Paper Prepared in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs2
Political and Economic Factors Involved in Military Assistance to Iran in FY 1951
The primary objective of our policy toward Iran is to prevent its domination by Soviet Russia, and to strengthen its orientation toward the West. Our policy lays first emphasis on economic and social development to strengthen the country’s resistance to communism. Principal reliance in this connection is placed upon the Iranian seven-year program which is expected to draw largely upon the country’s own financial resources for its implementation. American aid to Iran in the economic and social fields, as now planned, will be confined to technical assistance under the Point Four, Smith-Mundt and Fulbright program. A second facet to the implementation of our policy is to develop Iranian self-confidence and power to resist by providing military assistance under MAP. The third element is diplomatic support, when and where required, principally through the mechanism of the United Nations.
Politically, Iran is extremely important to the security of the United States in the cold war. Its fall under Soviet control would have a tremendous moral effect on other friendly nations, and would render it [Page 466] quite probable that most of the other Near Eastern countries would soon fall under communist domination. The consequences of such an eventuality are obvious to anyone familiar with the strategic and political importance of the area and of its resources.
problems of internal security
The object of Soviet policy in Iran is to replace the government with a Soviet puppet regime so that complete domination—political, economic and military—could prevail, and to incorporate large segments of Iranian territory forcibly into the Soviet Union. Access to the Persian Gulf is a historic Russian objective, and in accomplishing this the USSR would acquire advance bases for subversive activities or actual attack against the vast contiguous area; obtain a base hundreds of miles nearer potential US–UK lines of defense in the Middle East than any held at present; control part and threaten all of the Middle Eastern oil reservoir; control continental air routes across Iran and threaten those traversing adjacent areas; be in a position to menace shipping in the Persian Gulf; and undermine the will of all Middle Eastern countries to resist Soviet aggression. The stakes, therefore, are extremely high and it is obviously to the interest of the United States that any such development be precluded.
Russian attempts to subvert Iran have taken almost every conceivable form of pressure, threats and subversive operations. It is known that numbers of Soviet agents are operating within Iran. The Tudeh (communist) Party, now outlawed by the Iranian Government, continues to exist as an underground movement, and with Soviet support represents a substantial threat to the internal security of the country. Iranian communists and Russian agents play heavily upon the economic and social inequities within the country and the inability of the present regime to improve the condition of the population. The greatest threat to Iranian independence, assuming that Russian forces will not overtly attack the country under present world conditions, lies in the economic problems confronting the mass of the people. The Shah and the Iranian Government recognize this to be the case, and realize that the best defense against communism lies in the implementation of an effective program to improve the welfare of the people. The energetic seven-year program has therefore been inaugurated with the advice and assistance of an organization of experts from American technical firms, under which Iranian resources, mainly those derived from operations of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, will be employed in projects of considerable magnitude.
One of the principal difficulties in implementing the economic and social program will be in the selection by the Shah and the Iranian Government of able leaders to see it through. The proponents of the plan and most Iranians are enthusiastically behind it, but it remains [Page 467] to be seen whether they will in fact be able to carry it through within the period contemplated. We shall, of course, continue to encourage the Iranians to devote their attentions to progress in this field.
The maintenance of internal order and the Shah’s strategic plan of having an army capable of fighting a delaying action of sufficient duration to permit the Shah and some of his forces to retire to the south where they could carry out guerrilla warfare, requires an Iranian army presently numbering approximately 130,000 men, but with an authorized strength of 150,000 men. While the maintenance of this force imposes a considerable burden upon the resources of the country, it is considered necessary for direct security purposes and to give to the people a degree of confidence so that they will not give way to Soviet pressures short of all-out attack.
problems of external security
In 1945, while the area was occupied by Soviet troops, the Soviet Union sponsored the creation of a puppet regime in Azerbaijan which it supported by force against the attempts of the Iranian Government to restore order. The Soviets also refused to fulfill their treaty obligation to withdraw their troops on a specific date and remained in occupation of Azerbaijan. It was largely because of the strong position taken by the United Nations and particularly by the United States that these forces were withdrawn, and it is probably only because of Russian fear that such precipitous action might result in war that the USSR refrains from armed invasion at the present time. The Iranian forces now under arms or any potential force which might be mobilized could do no more than briefly delay overt Russian aggression.
The Iranian Government has steadfastly resisted Russian demands. It has brought before the United Nations problems relating to its security and has received the overwhelming support of non-Soviet countries.
iranian assistance to other countries in the area friendly to the united states
The Iranian Government has repeatedly requested that Iran be included in the North Atlantic Pact or in some other regional arrangement underwritten by the United States, under which Iran would participate with other countries in maintaining security. As in the case of similar requests by Greece and Turkey, however, we have taken the position that the United States Government is not prepared at this time to extend its commitments in further regional pacts of this type. It is believed that in time of crisis Iran would render to the United States and other friendly countries whatever support it could provide.[Page 468]
The attainment of American objectives in Iran will require the continued extension of effective United States military assistance to that country; the extension of technical and advisory assistance under Point Four, Smith-Mundt and Fulbright programs; support of Iranian requests for economically justified International Bank loans for development purposes; and continued diplomatic support before the United Nations and otherwise as may be needed.
