S/S–NSC Files, Lot 63 D 351, NSC 12 Series

Memorandum by the Policy Planning Staff

top secret


French North Africa

the problem

To outline a policy with regard to French North Africa which will operate to prevent that area from falling into the hands of elements [Page 683] hostile to this country or vulnerable to penetration by political forces outside the Atlantic community.


1. French North Africa is important to the security of the United States primarily because of its strategic geographical position flanking U.S. routes to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East as well as Great Britain’s Mediterranean lifeline. Of the three territories forming the political and geographical unit of French North Africa—French Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia—French Morocco is particularly important because it serves as the keystone of a bridge between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

2. The strategic significance of the North African area to the U.S. was amply demonstrated during World War II. Our advance on the European continent was preceded by landings in French Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The ensuing military action not only denied this strategic area to the enemy but afforded a base of operations which led to the destruction of the enemy forces already in Africa. In French West Africa, Dakar was regarded as a potential enemy submarine base, resulting in the joint declaration of President Roosevelt and President Vargas of Brazil that Dakar should never again be a threat to the security of the Western Hemisphere.3

3. With the rapid development of air power, the geographical position of North Africa assumes added importance. In hostile hands, the air and naval bases of this area, especially those in French Morocco, could exercise control over the Atlantic approaches to the Mediterranean and the sea lanes down the West African coast. Such hostile bases could neutralize potential U.S. Atlantic bases in the Azores or other neighboring islands and cut the most direct line of access to the petroleum of the Middle East. North Africa, therefore, because of the greatly increased potential of modern air warfare, now lies within a logical expansion of the zones of minimum security previously maintained by this country.

4. Conversely, a North Africa in friendly hands could afford corresponding advantages to the U.S. It would be a valuable base for the launching of air attacks, naval operations or amphibious landings against an enemy-occupied Europe. Its utilization by the U.S. or a friendly power would complement and strengthen any U.S. bases in the Atlantic islands. The climate of the North African area is such as to favor the conduct of aerial operations the year round. In the event [Page 684] of military action in the Middle East, a North Africa friendly to the U.S. and the Western powers would contribute greatly to the security of the Suez area.

5. During World War II relations between France and the native population of Morocco entered a new phase in which the most significant factor was the growth of North African nationalism. Since the war nationalism has tended to spread from the middle class intelligentsia to both the masses and the upper classes because of general loss of confidence in the capacity of France to defend North Africa and in her intention to promote native welfare and political self-determination. The pro-French native elements hesitate to support the French for fear of incurring the wrath of the nationalists.

6. U.S. wartime propaganda was in part responsible for the recent spur to North Africa nationalism and for the present unrest in the area. The Atlantic Charter declared that the American and British Governments “respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live”.4 Descriptions of the Charter and of the Four Freedoms were extensively spread among the native inhabitants at the time of the Allied landings in order to create a favorable atmosphere for our forces. There is strong evidence that President Roosevelt, during the Casablanca Conference of 1948, personally encouraged the Sultan to hope for American support in throwing off French control and in preparing Morocco, possibly under a joint U.S. British and French protectorate, for independence some years hence.5

7. The situation in Morocco may soon prove critical because of the youth and inexperience of the fast developing nationalist movement together with the warlike traditions of the Moroccan natives. At the present time, the various nationalist parties of [or] movements in Morocco have been seeking to unite under encouragement from the Sultan and with the avowed support of the Arab League. The Sultan, capitalizing on the political events of the past few years, on the ferment and ambitions of the Moslem intelligentsia, on the prevailing discontent, and on the hardships suffered by the masses, has succeeded in making his person the living symbol of the new aspirations of his people.

8. One of the principal aims of the French in Morocco is believed to be to force the Sultan to accept certain moderate reforms which the French have determined to institute in the Protectorate. In the past the Sultan has refused to accept such reforms on the ground that they were not far-reaching enough; instead, he has reportedly demanded measures which would virtually make Morocco independent. The nationalist [Page 685] leaders in general are agreed on the objective of restoring national sovereignty under the reigning dynasty.

The French are unwilling to consider independence even as a distant goal, and appear resolved to integrate French Morocco politically into the French Union.

