PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “Strategic materials (oil)”

No. 279
Report by the Departments of State, Defense, and the Interior 1

NSC 138/1

Security and International Issues Arising From the Current Situation in Petroleum

The Problem

1. The Justice Department has begun a judicial process which can be expected to lead to the indictment and trial of the principal international American oil companies on charges of criminal violations of American law in their foreign operations. There is serious danger that the trial of these oil companies on criminal charges would be harmful to critical American foreign policy objectives. No responsible official can assert either that American law should be wholly inapplicable to the foreign operations of these oil companies or that our critical foreign policy objectives should be placed in jeopardy. The problem is to determine the course of action which in these circumstances will best serve the over-all national interest.

Importance of Petroleum

2. Oil is vital to the United States and the rest of the free world both in peace and war. The complex industrial economies of the western world are absolutely dependent upon a continuing abundance of this essential source of energy. And expanding economies, whether modern and progressive, or backward and underdeveloped, require ever increasing quantities of petroleum.

3. No other nation relies upon petroleum to such an extent as the United States. Petroleum and natural gas supply roughly 50 percent of the vast amount of the total energy consumed in the United States; our vital transportation system is far more heavily [Page 638] dependent upon oil. National consumption of petroleum is at a rate of more than seven million barrels per day. This is over 60 percent of current world demand. By 1955, United States consumption is expected to rise to nine million barrels per day, and by 1975, to 13.7 million barrels per day.* Until recently the United States supplied its own requirements from its own indigenous resources. But this could not continue indefinitely. Proved crude oil reserves in the United States are now less than one-third of the world’s total. In 1948, because of the tremendous increase in demand, the United States became a net importer of oil. Assuming the continuing high level of domestic exploration and development by a vigorous and healthy United States petroleum industry, it is estimated that by 1975 the United States will be using 2.5 million barrels daily more than it produces and this difference will have to be drawn from foreign sources. Without a vigorous and expanding domestic oil industry, the availability of foreign oil would be even more critical.

4. The free world is currently increasing its use of petroleum at an even greater relative rate than the United States. Since World War II foreign demand for petroleum in the free world has increased at a rate of about 14 percent annually, compared with an increase of about 7 to 8 percent a year in the United States. In total terms, foreign demand for petroleum has doubled since the end of World War II. The recovery and development of the free world at its current vigorous rate would be impossible without petroleum in ever increasing quantities. Although future increases in foreign demand are not expected to continue at the high post-war rates, they are nevertheless estimated at roughly double the rate of increase in demand in the United States. By 1975 demand from free European nations alone is estimated at 4.0 million barrels per day. With production of only about 0.3 million barrels per day, Europe’s deficit to be supplied from non-European and non-United States sources will amount to 3.7 million barrels daily.

5. The total import requirements of the United States and Europe combined thus are estimated at 6.2 million barrels per day by 1975.

6. In war, petroleum is absolutely vital. It is indispensable to every military operation. In World War II, 60 percent of the total tonnage which the United States moved overseas consisted of petroleum and petroleum products. The petroleum which remained at home and went to defense-supporting civilian activities was no less essential to the successful prosecution of the war.

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7. With the increase in demand that will occur under war conditions, the successful conduct of a major war by the United States and its allies will be dependent upon continuing availability of foreign petroleum supplies. Due to the continually expanding world demand, the more extensive use of oil-powered military equipment, and the use of heavier oil consuming equipment, such as jet aircraft, the farther in the future such a war occurs, the more critical is access to foreign petroleum. Major sources of foreign oil are now indispensable to the economy of Europe and in the future may become indispensable even to the peacetime economy of the United States.

Foreign Sources of Petroleum

8. There are only two known areas which can supply the import requirements for petroleum in the other countries of the free world. These are the Middle East and the Caribbean area, largely Venezuela.

9. The greatest known petroleum reserves in the world are those of the Middle East. They are now conservatively estimated at some 52 billion barrels out of total world reserves of about 101 billion barrels. Venezuelan oil is of special strategic value, due to its location behind the screen of our Caribbean chain of defenses, across sea routes relatively easy to keep open. It is closer than Texas to our Atlantic Coast consuming area. Venezuela alone is able to supply most of the foreign oil essential to the United States in time of war. In addition to our own import needs, Venezuela supplies substantially all of the import requirements of the Western Hemisphere outside the United States.

