The Deputy Under Secretary of State ( Matthews ) to the Secretary of Defense ( Marshall )1

top secret

My Dear Mr. Secretary: The Department is deeply concerned by the recent trend of events in Egypt arising from the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations for the revision of the 1936 Treaty of Alliance. In recent weeks Anglo-Egyptian relations have deteriorated considerably and the negotiations have reached an impasse with dangerous potentialities. Both sides appear to be in entrenched positions. Unless one of the parties breaks the deadlock by shifting positions, it is the Department’s [Page 377] opinion that the intensity of public feeling and opinion in Egypt may soon force the Egyptian Government to adopt certain measures, possibly including the unilateral abrogation of the 1936 Treaty, which will make further negotiations with the UK difficult, if not impossible.2

The Department is fully aware of the great importance which is attached by the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the present British position in Egypt. The Department will continue to make every effort to assist the UK in maintaining this position. However, the question poses itself whether insistence by the UK on the maintenance of its present position beyond that period to which Egypt is willing to acquiesce (estimated to be about 18 months) would render the strategic facilities in Egypt more of a liability than an asset in peacetime and raise serious problems in connection with their employment in wartime.

In view of the situation which now exists between Egypt and the UK, the Department believes that a reassessment should be made of the position of the Joint Chiefs of Staff regarding the importance to the US of the maintenance of the present British troop strength and bases in Egypt, both under present conditions and conditions of war.

In this connection the following questions would appear to arise on which the views of the Department of Defense are of the highest importance:

What is the relative strategic importance attached to the maintenance of present British troop strength in Egypt and the maintenance of base facilities?
Does the Department of Defense believe that:
All of the combat troops could be withdrawn during peacetime if some arrangement could be worked out for the retention of at least a nucleus of the base facilities? Or:
If not all, how many combat troops could be withdrawn?
Does the Department of Defense attach great importance to the British proposal for Joint Anglo-Egyptian Air Defense?
Could General Headquarters, Middle East Land Forces, be moved from Fayid to some location outside of Egypt without prejudicing strategic planning or its operational efficiency in peace?
Bearing in mind 1) the possibility that, irrespective of what plan may be devised, at least some British combat troops may have to leave Egypt and 2) the US position regarding the admission of Turkey to NATO prior to decisive action on the ME Command Structure, could the US at the proper time support a British approach to Egypt along the lines of UK-French-US-Turkish cooperation with Egypt on defense problem?
What would the attitude of the Defense Department be towards British military action against Egyptians to retain British troops and base rights in Egypt in peacetime?
Having in mind the rejected British proposals of April 1951, suggesting UK-Egyptian defense cooperation, can the Department of Defense make concrete suggestions regarding feasible British concessions with regard to troops and bases which might satisfy the Egyptian demand for evacuation in 18 months and yet make possible the maintenance of essential base facilities in a state of readiness for immediate use on outbreak of hostilities?

I shall appreciate it if you would have urgent attention directed to this matter in order that I may have the views of the Defense Department prior to my discussions with Mr. Morrison on September 10.3

Sincerely yours,

For the Secretary of State:
H. Freeman Matthews
  1. Drafted by Wells Stabler; cleared in draft with Bonbright of EUR, BNA, Cabot of S/ISA, SP, and S/S1.
  2. In telegram 216 from Cairo, August 18, Caffery had reported that the Egyptian Government had determined to abrogate the 1936 Treaty before the next speech from the throne by King Farouk. In telegram 249, August 25, from Cairo, Caffery added that “actual abrogation declaration will probably be made late October.” (641.74/8–1851 and 8–2551)
  3. Reference is to the meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, and France, at Washington, September 10–14; for documentation, see vol. iii, pt. 1, pp. 1163 ff.