9. The communists in North Africa are exploiting the situation by attempting to form a united front with the nationalist parties, which the nationalist leaders have so far resisted. It may be assumed that communist policy is to gain control of the area for Moscow, either directly or indirectly. At present the communists are demanding “autonomy within the French Union”, with immediate abolition of protectorate treaties, signing of new treaties, and universal suffrage. By advocating universal suffrage, the communists hope eventually to use the masses against the nationalist leaders themselves. Their future tactics, however, will depend upon the internal political situation in France, the position of the French Communist Party, and, ultimately, upon orders from Moscow.

A possible unified Nationalist-Communist independence movement must not be overlooked in spite of the current differences between communists and nationalists.

10. Notwithstanding the desire of responsible native leaders to refrain from violence, at least until one of the Arab states has succeeded in bringing the problem of French North Africa to the attention of the United Nations, a single outbreak accompanied by severe repressive measures could result in a widespread rebellion that both the nationalist leaders and the French Government would find difficult to control.

Even if such a rebellion should be successful, with or without communist assistance, it would be undesirable to have a Morocco abruptly independent. Moroccans are not yet ready for independence, having neither the personnel nor the technical knowledge to run their country without outside assistance, nor the means of maintaining their national security. A sudden severance of ties with France would, therefore, lead to the establishment of a weak state which would be vulnerable to subsequent domination by the communists.

11. In Spanish Morocco the situation is similar to, but not identical with, that in French North Africa. The Moroccan Independence Movement operating from its base in the Spanish protectorate, is in close touch with the nationalists and, it is believed, with the Sultan in French Morocco. It will be recalled that the fiercest resistance to foreign domination was offered by the Riffian Chieftain Abd-el-Krim in the wars culminating in 1926. Abd-el-Krim remains a symbol to his successors, who are attempting to carry the cause of Moroccan independence before the world through an appeal to the United Nations.

[Page 686]

The Moroccan Policy of the Spanish Government is vacillating and ill-defined. If open revolt should take place, however, it is likely that the Riffian tribes in Spanish Morocco would be the first to resort to violence. In such an event there is a strong possibility that the violence would spread to all of North Africa.

The U.S. has never recognized the Spanish protectorate in Morocco. It is to our interest, however, eventually to establish our position in that territory because of the strategic location of the area and the possibilities it might offer for bases complementary to those in French Morocco. Such a development would of course depend on a change in our relations with the Government of General Franco; but from hints dropped by Spanish officials in Spanish Morocco it probably would not be difficult for us to reach a military understanding with respect to the area.

12. The special position of the United States in the International Zone of Tangier and our participation in its administration6 are also of political and strategic importance to this Government. Tangier was the headquarters for the strategic preparatory work for the North African landings; there is now located in the International Zone the main Atlantic relay base in the RCA and Mackay world telecommunications systems, handling radiotelegraphic communications with the greater part of the Eastern Hemisphere except for the Far East; and Tangier will probably serve in the near future as one of the relay bases for the “Voice of America”. Nowhere else on the Eastern side of the Atlantic do we have such facilities available to us by right, i.e. through our extra-territorial privileges.

The international regime in Tangier is the only one of its kind in the world today which is functioning as such in an orderly and peaceful manner and which gives promise of continuing to do so. United States participation in the international regime guarantees the United States additional control over our position in the area.


13. The development of the U.S. into a major world power together with the wars that have been fought by this country to prevent the Atlantic littoral of Europe and Africa from failing into hostile hands, the increasing strategic dependency of England upon the U.S. and the situation brought about by the rise of air power and other technological advances, have made it necessary that a new concept should be applied to the entire group of territories bordering on the Eastern [Page 687] Atlantic at least down to the “Bulge” of Africa. The close interflexion of the French African territories bordering on the Mediterranean means that these further areas must also be considered an integral part of this concept.

14. This would mean, in modern terms, that we could not tolerate from the standpoint of our national security the extension into this area of the political system of any power which is not a member of the Atlantic community, or a transfer of sovereignty to any power which does not have full consciousness of its obligations with respect to the peace of the Atlantic area as a whole.

It means that the maintenance of stable and peaceful conditions in North Africa is of definite and legitimate concern to this country in the interest of its own security.


