of territory either around the Dardanelles [Page 963] (possibly joint-control with the Axis) or in Iran in the event of an Axis victory over Turkey, all without taking any military risks.
We are doubtful of the possibility of the Turks giving leadership to the Arab world as such. The Arabs respect the Turks but we are not sure that even now they fully trust them. The Arabs remember the comparatively recent cession of Alexandretta. Late in June the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Nuri Pasha, went to Ankara specifically to seek assurances, which were forthcoming, that Turkey would not encroach upon Syria or Iraq. The fact that the assurances were sought may indicate suspicion of the Turks on the part of the Iraqis.

The British exercise influence and control in Egypt and Iraq and actually administer Palestine, but they have been unable to stir up sufficient enthusiasm in any of those countries to bring them actively into the war. Probably the British could bring sufficient pressure on Egypt and Iraq to induce them to enter the war, but the Arabs would ask for certain engagements in return particularly in regard to Palestine and the Egyptians would want additional advantages. Apparently the British are loath to make any new promises to the Arabs or to the Egyptians or to raise any new Near Eastern questions at this time. The British have already explored the possibility of an Arab federation but that apparently is not practicable until all of the Arab states have obtained their independence. The Arab angle does not, therefore, appear promising at the moment.

There is, however, another group in which Turkey is influential and in which something might be done. It is with the members of the Saadabad Pact—Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.26 Turkey might be able to stiffen the backbone of these people. It may be that the Turks have already looked into this possibility. If so, we have not heard of it. Of course, Iran and Afghanistan would be of no use in repelling a German invasion of Turkey and the Turks may feel that to approach them would be likely to stir up suspicions in Russia—something the Turks would probably want to avoid.

I do not believe we or the British are going to be able to induce Russians, Turks, Iraqis or anyone else to fight the Axis unless they can see what they are going to get out of it. In the case of the Turks, the motive would be protection of their hard-won independence. The question is, do we have anything to offer any of these people which might be a definite inducement? So far as Turkey is concerned, we have given her rather special facilities in obtaining certain military supplies and we should continue to do so.

We have apparently made some concessions recently in favor of Russia. I suppose the Russians may also be impressed by our firm [Page 964] stand in the Far East. The sum of these various contributions on our part and our growing aid to the British unquestionably affect the Near Eastern countries, particularly the Arabs, who are always impressed by power. It seems to me that for the time being we are probably already taking about all the steps open to us, short of war, to encourage the Near Eastern countries to resist aggression. As our productive capacity increases, so can our aid to these countries.

Paul H. Alling
  1. Memorandum of October 11, p. 961.
  2. Division of European Affairs.
  3. Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  4. The pact was signed at Teheran (in the Saadabad Palace) on July 8, 1937; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxc, p. 21.