S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: “Italian Colonies”

Memorandum by the Under Secretary of State (Webb) to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council (Lay)1

top secret

Subject: Final Progress Report on NSC 19/5, “Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies”2

NSC 19/5 was approved as Governmental policy on August 5, 1949. It is requested that this Progress Report, as of March 20, 1951, be circulated to the members of the Council for their information.

Important Action and Developments

The situation with respect to the disposition of the former Italian colonies has progressed materially from that described in the First Progress Report on this subject dated May 11, 1950.3 The resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November [Page 1251] 21, 1949, is being implemented successfully with regard to independence for Libya and Italian trusteeship for former Italian Somaliland. A decision on the future of Eritrea, which was postponed last year by the General Assembly pending the report and recommendations of a UN Commission which investigated Eritrea, was made in a resolution adopted by the fifth session of the General Assembly on December 2, 1950, under which Eritrea is to be federated with Ethiopia. United States policy with respect to all three of the former Italian colonies has been met in most respects.

General Implementation

I. Libya

[Here follows the section of the report dealing with Libya; for text, see page 1318.]

II. Italian Somaliland

The draft trusteeship agreement for Italian Somaliland negotiated with Italy and approved unanimously by the Trusteeship Council in January 1950 was finally approved by the UN General Assembly on December 2, 1950, without change. No particular problems have arisen with respect to Italian Somaliland, which is apparently being administered satisfactorily by the Italian Administration which was installed provisionally on April 1, 1950. Italy, as an administering authority, was granted the right to participate, without vote, in the UN Trusteeship Council in February 1951.

III. Eritrea

The report of the UN Commission established by the fourth session of the General Assembly of its investigation of Eritrea did not submit any agreed recommendation but, rather, presented three different proposals espoused by different members of the Commission. One member (Norway) favored the annexation of all of Eritrea by Ethiopia. Two members (South Africa and Burma) favored the federation of all of Eritrea with Ethiopia. Two other members (Guatemala and Pakistan) favored UN trusteeship for 10 years leading to independence. Under the circumstances …, the Department of State decided to give strong support to the proposal for the federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia. It was felt that this was in line with our basic policy and our security interests in Eritrea, and that it stood the best chance of meeting the views of the various interested parties and of obtaining the approval of two-thirds of the members of the UN.

A federation formula was developed by our delegation to the Interim Committee of the General Assembly when the report of the UN Commission for Eritrea was considered during July, August and September of 1950. The formula obtained the support of the British, Ethiopian and several leading Latin American delegations. It was further elaborated in private negotiations during the General Assembly and [Page 1252] was accepted by both the Italian and Ethiopian delegations. Then fourteen sponsors, including the United States, introduced the resolution in the Ad Hoc Political Committee where it was eventually approved without change and was adopted by the General Assembly on December 2, 1950. The chief provisions of the resolution are that:

Eritrea shall be an autonomous unit federated with Ethiopia under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown.
The Eritrean Government shall possess legislative, executive and judicial powers in the field of domestic affairs.
The jurisdiction of the federal government shall extend to the following matters: defense, foreign affairs, currency and finance, foreign and interstate commerce and external and interstate communications, including ports.
The area of the federation shall constitute a single area for customs purposes and there shall be free movement of goods and persons.
A single nationality shall prevail throughout the federation.
The federal government, as well as Eritrea, shall ensure to residents of Eritrea without distinction of nationality, race, sex, language or religion, the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental liberties.
There shall be a transition period which shall not extend beyond September 15, 1952, during which the Eritrean Government will be organized and the Eritrean Constitution prepared and put into effect. There will be a United Nations Commissioner in Eritrea appointed by the General Assembly to assist on these matters.
During the transition period, the present British Administering Authority shall continue to conduct the affairs of Eritrea and shall, in consultation with the United Nations Commissioner, implement certain specified provisions of the resolution.
The Federal Act, which consists of the first seven paragraphs of the resolution, and the Constitution of Eritrea shall enter into effect after the Constitution has been approved by the Commissioner and adopted by the Eritrean Assembly and after both documents have been ratified by the Emperor of Ethiopia. Then the transfer of power from the British Administration shall take place by September 15, 1952.

