Memorandum by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (Bradley), to the Secretary of Defense (Marshall)1

top secret

Subject: Importance of the British Military Position in Egypt

1. In accordance with the request contained in your memorandum, dated 23 August 1951,2 the Joint Chiefs of Staff have formulated the following views on the matters raised in the letter from the Secretary of State to you dated 21 August 1951.

2. The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider it to be of extreme importance to the preservation of peace and security in the Middle East as well as the preservation of world peace that the Western Powers have access to certain strategic facilities in Egypt. Because of United States commitments in other areas, it is in the United States interest that the United Kingdom continue to have primary military responsibility in Egypt.

3. In regard to maintaining the present British position in Egypt, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that a continuation of this position is of very great importance to the United States. Accordingly, if [Page 379] acceptable to the United Kingdom, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend that the United States support politically the United Kingdom in the enjoyment of:

  • a. The right to maintain strategic facilities in Egypt during peacetime in such condition that they could be effectively and speedily used in the event of immediate threat to the security of the Middle East; and
  • b. The right of re-entry in order to make full use of these facilities.

4. Current intelligence estimates indicate the following British force deployments in Egypt:

[Here follows a detailed list of British force deployments in Egypt.]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that it would be both unsound and inappropriate for them to attempt an estimate relative to British requirements for specific numbers of armed forces for facilities in Egypt. It should be pointed out, however, that in peacetime the numbers of armed forces at any important facility seldom are adequate for emergency or war purposes. Under the terms of the 1936 Treaty of Alliance between Egypt and the United Kingdom, the British are limited to land forces not to exceed 10,000 and air forces not to exceed 400 pilots, together with the necessary ancillary personnel for administrative and technical duties. The Joint Chiefs of Staff feel that this number of combat personnel is obviously insufficient for emergency or war purposes.

6. In consonance with the foregoing, the responses of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the first three questions raised in the letter from the Under Secretary of State are:

  • a. The Joint Chiefs of Staff attach very great importance to the British maintaining their base facilities in Egypt;
  • b. The British must maintain troops at most of their facilities in Egypt if Egyptian bases are to be available immediately and in condition for possible use by the United States and the United Kingdom in the event of war or emergency. From the military point of view, this constitutes an over-riding consideration. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, therefore, could not agree to the stripping of Egyptian bases of their operating personnel to the point where the bases would be militarily reduced to caretaker status;
  • c. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are aware of the British proposals of 5 April 1951 which were rejected by the Egyptian Government. At that time the British offered to phase out their combat troops over a five-year period beginning late in 1951, provided the base at Fayid remained under leasehold with some 3,500 British civilians retained as maintenance personnel and with Egyptian troops to guard it. It can be inferred from this offer that the British might still find it possible to reduce their armed forces in Egypt if appropriate arrangements for maintaining their base facilities there could be assured. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that any decision on this matter must [Page 380] rest with the British who undoubtedly will relate it to the circumstances existing at the time; and
  • d. From the strictly military point of view, the Joint Chiefs of Staff do not attach importance to any air defense arrangement in Egypt which includes the utilization of Egyptian troops except as such an arrangement may be of assistance in making the retention of British troops in Egypt acceptable to the Government of Egypt.

7. Removal of General Headquarters, Middle East Land Forces, from Fayid to some location outside of Egypt would not necessarily prejudice strategic planning, but it might be prejudicial to operational efficiency in peace. In any event, Egypt is within the area of primary military responsibility of the British and decision on this matter should properly rest with them.

8. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have no objection to United States political support of a British approach to Egypt along the lines of U.K.-French-U.S.-Turkish cooperation. They believe it possible that the Egyptians might be more amenable to such a combined approach. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, would have serious objection to such an approach if it involved any commitment of United States forces or interference in any manner with the military command of Middle East forces, either in or outside of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

9. Unless world opinion were first marshalled against the Egyptians, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that it would be highly detrimental to United States military interests in the Middle East for the British to take military action against the Egyptians in peacetime in order to retain British base rights there. This view is not to be construed as denying British armed forces their inherent right of self-defense against local attacks. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that the United Nations is the proper organ to undertake in the first instance such a marshalling of opinion, particularly in view of the provisions of Articles 8 and 16 of the Treaty of Alliance of 1936 between Egypt and the United Kingdom. Once world opinion has been marshalled, the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that if no suitable arrangement can be achieved with the Egyptians, the United States might support politically the British in such defensive action in Egypt as may be required as a result of Egyptian unilateral abrogation of this treaty.

10. The Joint Chiefs of Staff feel that the British should not be offered gratuitously concrete suggestions regarding feasible British military concessions. However, if requested by the British, the following suggestions as a basis for discussion might be used:

  • a. The British might consider some reduction in the ancillary military personnel for administration and technical duties (or, possibly, in the light of their April proposal to the Egyptians, some reduction of their combat forces). If this action were accompanied by extensive [Page 381] publicity at the time of the departure of the British troops it might have a beneficial effect on the Egyptian-British relations. If it becomes necessary, it might be possible, at a later date, to replace certain of this ancillary personnel with personnel not in uniform;
  • b. As an inducement the British might offer to assist Egypt in the event of general hostilities in the air defense of certain areas important to the Egyptian Government; and
  • c. Consideration might be given to garrisoning the Egyptian bases with combined forces to include reduced British and increased Egyptian forces, together with forces of other Mediterranean nations. In this connection it should be made clear that the United States will not commit any United States forces to Egypt in time of peace.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Omar N. Bradley
  1. Transmitted to the Secretary of State by the Acting Secretary of Defense Robert A. Lovett on September 4 with a covering note indicating that the source text was in response to the letter of August 21 from Deputy Under Secretary of State Matthews (supra) and that Lovett concurred in the views herein expressed.
  2. Not found in Department of State files.