The Iranian Government and people consider themselves closely aligned with the West and have shown no tendency to weaken in their resistance to communist pressures. It is considered certain that any military aid rendered by the United States to Iran would, so long as Iran remains independent, be used to achieve American objectives in that country.
Military aid authorized for Iran in FY 1950 represents only a small amount, sufficient only to provide items of the highest priority required by the Iranian forces. The program contemplated for FY 1951 likewise will be confined to relatively few essential items. To the extent that these programs materialize they will avoid a drain upon Iranian foreign exchange resources which otherwise would be required in obtaining necessary items of military equipment. The program as contemplated would not be prejudicial to economic and social progress. The supply of military equipment to Iran will have an extremely beneficial psychological effect as it will provide evidence of the determined attitude of the United States in giving material as well as moral support.
general nature and extent of proposed military assistance
The small military program proposed for Iran will have greater psychological results than the accomplishment of appreciable improvement in the military potential of the country. While, therefore, it is largely justified on the basis of its morale effect, the equipment is needed to enable the army effectively to prepare against possible internal disorders precipitated by Russia. The program would improve the confidence of the Shah and of the Iranian leaders in the ability of the army to resist, at least temporarily, anything short of an all-out attack. It is probable that this assistance would have an appreciable effect on the Iranian Army’s resistance even in the event of a direct attack, since knowing it has proper equipment and that the United States is interested in its success, it would have a will to resist not in evidence in the past.
It is considered essential that military aid to Iran be continued in the FY 1951, as the probable result of failure to do so would be extreme Iranian disappointment and fear that the United States has [Page 469] little interest in preserving Iranian integrity. Such action, coupled with our refusal to include Iran in any regional security arrangement underwritten by the United States and our refusal, thus far, to consider the extension of financial aid requested by Iran, would have extremely serious consequences.
While it is difficult to predict the probable duration of the proposed military aid program, it is considered likely that some quantities of aid during the course of the next several years will be recommended, or at least for the period during which general military assistance programs are in effect for Western Europe, Greece and Turkey.
nature and extent of U.S. involvement if military aid is provided
The extension of military aid to Iran involves no new policy, but represents inclusion of Iran in a supply program similar to those which have been in operation in Greece and Turkey for some time. It is consistent with the principle of the Truman Doctrine, established in early 1947, which provides that the United States will extend assistance to free peoples resisting aggression wherever that assistance can be effective.
As has been pointed out, military aid is considered necessary to support the forces deemed by Iran to be essential, and to bolster Iranian morale and determination. The military program proposed should involve no United States commitment in relation to the economic situation in the country, but on the contrary it will make it possible for Iran to devote her own foreign exchange resources to the implementation of the seven-year program. Termination of the Iranian program during a period when other countries are receiving substantial aid would have an extremely serious and possibly disastrous effect upon the attainment of our objectives in that country, as it would imply an American interest in Iran less than in the case of other countries which have manifested their friendship toward the United States.
estimate of reactions to united states efforts to furnish military aid
The reaction of the Iranian Government to the announcement of United States intentions of including Iran in the military aid program3 has been an important factor in developing Iranian-American cooperation. The program represents the first material assistance which we have given to Iran to supplement the strong moral and [Page 470] diplomatie support extended for some time. The reaction of other friendly countries in the area has been and continues to be favorable. On the other hand, this new demonstration of American interest in Iran will serve further to dissuade Russia from infringing upon Iranian territorial integrity by providing more concrete evidence of the American position vis-à-vis Iran.
- Lot 484 contains the files of the Politico-Military Adviser in the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs for the years 1946–1950, including records and documents of the Foreign Military Aid Coordinating Committee; Foreign Assistance Correlation Committee; State, Army, Navy, Air Force Coordinating Committee; and the Military Assistance Program.↩
- The source text is Tab D attached to the memorandum, February 10, by Assistant Secretary McGhee to James Bruce, Director of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program, not printed. The paper on Iran was part of NEA’s response to a memorandum, February 4, by Mr. Bruce to Assistant Secretaries Butterworth (FE), McGhee (NEA), Miller (ARA), and Perkins (EUR) on the military assistance program for fiscal year 1951. Regarding needs for military assistance of countries in the Near East, South Asia, and Africa in fiscal year 1951, NEA submitted statements on Greece, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Burma, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Liberia with the qualification in Mr. McGhee’s covering memorandum of February 10, that “the information contained in these statements should be considered as raw material for use in justifying legislative programs since the limited time allotted for their preparation has not permitted a careful examination of all the factors involved nor consultation with the diplomatic missions concerned.” Copies of Mr. Bruce’s memorandum (undated), Mr. McGhee’s reply of February 10, and ‘the statement on Iran were transmitted by Instruction 17, February 14, to Tehran, with a request for any comment deemed appropriate (788.5 MAP/2–1450). No comment by the Embassy in Iran on this paper has been found in Department of State files.↩
- For text of the joint statement issued at Washington on December 30, 1949, following discussions by President Truman and the Shah of Iran, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 592.↩