10. Since the United States is today a small net importer of petroleum, it is not now making any contribution toward meeting crude oil demand in the rest of the world. That demand, including the United States’ deficit, of about 5 million barrels per day, is being supplied at the rate of slightly less than 2 million barrels per day from Venezuela, slightly more than 2 million barrels per day from the Middle East, and about 1 million barrels daily from the remainder of the free world.

11. Since Venezuela and the Middle East are the only sources from which the Free world’s import requirements for petroleum can be supplied, these sources are necessary to continue the present economic and military efforts of the free world. It therefore follows that nothing can be allowed to interfere substantially with the availability of oil from those sources to the free world.

12. With the exception of Iran, the production of oil in those areas is almost entirely in the hands of United States and United [Page 640] Kingdom nationals. These nationals have provided the ingenuity, capital, and technology to bring forth production from those areas on the tremendous scale required to fulfill world requirements. As matters now stand, they alone are capable of maintaining and expanding the production of those areas to meet the rising demand for petroleum of the free world. If United States and United Kingdom companies were for any reason expelled from Venezuela and the Middle East, the oil from those areas would to a serious extent be lost to the free world.

13. Where areas have fallen under Soviet domination, such as in Rumania, eastern Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, the oil has been lost to the free world. Almost the same result has followed from the expulsion of American and British oil companies from other countries for other reasons. Iran is the most recent example of nationalization. The repercussions of this action have led to an interruption in the flow of a substantial quantity of oil to the free world. While the initial interruption in such cases is caused by negotiating difficulties, the longer-run factors are know-how and capital. The record of nationalization and governmental operations in such countries as Bolivia, Mexico, and Argentina has shown that vigorous expansion of production does not occur, despite excellent prospects.

14. American and British oil companies thus play a vital role in supplying one of the free world’s most essential commodities. The maintenance of, and avoiding harmful interference with, an activity so crucial to the well-being and security of the United States and the rest of the free world must be a major objective of United States Government policy.

15. Since the United States is the greatest consumer of petroleum and its products in the world (60% of total world consumption) now and for the foreseeable future, it is vastly important that the operations of the great oil fields of the world remain as far as possible in the hands of American-owned companies. We are gradually increasing imports. To be assured of these imports, and to ensure that this outstanding example of American investment abroad continues to make its great contribution to the American economy and the economies of other countries, it is essential that the American companies have full opportunities for profitable and expanding operations.

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United States Foreign Policy Objectives

16. The operations of American oil companies abroad have profound effects on the conduct of American foreign relations. In the first place, oil is the principal source of wealth and income in the Middle Eastern countries in which the deposits exist; their economic and political existence depends upon the rate and terms on which oil is produced. American oil operations are, for all practical purposes, instruments of our foreign policy toward these countries. These oil producing countries are on or near the borders of the Soviet Union. For this reason and because of certain local conditions the Middle East comprises one of the most explosive areas of the world. The oil companies are in a position of great influence upon our relations with the peoples and governments of these countries. What they do and how they do it determines the strength of our ties with the Middle Eastern countries and our ability to resist Soviet expansion and influences in the area.

17. A major corollary of this is the fact that the internal economic development of these countries depends in good measure upon the operating policies of the oil companies. The United States has been pressing for economic development in the backward areas not solely for humanitarian reasons, but also on the assumption that economic growth contributes to political stability. Oil operations can accelerate that growth, and their cessation can block it. The rate of such growth depends to an important degree on the policies the oil companies follow. They can help or injure the political stability we need in the area.

18. A third factor which interrelates our foreign policy objectives to the operations of the international oil companies is their role as a supplier of western Europe’s needs. The terms on which these needs are supplied are critical to the strength and balance-of-payments position of this area which is vital to our security.

19. The operations of the oil companies are also important to our foreign policy objectives in a more fundamental way. At this moment, and for some time to come, the United States and the Soviet Union will be engaged in a struggle to capture the support and the allegiance of political groups throughout the free world. We shall be arguing the case for freedom and dignity of the individual and freedom of enterprise, and we shall claim the virtues of our system in providing well-being and economic growth. The activities of the United States Government in petroleum must be handled in such a way as to avoid giving strength to the claim that the American system is one of privilege, monopoly, private oppression, and imperialism.

