S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351: NSC 65 Series

Report to the President by the National Security Council 1
top secret
[NSC 65/3]

United States Policy Toward Arms Shipments to the Near East

the problem

1. To define the policy the United States should follow with respect to shipment by the United Kingdom of arms to certain Near Eastern states within the framework of United Kingdom plans for joint defense of the Near East by the United Kingdom and the states concerned.


2. Certain important developments have occurred affecting the arms export policy set forth in paragraph 17 of NSC 47/2,2 “United States Policy Toward Israel and the Arab States”. It will be recalled that in view of the UN Security Council resolution of August 11, 1949, lifting the embargo on arms shipments to the Palestine area, it was decided that the United States should permit the export of reasonable amounts of military material to Israel and the Arab states, but considering our desire to avoid being drawn into an arms race in the Near East it was also decided that these shipments should be limited to such equipment as we might consider necessary for the maintenance of internal order and for legitimate defense. The United States view with regard to the export of arms to the area was expressed by Senator Austin in the UN Security Council, August 4, 1949, as follows:

“So far as the United States is concerned, it does not intend to allow the export of arms which would permit a competitive arms race in the area. Export of arms to this area of the world should be strictly limited to such arms as are within the scope of the legitimate security requirements, again as recommended by Dr. Bunche. We hope that prudence will prevail not only among the parties but among all nations of the world which are in a position to supply arms and that they will pursue a policy similar to that which we intend to pursue.”

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3. The first progress report on NSC 47/2, February 27, 1950, reported that under the above general policy the United States has been granting export licenses for arms shipments to Israel and to the Arab states, and that an unfavorable development in this connection has been the strong criticism of this Government by the Israeli Government, which has alleged that the United States, in not attempting to prevent the shipment of arms to the Arab states by the United Kingdom since the lifting of the Palestine arms embargo, is fostering an arms race in the Near East and encouraging the Arabs to resume hostilities. The Israeli Government has been particularly disturbed by reported British shipments of heavy military equipment to Egypt. The United States Government has received no evidence of any serious preparations by the Arabs to begin the war again, and believes, in fact, that the trend in the Near East is toward peace rather than toward war.

4. Top secret consultation between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States has revealed plans of the British Chiefs of Staff for a form of Anglo-Egyptian military partnership to assist the defense of the Near East in case of Soviet aggression. These plans call for the strengthening of the Egyptian army with British military equipment, including heavy items. It is foreseen that one of the results of this development will be the increasing dependence of the Egyptian army upon the United Kingdom for military supplies and replacements, a fact which will enhance the prospects of continued British presence in the Suez Canal zone. Main supply and maintenance bases for the whole Near Eastern theatre will, in fact, be developed on an Anglo-Egyptian basis, as will plans for the whole field of air defense. By direct control of spare parts and replacements, the British believe they will be able to restrain the Egyptians from military adventures not connected with the regional defense purposes for which British arms are being furnished. The British estimate that it will be two or three years before the Egyptian army can be regarded as trained and equipped up to the standards desired. They plan eventually to draw the other Arab states and Israel into the projected general Near Eastern defense arrangement. By such means the strategic position of the West in the Near East will be improved. It is essential, of course, that this process not involve the resumption of hostilities by the parties to the Palestine dispute.

5. The British Chiefs of Staff have approved an order of battle for the Egyptian army including the following major units:

1 infantry division 12 heavy anti-aircraft regiments
2 infantry brigades 4 light anti-aircraft regiments
1 light armored brigade 2 coast artillery regiments

Plans for air units have not yet been finalized.

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6. United States military experts report that the amount of heavy equipment which the British plan to supply for these major units, including a number of jet planes and tanks, is not excessive for the joint defensive purposes envisaged.

7. The United States Government is informed that the British Chiefs of Staff, in considering the question of arms shipments to the Arab states and particularly to those Arab states with which the United Kingdom has special treaty relations, have considered the following factors:

The internal security requirements of the states concerned.
The contributions such states could make in event of war.
The undesirability of an arms race developing in the Near East.
The undesirability of the states spending more on armaments than their local economies could bear.

