Summary of Remarks by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee) to a Bureau, of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs Staff Meeting, October 24, 1950 1


Summary by Mr. McGhee of Conclusions of Tangier Conference and Recent Visits to Paris and London 2

Mr. McGhee referred briefly to his talks with British officials in London, remarking that our cooperation with the UK in the Near East has always been good, and that we are now looking to the extension of such cooperation to Africa and South Asia. The talks, which covered a broad range of problems, went into considerable detail on the coordination of US–UK policies. Our main differences with the British rose in respect to Iran, in connection with the problems of sterling convertibility and ratification of the AIOC agreement.3 Mr. McGhee discussed with the Foreign Office political policies with respect to South Asia, and discussed with the Commonwealth Relations Office the Commonwealth aid program and means by which our aid might fit in with the Commonwealth effort. The latter, which we consider a realistic program, provides an impetus for planning and a basis for coordination which has not hitherto existed in the South Asia area.

The talks in Paris were less satisfactory, since the French gave the impression of being on the defensive throughout the talks. Discussions concerning Moroccan trade controls were unsatisfactory. Moreover, the French showed considerable lack of frankness in discussing North African problems, and indications of the possibility of any French liberality with respect to their North African territories were wholly unconvincing. Although we attempted to allay French fears concerning our intentions in North Africa, there appeared to be no meeting of minds whatsoever during these discussions.4

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The Tangier Conference, which extended over a period of six days, was attended by 60 representatives including Ambassador Lewis Clark, a representative of the Embassy at Cairo, and officials from ECA, the National Military Establishment, and the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Commerce. Admiral Conolly, Commander-in-Chief of US Naval Forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, attended the meetings for one day. This was of considerable value to us since the security aspects of North Africa, as our most important interest therein, loomed large in the conference discussions.

North Africa, that is, the area north of the Sahara, is of considerable strategic importance since it commands the southern approaches to Europe and the western approaches to the Near East. Its population of 60 million represents only about 3 percent of the world’s population.

The conference concluded that nationalism is an important factor in North Africa but one which has been exploited by the Arab League and by intellectual opportunists. Despite these factors, it constitutes the real force of the future in this area.

The conference considered North African problems against the background of military considerations, since it is probable that the area would play the same role in any future war as it played in the last war. Accordingly, special attention was given to local attitudes, which vary considerably depending upon the people concerned and the area in which they are located. The relatively few educated North Africans are nationalists. However, it is a moot question as to whether their aspirations are for the population at large or for reasons of personal opportunism. In this sense the area generally follows the pattern of other emergent areas. All these nationalist elements are strongly anti-French, and since our policies are frequently similar to those of the French because of our coinciding interests, they frequently oppose our policies as well.

The French colon in North Africa represents a strongly conservative element, who lives an uneasy existence because of his position of dominance over the resentful Arab population. He rules by repression and is accorded full support by the French Government. The colon is, in fact, more conservative than the metropolitan government, since there is in the former case no socialist pressure to temper his attitude.

The French ruling class on the whole approves of our policies, such as ECA, NAT, and MDAP, which have the effect of strengthening; the position of metropolitan France. The local Arab elements are accordingly resentful of these policies because they play into French hands and strengthen French control of the area.

The conference observed no interest in the Palestine question.

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However, there was some interest in the Italian colonies. Our stand on the latter question has accorded us some measure of good will, and a large reservoir of good will towards the US exists as a result of the last war. However, this good will is receding since we have not helped the nationalists to achieve their aspirations.

The conference considered the attitudes of the French and Spanish towards their territories. Both powers know that they have a “good property” and they are determined to hold on to it for the benefit of the metropole and for the sake of prestige considerations. Both powers will make no concessions in these territories unless forced to do so. The Tunisia reform program was forced upon the French by the situation in nearby Libya and by the strength of nationalist unity in Tunisia itself, although it is still uncertain whether the program will actually be carried out. The Spanish have virtually the same attitude towards their North African territories, although they are pursuing a course of friendship with the Arabs at present, largely in order to obtain the support of the Arab states in the UN.

French and Spanish Morocco are governed by military men with a military mentality. General Juin5 has stated that the Tunisian reforms are meaningless, and he considers his sole function in Morocco is to impose a military regime in that area.

In the light of the present world situation, we are not constrained to upset the equilibrium which the French maintain. North Africa enjoys stability, even though such stability is obtained largely through repression. The strength of communism is negligible. We must have and we do have stability in this area against the possibility of military operations. If the Arab nationalist leaders were to attain power, it would inevitably create a situation of instability in this area which might last for years or decades, since there is little evidence that the nationalist leaders are less selfish than the French. Therefore, we cannot project any great advantage to the people of this area in the event that the Arab nationalists were to obtain power.