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20. In this struggle of ideas on which our security depends, the oil companies of the United States play a significant role. Their operations extend throughout the free world. They are by far our largest overseas investment. In many foreign countries, they are the principal contact of the local inhabitants with American enterprise. What such people think of the oil companies, they think of American enterprise and the American system; we cannot afford to leave unchallenged the assertions that these companies are engaged in a criminal conspiracy for the purpose of predatory exploitation.

Foreign Impact of FTC Report and Antitrust Action

21. Before the publication of the FTC Report, the international oil companies have frequently been attacked in underdeveloped countries by governments and private groups on various grounds, and in some cases have been subjected to nationalization or lesser forms of harassment. Even in more developed areas the companies have been feared by existing local vested interests, in part because of their superior efficiency, greater technological abilities, and their great size, necessary for the vast scale of these foreign operations, and in part because they represented a broader and sometimes more vigorous and competitive approach. The companies in some cases have successfully resisted attacks from these sources; in others they have not been so fortunate. In either event, they have for a long time, because of the success of their operations, been vulnerable to the possibility that any derogatory information about them is likely to be seized upon by some elements somewhere in the world, to their disadvantage. The problem in part is to reduce this vulnerability of American oil companies to future attacks.

22. The governments from which the United States has heard officially and directly regarding the FTC Report and the antitrust action have been those of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Saudi Arabia. In each case, except France, the communications dealt with the question of making documents available to the Grand Jury in the antitrust investigation.

23. The United Kingdom Government instructed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and subsidiaries of other companies located in the United Kingdom to the effect that documents not relating to business in the United States should not be presented to the Grand Jury except with the approval of the British Government. These instructions have been made a part of the official record of the court proceeding.

24. The Netherlands Government, according to an aide-memoire of December 4, 1952 presented to the Department of State, has instructed [Page 643] all Netherlands oil companies not to furnish any documents in response to the subpoena.

25. The FTC Report and the antitrust action have been duly noted in the press in many countries. In most cases there has been some editorial comment, mostly in Venezuela and the United Kingdom. The press reports appear primarily to be based on wire services’ accounts in the United States, and quote rather widely the reactions of the American oil companies, including references to the attempts to quash subpoenas, and predictions of unfavorable foreign reactions. In the United Kingdom, the FTC Report and the antitrust action have been thoroughly covered in the press, and most of the editorial comment has revealed a lack of sympathy for United States antitrust laws and apprehension over their possible application to British companies.

26. In Venezuela, the only Latin American country where any comment has developed, there has been an unfavorable press reaction, and a suggestion that perhaps a Venezuelan Government investigation of company activities should be undertaken.

27. Middle Eastern reaction in the press has not been highly significant, although apprehension has been expressed that successful antitrust action might decrease oil revenues for the Arab states. The communist, left-wing, and extreme nationalist newspapers have made some unfavorable comments.

28. The Soviet telegraph agency has printed two articles, and Radio Baku has made one propaganda broadcast, which found in the charges of the FTC Report and the antitrust action evidence of American monopolistic imperialism. Revelations which might be made in the course of the current Grand Jury proceedings, or as a result of a criminal indictment and trial, could doubtless be used and distorted by Soviet agencies in such a way as to injure seriously the prestige and security of the United States.

29. This entire situation is fraught with great potential danger to the national interests of the United States. For example, expressed reactions to date in Venezuela, many of which do not voice the threat of nationalization, are less important than the potential reaction which can well develop. The national economy and Government finances are dependent upon the oil industry, and political forces have unanimously backed radical overhaul of the present petroleum laws and the sharp upward revision of the benefits from petroleum to the nation. All political parties in opposition to the Government agree that ultimate nationalization of petroleum is their goal, to be achieved as soon as possible. The opposition has utilized the criminal proceedings to charge the present Government with incompetence and indifference in administering the national wealth, and has placed it in the position of sole Venezuelan [Page 644] defender of the foreign oil companies. A Government commission has already been appointed to investigate the companies’ pricing practices, which are an essential feature of any cartel agreement. Since the present Government is aware of the benefits the industry brings to Venezuela and that the Venezuelans themselves lack the technical skill and marketing facilities to take over the industry, it has pursued a temperate course against its critics which, however, has dismally failed to stem the tide of criticism. The Embassy in Caracas has reported that the companies’ broad programs for better public relations and cooperation with the Government have been set back years by the FTC allegations against them. In sum, the criminal action may well renew an era of recrimination and hatred, and stimulate a movement toward anti-Americanism and nationalization of all important foreign investments, including also those in iron ore. Indictment and prosecution would accelerate this trend.