8. As a result of a study based on these principles, the British Chiefs of Staff have arrived at an assessment indicating the size of the forces which they believe the Arab states should reasonably have. This will enable the United Kingdom to set a ceiling on arms shipments. The Arab states have furnished the UK with detailed information concerning their military positions, and have given assurances that they would not use any of the arms supplied against the Israelis. The UK, in considering Israeli requests for military equipment, has been hindered by the fact that the Israelis have not supplied the British with information concerning the military material now in their possession, or their plans for future military organization.

9. In the light of the above considerations the shipment of arms by the UK to the Near East within the framework of the plans for Anglo-Egyptian and other Anglo-Arab military cooperation is consistent with United States security interests and with the continuation by the United States of the policy set forth in NSC 47/2. However, it is desirable that the United States remain alert to the danger of an arms race in the Near East, particularly to the possibility that Israel, as a result of its anxieties regarding Egyptian import of heavy military equipment, might turn to the communist states for additional arms. It is also desirable that the United States impress upon the British the latent danger of the renewal of Palestine hostilities, and be prepared at any time to take vigorous diplomatic action, alone or with the UK both within the United Nations and outside, to prevent any attempt at renewing the war, should continued close observation of developments in the Near East indicate that such an attempt will be made. Moreover, the relative advantage of the use of Near Eastern resources for armaments as compared with their use for works of peace, for economic development, for the resettlement of refugees, and for the achievement of higher standards of living, is a factor to be [Page 166] taken into account in assessing measures for strengthening the defense of the Near East.


10. It is in the security interest of the United States that:

The Near East be militarily strengthened for defense against communist aggression, and that the countries concerned obtain their arms from friendly sources.
The position of the United Kingdom in the Near East be maintained and strengthened by such arrangements as those envisaged in the current plan for Anglo-Egyptian military cooperation.

11. The United States should, therefore:

Interpose no objection to the shipment by the United Kingdom of the arms destined for Egypt and the other Arab states within the framework of the plans for Anglo-Egyptian and other Anglo-Arab military cooperation.
Continue the close consultation with the British which has enabled us to be kept fully informed on the amount of military equipment actually shipped or to be shipped to the Near East by the UK, and endeavor to develop similar consultation and exchange of information with France.
Continue the policy of exporting to Israel and the Arab states only such military equipment as the United States considers necessary to help those states maintain internal order and provide for legitimate defense, bearing in mind the undesirability of increasing the instability and uneasiness in the Arab-Israeli area.

12. It is also in the security interest of the United States that peace be maintained within the Near East-Eastern Mediterranean area, and the United States should, therefore:

Continue to avoid being drawn into any arms race in the area.
Remain alert for any developments unfavorably affecting the present trend from war to peace in the Near East.
Give sympathetic consideration to Israel’s application for export licenses for defensive military equipment sufficient to discourage attack from beyond its borders.
Solicit British and French support for public declarations by the US, UK and France that they will not permit the shipment of arms to any Near Eastern country unless the purchasing country give to the supplying country formal assurance to undertake no aggression against any other Near Eastern state.
Continue to impress upon the British and French the importance of avoiding any danger of a renewal of Palestine hostilities and seek their agreement to the issuance of parallel public statements of determination to take vigorous action both within and without the United Nations should it appear that an attempt to renew hostilities will be made. Such action would not involve the use of U.S. military forces.

  1. A covering note by Executive Secretary James S. Lay, Jr., states that the National Security Council and the Secretary of the Treasury reconsidered, by memorandum action on May 17, a revision of NSC 65/1 (NSC 65/2) and adopted NSC 65/2 “subject to an additional sentence at the end of paragraph 12–e proposed by the Secretary of Defense as indicated herein.” In a memorandum to the National Security Council of May 19, Lay reported that “The President has this date approved the conclusions contained” in the source text “and directs their implementation by all appropriate executive departments and agencies of the U.S. Government under the coordination of the Secretary of State” (S/SNSC Files, Lot 63 D 351, NSC 65 Series).
  2. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, p. 1430.