S/S–NSC Files, Lot 63D351, NSC 19 File

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

top secret

NSC 19/5

U.S. Position on the Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies

Reference: NSC 19/4.1 The National Security Council, at its 44th Meeting,2 adopted NSC 19/4 subject to amendment of paragraphs 8 and 22 as shown herein.

The National Security Council recommends that the President approve the “Recommendations” contained herein, as a basis for negotiations by the Secretary of State.3

Sidney W. Souers
[Page 572]


top secret


Report by the National Security Council on U.S. Position on the Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies


1. The Department of State has reconsidered the position of the United States on the disposition of the former Italian colonies* in the light of existing circumstances and in terms of the solutions most likely to be approved by the General Assembly when it convenes in September 1949.

2. Libya. In the settlement of the future status of Libya the national interest of the United States requires that this Government pursue a course of action designed to achieve the objectives stated in paragraph 13 below, particularly the first and second. Attainment of the first of these, i.e., insuring that our strategic requirements in the area are adequately provided for in the future as well as the present, requires that particularly the U.K. and also the U.S., have sufficiently strong influence with the government of an independent and united Libya. In this connection several facts should be noted. First, the British have spent a great deal of time, money and effort in successfully establishing close relations with Sayed Idriss, the Emir of Cyrenaica. Second, the Emir is the only accepted leader of the people of Cyrenaica and, in addition, is the only figure in Libya who has wide support among the Tripolitanians as a leader. Therefore, one means of assuring U.K. and U.S. influence throughout the area is the creation of a unified and independent Libya in which Sayed Idriss would be Chief of State.

3. The achievement of the first objective can be facilitated by taking actions consonant with the second. Thus, if the United States actively promotes the unity and independence of Libya, as desired by its people, the new government to be established in the area should look to the United States for guidance and assistance and this, in turn, should facilitate the conclusion of arrangements for American use of whatever military facilities may be considered essential to our security in that region of the Mediterranean. A further objective is to solve this problem in such a way that not only will there be an opportunity for [Page 573] the peaceful development of Libya but that the other countries of the Mediterranean area which are most directly concerned will find the solution acceptable. It is desirable, therefore, that this Government should try to carry out its policy on this matter in agreement with the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Egypt, and perhaps other states which may be concerned.

4. The last session of the General Assembly witnessed the defeat of a resolution calling for the independence of Libya in 10 years with an interim period of trusteeship during which the British would administer Cyrenaica, the French would administer the Fezzan, and the Italians would administer Tripolitania beginning at the end of 1951. The Arab, Asiatic, and Soviet opposition which defeated this proposal was directed primarily against the partition of Libya and Italian administration of Tripolitania. This opposition bloc is so strong that it could probably defeat any proposal for the trusteeship of Libya in the future. On the other hand, the one principle for which there was overwhelming support was the independence of Libya which, by itself, was approved by a vote of 48 in favor to 8 against, with one abstention. Furthermore, the indigenous Moslem Arab inhabitants of Libya, who constitute 93 percent of its population, desire a united and independent Libya in the near future.

5. Under the circumstances, the U.S. is 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. This being the case, 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. If Libya is declared independent on a definite date such as January 1, 1952, our strategic interests will be protected until that time by the continuance of the British administration. The interim period of two or more years preceding independence should allow us sufficient time to make suitable arrangements for the continued use of such military facilities as Wheelus Field with whatever new government may be established in the area. United States influence through economic assistance, the USIE program, and technical assistance through the Point IV program should be directed toward this end.

6. The “Recommendations” in the second part of this paper indicate the general terms on which independence should be granted to Libya. These general terms are designed to temper the demand for immediate independence of Libya in the light of the realities of the situation. It will take at least two years to work out the form of government to [Page 574] be established as well as to pave the way for arrangements which will protect U.S. strategic interests in the area. If the interim is more than three years the people will not regard independence as being achieved “in the near future” and, from our own standpoint, the political situation and leadership in the territory might change to such an extent that it would be more difficult for us to secure the continued use of military facilities that is desired. Therefore it is desirable that the interim period prior to independence continue for a minimum of at least two years and not much longer than three years. Since the General Assembly will want to exercise some supervision over the preparations for making Libya an independent state, it is advisable that the U.S. promote a formula for such United Nations supervision which will help us to obtain our long-range objectives. The Advisory Council recommended in this paper could provide for such United Nations supervision and help to meet the views of those states chiefly concerned. The five members of the Advisory Council are the same states as those originally named in the draft resolution presented to the last session of the General Assembly which provided for an Advisory Council for Tripolitania prior to its being placed under Italian trusteeship. At the last Assembly Egypt and Turkey both refused to serve on the Council because Italian trusteeship was contemplated. In this case, however, the objective is independence and therefore it is reasonable to expect that all five of these states would be willing to serve on the Advisory Council. U.S. and British participation, coupled with British administration, would help to protect our interests in the area.

