865.014/6–348: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Douglas ) to the Secretary of State


2430. USfic 51 from Utter. The following are our recommendations on the future of Libya:

The unity of Libya is not indispensable, although it would doubtless be advantageous economically to the inhabitants. While the Tripolitanians could probably be persuaded to accept Idris as Emir, their failure to ask for him at the time of the commission’s visit indicates an important difference in the political outlook of the two territories. The Cyrenaicans are united in their devotion to the Senussi House and look forward to a hereditary monarchy, benevolent but authoritarian in nature, on the traditional Arab model. In Tripolitania, where urban life and sedentary agriculture are more important, the inhabitants look forward more to a constitutional government on European lines. They would probably accept the Emir as a monarch with limited powers, but not his heirs. If complete unity under one administration were imposed from the outside, it would certainly be a source of future trouble and the question had best be settled by free negotiations between the leaders of the two territories. Probably the Tripolitanians would refuse to accept the Cyrenaicans’ wish for a Senussi hereditary dynasty.

In both territories independence has become the ruling passion. Trusteeship is in bad order and is regarded as a disguised form of colonialism. Italian trusteeship would certainly lead to serious troubles in both territories, and more especially so in Cyrenaica where the tradition of resistance is still strong. How serious in Tripolitania would depend on the military competence and political skill of the Italians. We are not in a position to judge the former but our experience in the colonies and in Home has given us grave doubts of the latter. It should be recalled that the original Italian conquest was never completed by [Page 913] democratic Italy and took the Fascists eight to ten years. Even the return of the Italian farmers to Cyrenaica under the aegis of another power would be vigorously opposed since they occupied most of the best land. Italians are definitely personae non gratae in Cyrenaica. Perhaps the most the inhabitants of Tripolitania would accept is a limited immigration of Italian technicians if it were quite certain that there would be no harmful political consequences.

American trusteeship, we consider, would be acceptable in Tripolitania and perhaps in Cyrenaica as second best.

We believe it would be preferable, however, for both territories to be granted independence after a very brief period of a few years, of preparation under Great Britain without international supervision. While the inhabitants are certainly not fully able to govern themselves, they would not be unwilling to accept outside assistance after independence is achieved and indeed in Cyrenaica the people take it for granted that they would be aided by their ally, Great Britain. If the US and UK were to support such a solution, the gain in good will, both in Libya and in the Arab world, would more than outweigh, we believe, the undoubted loss of administrative efficiency and would serve as a lasting basis for our friendship with those peoples. It would, moreover, help to offset the hostility in the Arab world which the US has incurred over Palestine. Moreover, the strategic interest of the US and the UK might more easily be achieved through treaties of alliance and assistance with independent governments than through trusteeship agreements. While it is for the Department to judge, we might suggest that American public opinion would probably support an American alliance with an independent Tripolitania much more easily than American trusteeship and thus a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean could be obtained.

If the Department should decide to support British trusteeship, we still believe that it would be advisable (as a tactical measure in order to obtain the good will of the Libyans) for the US and UK Deputies to advocate at the outset independence after a brief delay. The French deputy can be counted on to insist that a long period of preparation will be necessary, and British trusteeship can be our second proposal. It has occurred to us that joint UK–US trusteeship of Libya (with British administration over Cyrenaica and US over Tripolitania) might be practicable and desirable, although we have given no thought to the details.

As far as the Fezzan is concerned, we see no justification for giving it to France. It would be economically irrational and detrimental to the inhabitants and would surely lead to Tripolitanian irredentism. The French proposals for frontier adjustments seem to indicate that [Page 914] they are not confident of obtaining trusteeship over the whole of the Fezzan. We see no particular objection to giving them the region of Ghat (see USfic 311) and the uninhabited area south of the Tropic of Cancer, but US support of these changes might well be used for bargaining. In Ghadames, Tripolitanian nationalism is strong and west of Nalut French efforts to win over the inhabitants do not appear to have achieved success. (See USfic 31.) Nevertheless, the population involved is small and the point might well be conceded if really necessary to obtain French support for our position.

The frontier changes desired by Egypt have no basis whatsoever. (See USfic 44.2) [Utter.]

  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed; in it Utter outlined the Egyptian claims to Massawa, Bardia, the Bay of Sollum and the oases around Djarabub (865.014/5–1648). In August Egypt dropped its claims to Massawa.