Secretary’s Letters: Lot 56 D 459

The Secretary of Defense ( Marshall ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

Dear Mr. Secretary: Reference is made to your letter of 5 December 19502 which raises the question of the manner in which this Government should proceed to obtain base rights from the Libyan Government.

In his letter of 4 April 1950,3 the Secretary of Defense pointed out that he concurred in the suggestion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a multilateral approach to the problem of base rights in Libya might be made by the Governments of the United States, France, and United Kingdom. He further stated that he considered that it would be in our military interest, if political conditions permit, for this Government to approach the Governments of France and the United Kingdom concerning this matter.

It remains the viewpoint of this Department that it would be desirable to adopt a multilateral approach to the problem of base rights [Page 1314] in Libya. I feel that the answer to your question of whether this Government should seek base rights from the Libyan Government directly or by way of a sub-lease from the British can better be made after a tripartite discussion of this subject. This Department is prepared to assist you in any appropriate manner in such discussions.

Your letter expresses the thought that the Libyan Government would undoubtedly require, in return for base rights granted at Wheelus Field, a payment comparable to the deficit in the Tripolitanian balance of payments, estimated at $1,500,000 per annum. It is my understanding that at the time of the London Foreign Ministers Meeting of last May there was general agreement between the two Departments that, as a matter of principle the U.S. officials in any negotiations would maintain a distinction between arrangements for military facilities and the supplying of financial assistance to Libya. Such a procedure is considered particularly desirable from the military point of view because it is consistent with current world-wide practice and because the U.S. might want to use base facilities in Libya over a longer period than it might be necessary to provide financial assistance to the Libyan Government.

With regard to the suggestion that this department would have the primary burden of justifying before the Congress the funds required for the base rights over a long-term period, the Department of Defense cannot agree that the subvention of the Tripolitanian balance of payments should be justified primarily in terms of our strategic base requirements in the area. It might well be preferable for this government to recognize its obligation to participate with like-minded members of the U.N. in supporting financially the future Libyan government until such time as it is self-sustaining. The funds which this department must expend in the improvements and operation of these bases will contribute to reduction of deficit in the Tripolitanian balance of payments. The total amount of this U.S. expenditure is not known at this time, but will be provided the Department of State as soon as it can be estimated.

The locations in Libya for which negotiations are required at this time are for military operating air bases at Wheelus and Castel Benito, details for which have already been presented to the Department of State. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have very recently informed me in general terms of rights required for a military base at Tripoli [Page 1315] and communication facilities in the vicinity of Tripoli and Tobruk. Information on these bases and facilities will be covered in a later letter.4

Faithfully yours,

G. C. Marshall
  1. Secretary Acheson, in his letter of December 5 to the Secretary of Defense, noted that the U.S. Air Force was using Wheelus Field in Tripolitania under permission from the British Government, which would stay in force so long as the British remained responsible for the administration of the territory. Since the Department of State understood that the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered Wheelus Field a long-term strategic requirement of the United States, a policy recommended by the National Security Council in NSC 19/5 (printed ibid., 1949, vol. iv, p. 571) and approved by the President on August 5, 1949, it was considered necessary to determine how to proceed to obtain base rights from the Government of Libya when it became independent.

    Acheson asked the Secretary of Defense whether, from the military point of view, the U.S. Government should seek rights from the Libyan Government directly or by way of a sublease from the British. He also requested a current indication of the locations in Libya for which rights were desired and a precise statement of such rights for use in negotiations.

  2. Not printed.
  3. On January 27, 1951, Secretary of Defense Marshall, in a letter to the Secretary of State, furnished the information that planned expenditures for further development of bases in Libya, based on the assumption that major construction would commence in fiscal year 1952, were estimated to be $1,882,900 in fiscal year 1952; $1,896,900 in fiscal year 1953; and $846,900 in fiscal year 1954. A maintenance expenditure, after completion of construction, was estimated as netting $150,000 annually for the Libyan economy.

    The Secretary of Defense stated that it appeared that sufficient benefit to the Tripolitanian economy would result from the planned U.S. expenditures to obviate the necessity of renting the land on which the bases were to be operated, but that, if the Department of State considered that the U.S. Government was obliged to rent the land, an equitable annual rental was estimated at from $20 per acre to as high as $50 per acre where a populated area had been cleared. Subject to on-the-site surveys and selection of base areas, it was estimated that the land requirements would total approximately 2,600 acres. In negotiation for these military rights it was to be understood that when they were no longer required, all permanent improvements were to be relinquished to the Libyan Government without giving rise to cost, compensation, or continuation of any maintenance or rents. The Secretary emphasized that the figures were indicative only and in advance of actual surveys for the purpose of assisting in the necessary negotiations.

    On April 3, 1951, Maj. Gen. James H. Burns, USA (retired), Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, informed Deputy Under Secretary of State Matthews that a firmer set of figures for planned expenditures of funds in Libya for base rights, exclusive of military pay and allowances, that could be expected to benefit the Libyan economy were estimated to be, by calendar year: $2,530,000 in 1951; $4,261,000 in 1952; $4,043,000 in 1953; and $1,012,000 in 1954. Land requirements had been reestimated and amounted to 2,800 acres for the U.S. Air Force and 250 acres for the U.S. Navy, a total of 3,050 acres. Burns noted that the new figures remained planning estimates for the purpose of negotiations for base rights.

    On July 2, 1951, Burns furnished Matthews with new estimates for planned expenditures and land requirements in Libya by calendar year: $2,530,000 for 1951; $4,200,000 for 1952; $4,200,000 for 1953; and $1,020,000 for 1954. Land requirements amounted to 2,500 acres for the U.S. Air Force and 600 acres for the U.S. Navy, a total of 3,100 acres for early use. At a future undetermined date land requirements would be increased by 5,000 acres plus three large areas, one of 100 square miles with beach frontage for an amphibious training area, and two circular areas with 3-mile radius for live bombing training.