7. The French may object to the proposal of early independence for Libya because of their interest in the Fezzan and particularly because of possible repercussions among the nationalist elements of French North Africa.

8. Eritrea. Next to independence for Libya the substantive proposal which received the most favorable vote in the last General Assembly (the vote was 37 for to 11 against, with 10 abstentions) provided for the cession to Ethiopia of all of Eritrea except the Western Province. This included provisions for appropriate guarantees for minorities and, without prejudice to the sovereignty of Ethiopia, for appropriate municipal charters for Asmara and Massawa. This solution should meet legitimate Italian needs in the area and yet satisfy Ethiopian demands as well.

The U.S. Government4 should be able to make arrangements with the Ethiopian Government for the continued use of certain military [Page 575] facilities in the Asmara-Massawa region. Since the Ethiopian Government, and the Emperor5 in particular, are quite grateful to the U.S. for its stand on Eritrea the conclusion of such arrangements should not be too difficult.6 Therefore no change should be made with respect to the U.S. position on that part of Eritrea, to be ceded to Ethiopia.

9. Although the incorporation of the Western Province of Eritrea in the Sudan was rejected by the Political Committee of the last General Assembly that solution still appears to be the most reasonable way of disposing of the province. The inhabitants of the Western Province are largely Moslem nomads who are more akin in race, language, religion and mode of life to the neighboring peoples of the Sudan than to those in the rest of Eritrea or to the Ethiopians. The area has no strategic or commercial value and is certainly not qualified for independence. Since the future of the province lies, most naturally, with the Sudan it is recommended that the U.S. continue to advocate that the Western Province be incorporated in the Sudan, a solution which might be more acceptable under future circumstances. If it does not prove to be acceptable, the U.S. should support British trusteeship or, if agreeable to the United Kingdom and Egypt, joint Anglo-Egyptian trusteeship of the Western Province. Either of these solutions would result in the area being administered as part of the Sudan.

10. Italian Somaliland. The proposal at the last session of the General Assembly that Italian Somaliland be placed under Italian trusteeship was defeated by more votes than the proposal of Italian trusteeship for Tripolitania in 1951. Although it is problematical whether sole Italian trusteeship would be acceptable in the future, the fact that Italy would be substantially excluded from participation in the administration of Libya and Eritrea, might well increase the possibility of agreement on Italian trusteeship over Italian Somaliland. It is because Somaliland remains the only area affording a possibility of restoring Italian administration in Africa and because of the importance of saving as much face as possible for the Italian Government in this connection that this proposal has been given first choice in the recommendations.

11. The several other forms of trusteeship conditionally recommended in this paper depend largely on their acceptability to the United Kingdom, to Italy, or to both. The establishment of a Greater Somaliland including British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, [Page 576] which the British proposed at a CFM meeting in 19467 (and which is ardently desired by a majority of the Somalis), should facilitate the long-term development towards independence of a large area inhabited chiefly by Somali people. If accepted by the British, this would be the first instance in which any nation voluntarily placed one of its colonies under the international trusteeship system.

12. Finally, in connection with the desires of the inhabitants, it should be noted that the representatives of the Somali people have requested trusteeship because of a recognition on their part of the need for foreign assistance and tutelage, but Italian administration would not be generally acceptable to the people.


13. The Department of State recommends that United States policy should be directed toward a solution consonant with the following objectives, in the order stated:

The preservation of United States and United Kingdom strategic interests and positions;
political stability through orderly long-term evolution in North Africa as a whole; and
the continuance of a Free Democratic Government in Italy.

14. The difficulty of achieving these objectives is realized. The Department of State plans to seek their achievement, in consultation with other interested governments, using the following proposals as a basis for negotiations.

15. Libya. The United States should support strongly the establishment of a united Libya which would achieve independence in some form at a definite date in the near future but which would in effect be so tied to the United Kingdom as to assure enjoyment of adequate strategic rights to the United Kingdom and, therefore, also to the United States. The details of how and when Libya will become independent are, of course, subject to consultation and negotiation with those states chiefly concerned (United Kingdom, France, Italy and Egypt) and dependent on the action of the General Assembly. In these negotiations the United States should advocate that independence be granted to Libya on the following general terms:

The form of the government to be established in Libya should be worked out by the inhabitants of Libya and should not be imposed by any outside power or by the United Nations. In order to determine the form of government to be established the General Assembly should recommend the convening of a representative constituent assembly for [Page 577] all of Libya which would determine the form of government. The present British and French administrations, each in its own area, should be charged with the responsibility of preparing Libya for independence and should be required to report to the General Assembly on the measures they have taken to promote this end during the interim period preceding independence.
The realities of the situation make it desirable that the interim period prior to independence continue for a minimum of at least two years and not much longer than three years. The date of independence, therefore, should be specified as January 1, 1952 or January 1, 1953, or any time between those two dates that may be agreed upon by the states concerned and acceptable to the General Assembly.
United Nations supervision during the period prior to independence should be exercised, on behalf of the General Assembly, through an Advisory Council which would advise the British and French administrations as to how assistance might be given to the inhabitants with regard to the formation of a government for a unified Libya and such related problems as common services, a common currency, and boundary changes. The Advisory Council should include: the United Kingdom and France, which administer parts of Libya; Italy, which is greatly concerned with this problem; Egypt, an Arab state which borders on Libya; the United States, which has strategic interests in the area; and possibly one or two representatives of the inhabitants of Libya.