Accordingly, we cannot adopt an independent policy with respect to North Africa, nor intervene between the French and the Arab peoples. While nationalist pressures might be relieved by granting some greater measure of self-government to the area, the situation in Indochina does not provide a hopeful precedent in this regard. This is no guarantee that the situation in North Africa would not get out of hand if increased self-government were given the Arabs. The present critical period is no time in which to experiment in this regard, or to press the French, because France is too important to us to risk the loss of their solidarity through irresponsible actions by the [Page 1572] US with respect to North Africa, although we can and should urge the French to give ground where they can.

The French should continue their reforms in Tunisia. If the French are sincere and the program is successful, such an approach could be used in time as an example for Morocco. Evolution in North Africa must start with economic, social and educational reforms, as a precedent to political reforms. To these ends, we can play a role through our Point IV and ECA leverage.

We face many difficulties in North Africa, primarily because of the attitudes of the Arab League and the UN. We cannot continue to support the French openly if they do not show sincerity in respect to reform. We are not at all convinced, moreover, that the French will show greater wisdom in the future, particularly with respect to eventual assimilation of French North Africa into the French Union, and it is always possible that the situation in North Africa may blow up in time. It is our hope that it will not do so during this critical period in world affairs.

The conference agreed that the UN could play a role in North Africa through technical assistance and stimulating economic development.

Although communism presents no menace at the present time, communist elements are well organized for sabotage and similar activities in the event of war, and the population is susceptible to communism. This situation must be kept in mind, particularly with respect to the use of North Africa in the event of war. The communists have not deluded the nationalists, who in general oppose them. However, French repression does tend to push the nationalists toward the communists, and there is always a possibility that they might attempt to use the communists for their own purposes. The communist organization in North Africa derives its strength chiefly from European elements, mainly French, who have entrenched themselves in the area.

The Italian colonies question was discussed by the conference, which recommended that we resist any French effort to set aside the UN Libyan resolution, and that we press with renewed vigor for a federation solution of the Eritrean problem.

Our technical assistance program should be dedicated to aiding the population, but it is unlikely that the French will permit it to function in this fashion. The ECA program is for the benefit of France and, accordingly, is resented by the population. Although it is difficult to isolate ECA funds for the dependencies from the metropolitan programs, it would appear that ECA funds in the dependencies are administered as loans to the dependencies by the metropolitan governments ECA is looking into the possibility of achieving more direct benefits [Page 1573] for the people themselves, perhaps by planning ECA programs on a project basis.

The conference concluded that private investment opportunities for American interests were small. It also concluded that there was little opportunity for inter-area trading with North Africa. Discrimination against American trade and investment is common throughout the area. The French refused to make any concessions to American resortissants in Morocco, and stated that they intended to take the controversy to the International Court of Justice. If, as is expected, the matter does go to the ICJ, it is possible that some of our present capitulatory rights will be lost.

In this area the USIE is handicapped because it is unable to go directly to the people. Accordingly its first priority target is French officials and citizens in the area; second, the nationalist elements; and third, the masses of the population.

It was recognized that Libya must be propped up with military and economic support if it is to become a viable state. Most of our technical assistance funds for this area will be diverted to Libya, since it lacks the benefits of an ECA program.

In conclusion, French North Africa and North Africa as a whole are anachronisms in the present period of history, since they are among the last areas in which imperialism of the old school is practiced, as a prestige instrument and for economic reasons. This factor dominates great power relations with respect to this area. There is little hope that the metropolitan powers in this area will voluntarily undertake reforms for the population at large. While the foregoing represents a pessimistic picture, there is one favorable factor, that of US strategic interests, since we are in position to utilize this area in time of war.

  1. This summary was prepared by Mrs. Mary E. Hope of the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs. A brief memorandum attached to the source text indicates that NEA did not regard this “unpolished draft” as finished minutes and did not want it too widely circulated.
  2. For the formal summary report on the Northern African Diplomatic and Consular Conference at Tangier, October 2–7, see Assistant Secretary McGhee’s memorandum of November 6 to the Secretary of State, p. 1573. Regarding McGhee’s visits to London and Paris in September, see the editorial note, p. 1550.
  3. For documentation on the U.S. attitude toward the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company agreement under reference here, see pp. 9 ff.
  4. For additional documentation on U.S. policy with regard to French North Africa, see pp. 1737 ff.
  5. Marshal of the Army Alphonse Juin, French Resident General in Morocco.