30. The Middle Eastern countries were so long subjected to foreign political and economic control that the motives of any foreign enterprise are still suspect. Although the oil companies are doing much to allay this suspicion, the success of their operations nevertheless invites envy and dislike. Furthermore, anti-Westernism and anti-Americanism are widespread in the Middle East. These are the basic factors, and they are complicated by the feudal or semi-feudal structure of Arab society, in which certain groups may seek to avert or resolve existing frictions by resort to anti-Westernism. The FTC Report and the antitrust action add fuel to the flame.

31. In both Venezuela and the Middle East a wave of economic nationalism which might endanger American interests is entirely possible. Once such powerful political and emotional forces are unleashed, it is difficult or impossible to restrain them. The developments in Iran are an example.

32. There is, of course, no way of preventing adverse reactions arising from the FTC Report, because it has been published and widely disseminated. Therefore, it is hard to assess the full foreign implications of dropping or appearing to drop the antitrust action.

33. The United States is waging a constant struggle to dispel the concept, very much alive not only among communists but also in non-communist circles of the free world, that capitalism is synonymous with predatory exploitation. On the more positive side we seek to make the point that freedom of competitive enterprise is the economic counterpart of the concept of freedom of the individual in the political and social spheres. We have sought to lead the way toward a wide acceptance of this American way of life, and one of our best arguments has been that the productive achievements of the American economy have been attained largely as a [Page 645] resuit of the competitive system. Notwithstanding the constant action of the oil companies to expand production at home and abroad, there would be a risk that a United States failure to follow up our antitrust approach with respect to other aspects of oil company operations would be regarded as hypocrisy. This might add to the distrust of capitalism and free enterprise on the part of many elements in the world, and could impair not only the immediate position of the oil companies abroad, but also the broader interests of the United States as a whole.

34. One of the most disadvantageous features of the current antitrust action, in terms of foreign impact, is the fact that an investigation leading to a criminal indictment by a Grand Jury has been initiated. Although under American law a person or a corporation accused of criminal action is presumed innocent until judged guilty, this point is often overlooked by foreign observers. An indictment by a Grand Jury on the complaint of the United States Government, alleging crimes by the leading oil companies and their executives, is almost as effective in foreign propaganda terms as a decision finding the oil companies guilty as criminals and conspirators. This obviously harms the prestige of the companies in other countries, and can very well lead to an adverse effect upon the interests of the United States. Thus, it is concluded that American interests abroad will be adversely affected by the continuation of the present Grand Jury proceedings. Alternative means for dealing with this problem in the light of the foregoing considerations are developed below.

Resolution of Problems

35. The objectives of the United States in foreign petroleum require the continuance and expansion of the flow of oil from producing to consuming areas in the free world. United States foreign policy calls for the promotion of political and economic stability and development in the Middle East, Latin America, and other underdeveloped areas. American policy in free Europe requires maximum availability of oil at reasonable prices. United States domestic policy requires compliance with the antitrust laws on the part of the petroleum industry. The extent to which the antitrust laws apply to the foreign activities of petroleum companies is not clear, and judgment on this issue can be rendered only by the courts. The publication of the FTC Report and the initiation of the antitrust action have thus far had some adverse effect upon foreign opinion, on our national security, and on our foreign relations. Potentially great difficulties may arise as a result of the simultaneous pursuit of our security, foreign policy, and law enforcement objectives, unless adequate correlation is achieved. The purpose of the Government [Page 646] should be to seek the best means of moving toward all United States objectives effectively and simultaneously.

36. The point has been made above that a criminal indictment and trial of companies which are a major factor in American business abroad can scarcely be conducive to the development of confidence in American business institutions. A good deal of the difficulty caused by this fact could be removed if the criminal action were terminated, and any relief which the United States Government decides to seek were pursued in a civil suit, which might lead to a consent decree. In this way a trial might well be avoided, and hence a great reduction in the number of possible sensational disclosures brought about. Foreign reactions to a civil rather than a criminal action should be substantially less adverse to United States interests.