15. In view of the direct relationship of French Morocco to U.S. security under modern concepts, we should as a first step embark upon a dynamic policy to establish our interest in that area on as favorable a basis as possible. To that end we should work actively and continuously toward an understanding with the French which would reflect our desire to have France continue to bear the responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security in Morocco, and at the same time convince them that we have a legitimate interest in the stability of the region because of its relation to our national security and world peace in general.

We should at every opportunity point out to the French that we are not seeking to disrupt their empire or to place in jeopardy their position in North Africa. We should say that in our opinion the people of Morocco can best advance under French tutelage and that the established association between France and Morocco should not be broken. We should point out that in our view any disorders or untoward events in the Moroccan area would not only invite the danger of communist exploitation, but would be a matter of concern to us because of their adverse effect on France’s own world position, which it is in our interest to maintain. We should stress the fact that we are prepared to cooperate in every feasible way with the object of combatting communism in the area.

16. While we should strongly support the position of France in Morocco, making it emphatically clear that we are not attempting to disrupt French rule, Ave should not lose sight of our policy to favor the gradual evolution of dependent peoples toward self-government in accordance with their training and capacity to manage their own affairs. We should therefore make every effort to persuade the French [Page 688] of the necessity for resolving the conflict between nationalist political aspirations in Morocco and French colonial attitudes in general. We should tactfully point out that the present tension in Morocco is a responsibility of France which cannot be ignored and that we are concerned lest it lead to violent upheaval. We should seek to induce the French to obtain the voluntary cooperation of Moslem leaders in carrying out promised reforms, primarily by announcing an ultimate goal of autonomy or self-government for the area, by announcing a “timetable” as soon as possible and by taking the more moderate leaders into the confidence of the Government. If the French accept this thesis we should make clear our intention to exert our influence with the Moslem leaders to acknowledge the concept of gradual evolution instead of immediate independence.

We should emphasize our belief on every suitable occasion that the development of French Morocco in an atmosphere of voluntary cooperation with the native inhabitants, reciprocal trust, and a realization of mutual need would redound to the benefit of France and Morocco alike, as well as to the interests of the U.S.

17. Officials of the French Residence General at Rabat are believed to be well disposed to the U.S. While the implementation of French policy in Morocco is invariably directed from Paris, this policy can probably be influenced to an appreciable extent by reports of the French representatives at Rabat. We should, therefore, in addition to continuing our efforts with French officials in Paris, take advantage of every indication of French readiness to cooperate with American officials in Morocco with a view to promoting better relations and demonstrating our point of view. We should continue to keep our officers in the field fully informed of our own policies and, specifically, furnish them with a copy of this document so that they will be sufficiently well briefed to explain locally our approach to the central authorities in Paris.

18. As special corollaries with regard to Morocco, we should give particular attention to the following:

Preservation of our extra-territorial rights and the wise utilization of the unique position we enjoy thereunder in bringing our views to bear on the French;
Consideration of the replacement of those rights in due course-by a treaty with the French guaranteeing us national treatment;
Careful administration of our base rights at Port Lyautey and the possibility of their extenstion if deemed advisable by the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
Continued exploration of the possibility of transferring our diplomatic establishment at Tangier to Rabat, seat of the French administration and residence of the Sultan;
Active consideration of policies with regard to Spanish Morocco [Page 689] including possible recognition of the Spanish Protectorate, which, in the light of our strategic interests in the area, would supplement our policies in French North Africa.

  1. This text, circulated at the request of the Under Secretary of State to the National Security Council on May 28 as NSC 12. was based on a paper of January 30, 1948, by Mr. Henry S. Villard of the Policy Planning Staff.
  2. For the text of a statement released to the press by the White House on January 30, 1943, regarding a meeting two days earlier of Presidents Roosevelt and Vargas at Natal, Brazil, see Department of State Bulletin, January 30, 1943, p. 95. For additional information on the meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. v, pp. 653 ff.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. i, p. 367, or 55 Stat. (pt. 2) 1603.
  4. For a proposed revision of this paragraph, see Mr. Henderson’s memorandum of June 11, p. 713.
  5. For documentation on United States interest in Tangier, see Foreign Relations, 1945, vol. viii, pp. 601 ff. and 1946, vol. vii, pp. 51 ff., and for related material, see Marjorie M. Whiteman (ed.) Digest of International Law, vol. 6, pp. 229 ff., on extraterritorial jurisdiction.