The resolution recognizes that the disposal of Eritrea should be based on its close political and economic association with Ethiopia and assures the inhabitants of Eritrea of the fullest respect and safeguards for their institutions, traditions, religions and languages, as well as the widest possible measure of self-government. At the same time the resolution respects the constitution, institutions, traditions and the international status and identity of the Empire of Ethiopia.

The principal strategic interest of the United States in Eritrea is in having the right to use certain military facilities in that territory. As stated in NSC 19/3, United States strategic requirements call for the operational availability of the following bases as essential: “Asmara, Eritrea, as a telecommunications base facility”; and “In the event of an emergency, Massawa, Eritrea, as an air and naval base facility.” In view of the decision taken by the United Nations on Eritrea it will [Page 1253] be necessary for this Government to negotiate with Ethiopia for the desired rights. In preparation for the negotiation of such an agreement preliminary steps have been taken as follows: (1) the Ethiopian Foreign Minister has been informed orally and in general terms of United States interest in concluding an agreement regarding such military facilities; (2) the British and the United Nations Commissioner for Eritrea (a Bolivian diplomat, Eduardo Anze Matienzo, who is pro-American and anti-Communist) have also been informed that the United States might want to use such facilities in the future; and (3) the Department of State in conjunction with the Department of Defense is drafting an agreement covering the use of the facilities we desire in Eritrea to be used as a basis for negotiation with the Ethiopian Government. These negotiations may be involved and protracted but it should be possible to come to an adequate understanding with the Ethiopians in view of the excellent relations we now have with them and the support we rendered in the solution of the Eritrean problem.

Evaluation of Policy

1. United States policy objectives have been accomplished with respect to the disposition of the former Italian colonies.

2. Future United States strategic military requirements in Libya and Eritrea will have to be provided for in agreements with the governments of Libya and Ethiopia respectively. Preliminary planning for the negotiation of these agreements is progressing satisfactorily. The agreement with Libya should be officially concluded after that country becomes independent (scheduled for January 1, 1952). The agreement with Ethiopia can not become effective until after Eritrea is officially federated with Ethiopia (scheduled for September 15, 1952).

3. Unless unforeseen difficulties arise, no further question regarding the disposition of the former Italian colonies is anticipated. Accordingly, no further progress report on this subject is contemplated.

James E. Webb
  1. The source text was attached to a cover sheet entitled “National Security Council Progress Report by the Under Secretary of State on the Implementation of U.S. Position on the Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies (NSC 19/5).” At its 92d meeting, on May 23, 1951, in NSC Action No. 482, the National Security Council noted the progress report on the Italian colonies. (S/SNSC (Miscellaneous) Files: Lot 66 D 95: Record of Actions by the National Security Council, 1951)

    A copy of this progress report in the McGhee Files was attached to a memorandum by McGhee to Webb, dated April 23, drafted by Wellons. The McGhee memorandum recommended that Webb sign the report indicating that United States policy on the disposition of the former Italian colonies had been substantially carried out. He added that the remaining problems of reaching agreement with the Governments of Libya and Ethiopia regarding the right of the United States to use certain strategic facilities in Tripolitania and Eritrea were being resolved by the Department of State in conjunction with the Department of Defense, although the agreements could not become effective until 1952. (McGhee Files: Lot 53 D 468: “Italian Colonies”)

  2. For text of NSC 19/5, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, p. 571.
  3. The May 11, 1950, progress report, not printed, noted that while the United States still believed its proposed solution for the disposition of Eritrea (i.e., cession of the central plateau with Asmara and Massawa to Ethiopia and the annexation of the Western province to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan) was the best solution, U.S. policy might have to be reconsidered in the light of the report of the Committee of Investigation, and/or extent to which Ethiopia and Italy agreed on a common policy for the disposition of Eritrea before the Fifth Session of the General Assembly. (S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: “Italian Colonies”)