16. Eritrea. Since the situation remains unchanged with regard to this territory it is recommended that the United States continue to advocate that:

Eritrea, except for the Western Province, be incorporated into Ethiopia with the provision of appropriate guarantees for the protection of minorities and, without prejudice to the sovereignty of Ethiopia, appropriate municipal charters for the cities of Asmara and Massawa; and that the
Western Province be incorporated in the Sudan. If this solution for the Western Province is not acceptable to the General Assembly, the U.S. should favor placing the province under trusteeship (either British or a form of joint trusteeship agreeable to the British) by which the area could, in fact, be administered as part of the Sudan since there is no other reasonable disposition of that area.

17. Italian Somaliland. Although a proposal for Italian trusteeship of Italian Somaliland was rejected at the last session of the General Assembly, it is possible that, taken together with the other dispositions outlined above, such a proposal might be acceptable in the future. Accordingly, if the Italians insist on Italian trusteeship of Italian Somaliland, the United States should support that solution unless it becomes apparent that such solution will not be approved by the General Assembly.

18. Alternatively, and if agreeable to both Italy and the United Kingdom, the United States should support a solution whereby the [Page 578] administrations of Italian Somaliland by Italy and British Somaliland by the United Kingdom might be recognized as having common problems requiring joint or parallel action by the administering authorities.

19. Should the Italians not insist on Italian trusteeship of Italian Somaliland or should it become apparent that such trusteeship will not be approved by the General Assembly, the United States should seek the support of other powers concerned for the formation of a Greater Somaliland to be placed under the international trusteeship system with a view to its independence at a date to be determined in consultation with other interested states. The trust territory of Greater Somaliland would include British Somaliland, Italian Somaliland, and perhaps the Somali-inhabited part of Kenya. The United States should favor the designation of the United Kingdom as the administering authority of Greater Somaliland.

20. If none of these proposals are acceptable to the states concerned or to the General Assembly, the United States should support British trusteeship of Italian Somaliland alone, if acceptable to the British who must undertake the responsibilities of such a task.

21. If a decision is not reached by the Assembly on the basis of any of the preceding proposals, and if a proposal is made for direct United Nations trusteeship of Italian Somaliland, the United States should not oppose this solution.

22. General Recommendations. a. The United States should undertake to obtain support for our position as a whole.

b. If, however, any one part of our favored position fails to receive the necessary two-thirds vote in the General Assembly the U.S. should urge the adoption of those parts which are acceptable. If, in the final analysis, a packaged decision cannot be obtained then as many of the areas should be disposed of separately as is possible.

c. In addition to action in the UN along the foregoing lines, and as a collateral political move to contribute to success in the UN, the United States should actively consider possibilities of supporting the Italian Government’s endeavors to achieve Italian participation in the development of Africa through means other than direct administration of territory, such, for example, as full Italian participation in some body established to promote the economic development of Africa.

d.8 In the light of their particular strategic importance to the United States, every effort must be made to assure the maintenance of essential U.S. military rights particularly in the Asmara-Massawa area.

  1. Not printed.
  2. August 4, 1949.
  3. A handwritten notation on the Secretary of State’s copy indicates that the document was approved on August 5.
  4. See previous papers on this subject: NSC 19/1, NSC 19/2, NSC 19/3, and the Progress Report on the Implementation of NSC 19/1, dated June 15, 1949. [Footnote in the source text. For a reference to NSC 19/1, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iii, p. 923, and for a reference to NSC 19/2 and the text of NSC 19/3, see ibid., p. 933.]
  5. In NSC 19/4, July 26, not printed, this sentence read as follows: “After the cession of the area to Ethiopia, the U.S. Government.…”
  6. Haile Selassie I.
  7. In NSC 19/4 this passage read as follows: “… too difficult. Thus it is fortunate that in this case an act of justice (the granting of Ethiopia’s legitimate claims in Eritrea) and U.S. national interest (the use of military facilities) coincide in the policy supported by this Government. Therefore no change.…”
  8. For the text of a memorandum of April 30, 1946, by the United Kingdom Delegation at the Council of Foreign Ministers at Paris, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. ii, p. 194.
  9. This section did not appear in paragraph 22 of NSC 19/4.