Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern and African Affairs ( Satterthwaite ) to the Secretary of State


This memorandum has been prepared in response to your request that further careful thought be given to the British Ambassador’s [Page 529] suggestion of February 25 that the United States become trustee for the administration of Tripolitania. Our London Embassy wired on February 26 that Mr. Bevin had also inquired whether or not we would be willing to reconsider our position with regard to Tripolitania, and to review the possibility of a U.S. trusteeship.

The U.S. interest in Tripolitania and the British interest in Cyrenaica are mostly strategic. The British have military installations in Cyrenaica, both actual and projected, which, the British feel, will be safer if Cyrenacia is under British trusteeship. Our armed forces now use an airbase at Mellaha, near Tripoli, through an arrangement with the British. The British have signified their intention to withdraw from Tripolitania; and for several reasons they would like to have an American trusteeship replace their present administration in Tripolitania. Not the least of these reasons is the additional security afforded to Cyrenaica by the presence of American troops in Tripolitania.

The National Security Council has stipulated that no potentially hostile power should be permitted to obtain a foothold in the area, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff class the “operational availability” of Tripoli for our air force as a strategic requirement. It is generally agreed, I believe, that the maximum assurance of the “operational availability” of Tripoli would be achieved through U.S. control in Tripolitania.

In addition to the British, officials of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt have suggested U.S. trusteeship over Tripolitania. Tripolitanian leaders have indicated more than once that U.S. trusteeship would be acceptable to the local people. There is no question that U.S. administration of Tripolitania and U.S. military installations there would reassure Greece, Turkey, Iran, and other European and Mediterranean countries of sustained American interest in the area.

It can reasonably be expected that the development of Tripolitania, a backward area, would be more rapid under U.S. trusteeship than under any other administration. With British trusteeship in Cyrenaica and U.S. trusteeship in Tripolitania, the United Nations would have the maximum assurance of eventual Libyan independence and unity.

On the other hand, the Italian Government and its people will be disappointed unless Tripolitania is subjected to some form of Italian administration and Italian resentment would be particularly directed at the United States in the event a U.S. trusteeship is established. The French would doubtless prefer not to have a U.S. trusteeship adjoining a French North African possession; but it seems unlikely that France would openly oppose the U.S. as the administering authority in Tripolitania.

The American public and the Congress are not accustomed to the idea of U.S. trusteeship in Tripolitania, and a major public relations [Page 530] effort will be required to ensure adequate popular understanding and support. A sounding of Congressional opinion, Senator Vandenberg in particular, before the election indicated there would probably be strong opposition to the proposal.

Whatever the future administration of Tripolitania, whether U.S. trusteeship or some other arrangement, we can be sure that it will be a target for Soviet criticism. It can be expected that Soviet reaction, however, would be particularly violent to U.S. trusteeship and that such an undertaking by the United States would give a semblance of validity to some of the oft-repeated Soviet propaganda charge of U.S. imperialism. We can be sure also that, regardless of whatever arrangement is adopted, the United States will directly or indirectly pay the principal portion of the cost.

You are no doubt aware that on February 16, 1949, a proposal for U.S. trusteeship over Tripolitania was discussed by a conference in Mr. Rusk’s office.1 Both U.S. trusteeship and Italian trusteeship were considered. Neither has been definitely rejected, but they were laid aside in order that a suggestion involving multilateral trusteeships could be examined. Tentative drafts have now been completed for two types of multilateral trusteeships. In one, the United Nations is the trustee and administering authority; in the other, the trustee and administering authority is a council composed of representatives of the U.S., U.K., France, Italy and Egypt. In both plans, the administration is carried out by Italy in Tripolitania, by the U.K. in Cyrenaica, and by France in the Fezzan. These two drafts should be the subject of a conference in the next day or two.

After multilateral trusteeship has been considered, it should be possible to choose a plan from among the several suggestions (U.S. trusteeship, Italian trusteeship, multilateral trusteeship) which will safeguard the interests of the United Nations, the trust territory and the trustee, which will fulfill our commitment to the British, and which will gain wide support both in the United States and abroad.

After a plan has been adopted, you may wish to discuss the matter further with the British Ambassador.

  1. Dean Rusk, Assistant Secretary of State for United Nations Affairs, took on during the early months of 1949 the duties of Deputy Under Secretary of State, a post to which he was formally designated on May 26.