S/S–NSC Files, Lot 63D 351, NSC 40 Series

Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Souers)

top secret

Pursuant to NSC Action No. 123, October 6, 1948, the following progress report on the implementation of NSC 19/1,1 “Disposition of Former Italian Colonies,” is submitted for the information of the Council:

The Department of State has sought to obtain a solution of the problem in conformity with the conclusions contained in NSC 19/1. When the Council of Foreign Ministers could not reach agreement on the disposition of any of the former Italian colonies, the matter was referred to the General Assembly of the United Nations on September 15, 1948, in accordance with the Treaty of Peace with Italy. At its Paris session in 1948 the General Assembly did not reach this item on its agenda. At the recent New York session of the Assembly the problem was discussed extensively for six weeks without any substantive decision being taken and further consideration of the matter was postponed until the next regular session of the Assembly which convenes in September 1949.

The position last supported by the United States, and which was defeated in the General Assembly, was as follows:

Italian Somaliland: To be placed under Italian trusteeship.
Eritrea: All of Eritrea except the Western Province to be ceded to Ethiopia with appropriate guarantees for minorities and municipal charters for Asmara and Massawa. (The proposal that the Western Province be incorporated in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was defeated in the Political Committee.)

Libya: To be independent in ten years.

Cyrenaica: to be placed under British trusteeship.

Fezzan: to be placed under French trusteeship.

Tripolitania: to be placed under Italian trusteeship by the end of 1951. During the interim the present British administration in Tripolitania would continue with the assistance of an Advisory Council including representatives of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and the United States. (First Egypt and then Turkey refused to participate in this Advisory Council because of the opposition of the Arab bloc to the partition of Libya and to Italian administration.)

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The resolution embodying the position outlined above was defeated in a plenary meeting of the General Assembly when the paragraphs providing for Italian trusteeship of Tripolitania and Italian Somaliland failed to receive the two-thirds vote necessary for their adoption. The other paragraphs of the resolution were passed by a two-thirds majority but the resolution as a whole was rejected. The proposals which received the greatest support, in the paragraph by paragraph voting, were those providing for the independence of Libya and Italian Somaliland (after periods of trusteeship) and the cession of part of Eritrea to Ethiopia.

The Department of State is reconsidering the position of the United States with respect to the disposition of all of the former Italian colonies. As a result of the recent session of the General Assembly we are confronted with a situation where the only solution for Libya which might obtain a two-thirds vote appears to be independence at a specified date in the near future. The British acknowledge this and have undertaken to cement their relations with the Emir of the Senussi by recognizing the desire of the Cyrenaicans for self-government and by agreeing to establish a government for internal affairs in Cyrenaica of which the Emir would be the head. It is likely that the Tripolitanians soon will seek to associate themselves with the Cyrenaicans under the leadership of the Emir in the hope of achieving a united and independent Libya, presumably including the Fezzan. Under these circumstances, it is essential for this Government to take a position which will not antagonize the Libyans in their efforts to achieve unity and independence. A contrary course might jeopardize the continued use of our military facilities, particularly Wheelus Field, in Tripolitania and the continued use by the British of their facilities in Cyrenaica. With regard to Eritrea, the position previously supported by the United States has a good chance of being adopted at the next session of the General Assembly if the support which was granted it at the last session is maintained. The solution for Italian Somaliland will probably involve some form of trusteeship, but one in which the Italians might not be the sole administering authority.

This interim report is submitted for the information of the Council. A more detailed paper recommending that certain definitive positions with respect to all of the territories concerned be supported by this Government at the next session of the General Assembly will be submitted to the NSC for action in the near future.

James E. Webb
  1. For the concluding portion of NSC 19/1, July 21, 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol iii, telegram 2898, July 23, p. 923.