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 21, 1949,4 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, 1950,5 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.

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General Implementation

I. Libya

A. The UN Commissioner for Libya reported to the fifth session of the General Assembly that he is convinced that the goal of an independent State of Libya will be realized by January 1, 1952, the date set by the General Assembly resolution of November 21, 1949. He has warned, however, that, while the political forms of government may be set up within the prescribed time, Libya will require a large measure of assistance, both technical and financial, to enable it to survive economically and to stand by itself as an independent country. The Department of State concurs with these views.

B. The policy set forth in NSC 19/5 called for the establishment of a united Libya which would “in effect be so tied to the United Kingdom as to assure enjoyment of adequate strategic rights to the United Kingdom and, therefore, also to the United States.” This objective is being realized by the following developments:

The Arab leaders of Libya agreed on the composition of a National Constituent Assembly which is formulating the constitution for the government of an independent Libya. The membership of the National Assembly (with equal representation of 20 members each from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan) should assure that the Emir of Cyrenaica will wield a preponderant influence in the formation of the new government. The first acts of the National Assembly were to declare that Libya should have a federal form of government and to invite the Emir Saved Idriss of Cyrenaica to become the “constitutional king of United Libya”. The Emir said he would accept the kingship at the appropriate time, presumably after the establishment of a provisional government of Libya in which he would be able to exercise certain powers.
The British, who will continue to administer both Tripolitania and Cyrenaica until Libya becomes independent, have retained their influence with the Emir and, we understand, are planning to negotiate a treaty with his goverment as soon as practicable during 1951. It is likely that this British treaty will be applicable to Tripolitania as well as to Cyrenaica and, perhaps, to all of Libya. The Emir, and his leading supporters, have indicated that they are ready and willing to reach suitable agreements with the United Kingdom and the United States regarding the continued use of military facilities by our respective armed forces. The Department of State, in consultation with the Department of Defense, is now working out the kind of an agreement we would want to have regarding our military facilities in Libya and will commence negotiations as soon as warranted.
The linking of Libya with the United Kingdom should be facilitated if, as is expected, the new currency of Libya is tied to the pound sterling. Some economic assistance is being provided to the British Administration through the UN Technical Assistance Program and the United States Point IV Program, both of which are now getting started. In addition, significant financial assistance will probably have to be made available by the United States, presumably [Page 1320] through funds provided for the right to use Wheelus Field and through the money actually spent by our armed forces in Libya.

C. The General Assembly passed a resolution on November 17, 1950, directing that further steps be taken to implement the basic resolution adopted in 1949. This resolution notes in particular the confidence expressed by the UN Commissioner that the aim of the General Assembly that Libya should become an independent and sovereign state will be attained within the time limit. The resolution also:

Recommends (a) that a national assembly, duly representative of the inhabitants of Libya, be convened before January 1, 1951; (b) that this national assembly establish a provisional government by April 1, 1951, if possible; (c) that powers be progressively transferred to the provisional government by the administering powers so that by January 1, 1952, all powers will have been transferred to the duly constituted Libyan Government; (d) that the UN Commissioner, aided and guided by the Council for Libya, shall draw up immediately a program in cooperation with the administering powers for the transfer of power as provided in (c) above; and
Urges UN organs to extend technical and financial assistance to Libya; and
Reaffirms its recommendation that, upon its establishment as an independent state, Libya be admitted to the United Nations.

D. The UN General Assembly in December 1950 also adopted other resolutions affecting Libya, which are not of immediate concern to the United States, as follows: (1) setting forth the economic and financial provisions relating to Libya, which had not been settled in the Treaty of Peace with Italy, and establishing a three-member tribunal to be appointed by the UN Secretary General which will administer the provisions and settle disputes; (2) providing for Libya to receive technical assistance from the UN after it becomes independent; (3) providing for undelimited boundaries to be delimited by direct negotiation between the states concerned or by arbitration; and (4) deferring discussion of the adjustment of the frontier between Egypt and Libya until the sixth session of the General Assembly.

[Here follow the sections of the report on Italian Somaliland and Eritrea; for text, see page 1250.]

  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, May 23, in NSC Action No. 482, the National Security Council noted the progress report on the Italian colonies. (NSCS/S (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 U.S. 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 rigrht 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 the implementation of U.S. policy on Libya was affected by a number of factors. Among them were the fact that the local population had not yet agreed on the form of unity or form of government they desired, and the fact that since the Libyans regarded the leasing of military bases as one of their most valuable invisible exports it was probable that the United States would have to negotiate directly with a Libyan or Tripolitanian government and pay a substantial subvention for the continued use of Wheelus Field. (S/PNSC Files: Lot 61 D 167: “Italian Colonies”)
  4. Resolution 289 (IV).
  5. Resolution 390 (V).