37. A second aspect of the difference between a civil and criminal action lies in the importance of correcting evils in this sensitive field, if they exist. Correction of any evils which may exist should in fact promote United States security and economic objectives in the foreign field. A criminal action such as that now under way leads to no substantial corrective measures unless and until it is supplemented by a civil action, resolved either through a court judgment or through the negotiation of a consent decree. At the same time, whenever there is a violation of the antitrust laws, a civil action ensures adequate enforcement. It entails less publicity, and brings corrective action more promptly.

38. A third consideration affects United States national security and foreign relations. While it is of paramount importance that American petroleum interests abroad act in a manner consistent with the foreign policy of the United States, industry expects Government support abroad and is entitled to such support, except when it acts contrary to our national interests. In many fields no legal or formal control over the action of American private interests abroad is exercised by this Government. This is in accord with the view that a minimum of regulation and control is an accepted American principle. On the other hand, this means that if Government and industry are to act together to promote foreign policy and security objectives in petroleum, there must be a basis of mutual confidence between them. Criminal proceedings are not likely to produce such confidence between the two parties in this dispute.

39. The fact that the FTC Report has been published and the antitrust action begun creates a series of issues between industry and Government. These issues must be resolved if the groundwork for future cooperation between them is to be laid. Corrective action, if and where needed, and a clearer picture of the interpretation [Page 647] and application of the law should make this vital cooperation possible.

40. The problem of international petroleum, with all its complex and diverse elements, should be reviewed by the responsible executive departments. A commission consisting of the Secretaries of State, Defense, Interior, and Commerce should be created to give careful attention to the interrelationships of antitrust, security, and foreign policies in petroleum. The commission should have as its specific task the development of recommendations to the President on changes, if any, in oil company practices or structure required by security, economic, and political considerations in the foreign field, which changes would have a bearing upon the remedies that might be sought in an antitrust suit. The commission’s work should be of a classified nature, and it should be required to report on this subject within a specified period of time, for example 90 days from the time of appointment.

41. The commission’s report could be used by the President as he saw fit, and presumably would be useful to the Attorney General in developing the specific form of relief which might be sought from the companies. The Attorney General will no doubt wish to have a reasonable measure of latitude, but the commission could well demarcate certain areas of primary importance in the foreign policy and security fields.

42. If this program—terminating the criminal action and establishing a Cabinet commission with the foregoing terms of reference—were put in effect, a careful and explicit statement should be made to the public both at home and abroad. This statement should explain why the criminal action was being terminated and what the Cabinet commission would be expected to do, and assure the world that security and foreign policy considerations would be major factors in the determination of United States action in international petroleum.


43. The Departments of State and Defense submit the following recommendations to the National Security Council:

The Grand Jury proceedings now under way should be terminated.
The President should appoint a Commission of the Secretaries of State, Defense, Interior, and Commerce (the Attorney General should be invited to attend the sessions of the Commission, and to participate to the extent considered appropriate by him and the Commission) to develop recommendations regarding our national objectives and policies in security, economic and political fields which have a bearing on the application of United States antitrust laws to the overseas operations of United States oil companies, and to the remedies to be sought in a civil antitrust suit.
The President should instruct the Attorney General to prepare a complaint as a basis for a civil action under the antitrust laws, if in the judgment of the latter this action is warranted, copies to be transmitted to the members of the Commission mentioned in recommendation b for their information as soon as practicable after completion but in any event at least 10 days before it is publicly filed.
An announcement of this course of action should be made by the President.

44. The Department of the Interior concurs in the foregoing report (not including its recommendations in paragraph 43), the report being generally in accord with the memorandum of the Secretary of the Interior (NSC 138), but the Department of the Interior does not either approve or disapprove the recommendations in paragraph 43 and does not join therein.

  1. This report is part of NSC 138/1, dated Jan. 6, 1953. It was transmitted to the National Security Council under cover of a note of Jan. 6 by Executive Secretary Gleason on National Security Problems Concerning Free World Petroleum Demands and Potential Supplies. In response to NSC Action No. 692, taken at the Dec. 17, 1952, NSC meeting, Gleason transmitted three reports for the Councils consideration at its Jan. 9, 1953 meeting: (1) the report printed here, (2) a report by the Departments of State and Defense printed infra , and (3) a report by the Department of Justice printed as Document 281.
  2. All estimates for 1975 are drawn from the Paley Commission Report. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. “United Kingdom” or “British” in this section includes British-Dutch interests. [Footnote in the source text.]