865.014/7–2249: Telegram

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

top secret

2897. From recent conversations between Embassy officials and Foreign Office officials re Italian colonies, it is apparent Foreign Office in considerable dilemma re future Libya (Embtel 2818, July 191 and previous). On one hand, there is realistic view that trend toward Libyan independence and unity cannot be stopped and that even if approaching session GA adjourns without decision, events in territories will make it difficult, if not impossible, prevent local inhabitants taking matters into own hands and declaring effective independence. In these circumstances, there would appear to be every reason climb on band wagon and indeed take initiative, thereby recapturing some of prestige lost locally in Libya as well as elsewhere in Near and Middle East because of events in Palestine2 and at last session GA on Italian colonies issue.

2. On other hand, French are pressing particularly strongly at this time their view that immediate independence Libya would have serious repercussions French North Africa. For sake Anglo-French amity, Foreign Office must necessarily give full weight to French views.

[Page 570]

3. It is apparent that we face corresponding dilemma. Libya is important cornerstone US–UK strategic plans in NE. Similarly there is no gainsaying importance France and French North Africa in Western European and strategic picture. Nevertheless, following factors should be carefully considered:

From strategic viewpoint, US and UK facilities in Libya can best be maintained in long run under circumstances in which we enjoy respect and cooperation local inhabitants. There can be no doubt overwhelming majority these inhabitants desire early independence and unity, and as previously pointed out, from realistic point of view, it is only question of short time before they obtain them. We are most likely gain goodwill local inhabitants by supporting them in what they want at time when we have it to offer. That time appears to be present. Should we again take stand contrary to what inhabitants consider their best interests, we may create situation which would seriously prejudice our continued enjoyment of strategic facilities which Secretary Defense has characterized as of “vital strategic importance” (Department’s 2382, July 11).3
Although delay in granting independence would suit French, we should not lose sight of fact that large block of states stretching from Eastern Mediterranean through to Philippines, as well as many countries in Latin America, will accuse us of sacrificing principle to political expediency if we oppose early independence. Moreover, possibility cannot be discounted that Soviets will support immediate independence at next session GA with obvious propaganda advantages. For us to oppose early independence might be justified in event of extreme necessity and there may be factors in situation of which are not apparent from here that are dictating such a course, but this appears to be a case in which principle and political expediency clearly coincide to our own advantage.
There might be some advantage in attempting delay independence for longer period of time, if we could be sure French would use that time to prepare French North Africa for any repercussions which Libyan independence might occasion by introducing reforms which we have long urged on them. On other hand, with best intentions, we have tried for several years with little success to make French realize that unless they made concessions looking toward democratic self-government in French North Africa and gained confidence nationalist leaders, situation would eventually arise which they would be unable, in long run, to control. There is still little evidence that French are sincerely awake to realities of this situation. Moreover, it appears to me that basic illness in French North Africa must be cured in French North Africa, and that if French are sincerely concerned about it, they should take appropriate local steps to cure it there, rather than bend their efforts toward a further postponement of evil day, by pressing US and UK to take course of action in neighboring [Page 571] territories which would not be in our best interests nor French in the long term.

4. From recent conversations between Embassy officers and Foreign Office officials, we have impression that British less concerned re repercussions Libyan independence on French North Africa than on Anglo-French relations. While undesirability of taking entire onus for urging unpopular course of action on French is recognized, our views on French North Africa, which are known to French, may well give us more excuse to approach them than British, who have in recent years pursued “hands off” policy there.

Therefore, it is suggested we might consider finding early opportunity to discuss this matter frankly with French at high level, placing our emphasis on fact that early independence for Libya represents reality of situation and that French in their own best interests should take immediate and effective action in French North Africa along lines urged by us in past. This may be only effective means preventing situation French North Africa deteriorating as it did in Indo-China.4

  1. Not printed; it reported Michael Wright’s statements on the colonial question and his views on the reasons why the formulation of a British position was greatly complicated (865.014/7–1949).
  2. Documentation with respect to the Palestine question is scheduled for publication in volume vi.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For documentation on the situation in French Indochina, see volume vii.