Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs ( Satterthwaite ) to the Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs ( Reber )

top secret

Subject: Suggestion of Embassy at Rome To Transfer U.S. Troops from Italy to Libya

NEA is concerned about the suggestion made in Rome’s Top Secret telegram no. 3891 of December 2, 1947.1 It is our feeling that the implications of the proposal to transfer American troops to Libya are so grave that the proposal should not be supported. While it is appreciated that the object of the proposal is to have American troops readily available at nearly bases in the event of insurrection in Italy, it is felt that the obstacles to basing American troops in Libya are well-nigh insurmountable.

One of the most important deterrents is the present hostile attitude of the Arabs towards the United States. The current inflammatory situation with respect to Palestine renders any American action which would be interpreted as being anti-Arab or imperialist as being highly undesirable politically. The sudden appearance of United States military forces in Libya, with its predominantly Arab population, would probably be regarded with such hostility by the Arab world that serious consequences might ensue.

Even if such action were politically desirable it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the provisions of the Treaty of Peace with Italy the proposal that United States troops share the administration of this former Italian Colony with the British. Paragraph 2 of Article 23 of the Peace Treaty provides that “pending their final disposal, the said possessions shall continue under their present administration.” Regardless of whether the British Military Administration of Libya would agree to the stationing of American troops in the area, it seems clear, therefore, that the agreement of the other signatories to the Peace Treaty would be required in order to allow United States forces to participate in the present administration of Libya.

An additional deterrent to the proposed transfer is the fact that the Commission despatched by the Deputies of the Council of Foreign Ministers is now investigating the former Italian Colonies. The presence of American troops in Libya would almost certainly be used by [Page 735] the local Arab population as grounds for alleging to the Commission that the United States had designs on their territory. Furthermore, their presence in Libya might well give rise to charges throughout the Arab world that they were being stationed there for eventual use in connection with the implementation of the partition of Palestine. In any event, the situation would be exploited with considerable effect by the Soviets to provide ammunition for another propaganda campaign against so-called American imperialism.

The Council of Foreign Ministers will attempt to determine the final disposal of the former Italian Colonies next summer. If the CFM cannot agree on a solution, the matter will be referred to the General Assembly of the United Nations after September 15, 1948, for a recommendation which the Four Powers have pledged themselves in advance to put into effect. The presence of United States military forces in Libya would seriously jeopardize the success of any proposals we might present to the CFM or to the General Assembly on the future status of those former Italian possessions.

For the foregoing reasons, NEA feels that it would be inadvisable to transfer United States troops to Libya.

J[oseph] C[harles] S[atterthwaite]
  1. Not printed: in it Dunn suggested that U.S. troops be stationed in Libya where they could share with the British in the administration of the Italian colonies until a solution for the disposal of the colonies could be found, and where they would be nearby in case of insurrection in Italy (811.2365/12–247).