Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense ( Forrestal )

top secret

In accordance with the memorandum from your office dated 11 March 1948,1 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered an enclosed letter from the Secretary of State dated 10 March 19481 in which he requests the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff concerning the matter of disposition of the former Italian colonies in Africa, together with a statement as to whether their opinion of 8 July 1947 on the subject (SWN–5543)2 remains unchanged.

The views set forth in SWN–5543 are applicable to all former Italian colonies in Africa and are unchanged. In summary form, they may be restated as follows: [Page 907]

No disposition of the Italian colonies giving the USSR either unilateral or joint control of any colonies is acceptable.
No disposition of Italian colonies giving a Soviet satellite, or a non-satellite communist government, control of any Italian colony is acceptable.
It follows from subparagraph b above that Italy should not be allowed to resume control of any of her colonies unless it has previously become clear that Italy’s government will remain non-communist.
Even in these circumstances (subparagraph c above), there should be no resumption of control by Italy unless, for maintenance of peace in the colonies, she is allowed appropriate increases in the armed forces granted her by the treaty of peace.
For the successful implementation of British strategic policy in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, which area is of great and mutual strategic importance to the United States and to the United Kingdom, it is increasingly important that British armed forces have the bases in that area necessary for effective operation. Thus it is, for example, essential that the British, rather than the Italians, have control of necessary Libyan bases.

With respect to subparagraph e above, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would point out that the United States recently concluded agreements with the British for certain rights to air facilities in Libya, which may become increasingly essential to support of United States policies in the Mediterranean. Other areas of Libya may also acquire greater importance in British and/or United States strategic policies.

While the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that, from the military point of view, the United States does not have appreciable specific interest in Eritrea or Italian Somaliland, it would be most desirable to support the British in attaining, with respect to these colonies, their military requirements, consisting of rights for use of military bases, communications and areas essential for the security thereof.

It is highly important that a friendly government be maintained in strategically important Italy and that friendly relations be regained, and thereafter maintained, with the Arab states, because of the significance of Italy and the Arab states in assuring us access to the militarily valuable Middle East oil resources.

It would appear, however, that raising the question of disposition of Italian colonies at this time would serve neither of these objectives, since the Arab states are opposed to the return of the colonies to Italy, and since Italy would be satisfied only with resumption of her own control, which is, if military considerations are given full weight, impracticable.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
William D. Leahy

Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces