PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “Near and Middle East, 1952–3”

No. 69
Memorandum by the Deputy Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs (Foster)1

top secret


  • Report of the State–Defense Working Group on the Middle East Command.

The Problem

EUR clearance for the Report.


You will recall that a State–Defense Working Group has been engaged since February 19 on the preparation of a paper setting forth [Page 214]the recommended position to be taken by the U.S. representatives at the forthcoming seven-power meeting (U.S., U.K., France, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa) to be held during the next month or two, probably in London, in connection with the proposed establishment of the Middle East Command. The Working Group, chairmanned by Mr. Lewis Jones of NEA, has included Messrs. Nolting of G, Stabler, Dorsz, and Daspit of NEA, Spalding of RA, Vigderman of L/E, Foster of DNA, and Captains Loud and Patrick (USN) of the Gold Team of Defense.

The Working Group completed its labors on April 9 and has embodied its recommendations in the attached report,2 which is now being sent up the line in State and Defense. In State it is to be cleared through NEA, EUR, G, S/P (Mr. Nitze), S/A (Mr. Jessup), C, L, H, and the Under Secretary to the Secretary. In Defense it is to be sent up from the Gold Team through the Joint Chiefs to the Secretary.

It should be noted in connection with Defense clearance that the representatives of the Gold Team have made it clear that they have not been in a position to speak for the Joint Chiefs or the Defense Department and cannot promise clearance by either. On our side, I have informed the Group that I could not say whether you would approve the report. Mr. Nolting is apparently satisfied with the report and I gather he feels that Mr. Matthews approves the general line it follows. I understand that Mr. Ferguson of S/P and Mr. Jessup of S/A read an earlier draft and were generally satisfied with it. Mr. Byroade has read the present draft but I do not know whether he has approved it.

There has been no consultation with any of the other six governments to be represented at the conference—no consultation, that is to say, with regard to the agenda or the major problems which will be discussed. It is true that the other powers are known to support the MEC in principle, and as far as the British are concerned you may recall that they gave us in January and February some memoranda generally outlining the U.K. position. Mr. Jones has felt that it was desirable to establish the U.S. position before engaging in preliminary discussions with the other governments.

The Working Group’s Recommendations

You will note that the Working Group’s report recommends that the U.S. should be represented at the conference by State and Defense officers of the level of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. The Working Group is of the opinion that the U.S. representatives [Page 215]should be given as much leeway as possible, particularly since we do not know what the attitudes of the other six governments are going to be in regard to many of the subjects for discussion. The U.S. representatives would, in any case, be empowered to agree only ad referendum.

The Working Group’s philosophy is epitomized in the statement (under “Facts and Assumptions”, section II 2 (a)) that

“The United States supports the establishment of a Middle East Command Organization in the belief that such an organization may make an early contribution to the political stabilization of the vitally important Middle East area, and in the long run increase the capacity of the area to resist Soviet aggression.”

In brief, the Working Group recommends that the MEC should be established as soon as possible, probably with headquarters on Cyprus; that the Supreme Allied Commander Middle East, probably a Britisher, should be appointed; that there should be some kind of authority for the direction of SACME (perhaps a Military Committee or a Standing Group), though it is recognized that conditions in the Middle East preclude the possibility of establishing a higher political direction on the NATO model; that SACME should devote himself to “planning, coordinating and liaison”; and that liaison between SACME and the interested Arab states should be maintained by a Middle East Defense Liaison Organization (MEDLO).

“United States participation in the Command will be limited to participation in the integrated Command staff and the provision of some military aid to certain states in the Middle East area. No commitment of United States forces to the defense of the Middle East is contemplated”(II 5 (a)).

The Working Group recognizes that in its initial stage the Middle East Command will not be a command and that SACME will not command anything. It discussed the possibility of changing the name to conform to the realities. “Middle East Defense Planning Board” or “Middle East Defense Organization” were suggested, but the feeling was that there would be difficulty in changing the name at this stage and “the name is valued by the British by reason of tradition and prestige” (V1).

Hamlet Without the Hamlet

There is one fundamental aspect of the problem which is touched on only in passing in the Working Group’s paper but which has had a profound influence on its reasoning and recommendations. This is the fact that Turkey is now in NATO and the assumption, flowing from that fact, that the Middle East Command will have neither any responsibility for the defense of Turkey nor the support [Page 216]of any Turkish forces (except six divisions which it is said Turkey might consider contributing if the U.S. would pay for them).

A further assumption accepted by a majority of the Working Group is that the Turks feel such resentment and antipathy toward the British, chiefly because of British opposition to the Turks joining NATO, that they will not cooperate with a British Middle East Commander.

The Arab Reaction

There is another fundamental aspect of the problem which is not discussed in the Working Group’s paper. This is the possibility, mentioned in reports from our embassies in the Middle East and in various intelligence appreciations, that the Arab peoples will not welcome the establishment of the MEC but may regard it as the vehicle of Western imperialism, Turkish power politics, British special interests, et cetera. The Working Group is reconciled to the strong improbability of Egyptian participation in MEC but it assumes that at least some of the other Arab states will come in on an “associate membership” basis.

Some Unanswered Questions

1. Two Birds with One Stone?

There would seem to be, from the point of view of the U.S. in particular and the West in general, two separate though related problems in the Middle East. The first in urgency and importance is surely the military defense of the area against possible Soviet attack through the Caucasus and across the Straits. Regardless whether the U.S. participates actively in the military defense of the region (and now that Turkey is in NATO we are bound, even more than we were under the Truman Doctrine, to render her such assistance as we can), it is my understanding that we agree with the British in considering it vital to the West that efforts should be made to hold the Middle East.

The second problem in the Middle East is the political one. It is compounded of rising Arab nationalism, the Anglo-Egyptian dispute, the Israeli-Arab conflict, Mosadeq, the preoccupation of Pakistan with Kashmir, the declining prestige of the U.K., France, and the U.S. in the area, and plenty of other things. This is the longterm problem which it will obviously take generations to solve.

Can any single stone be found that will kill these two birds?

2. Does the Proposed MEC Face Up to the Military Problem?

If it is the military objective to defend the Middle East against Soviet attack, the first point for determination is what effective forces are available? The answer is, of course, the Turkish army, certain British ground forces and air squadrons, and certain Commonwealth [Page 217]forces committed to the area in case of war. From the military standpoint it would seem to be the essence of the problem to devise the means to coordinate Turkish and British resources and plans. The proposed MEC, however, is founded on the assumption, as noted above, that such coordination in any real sense is politically impossible.

3. Will the Proposed MEC Strengthen the British Position in the Middle East?


  • as SACME will not command anything (except perhaps some British forces at a later stage),
  • as SACME’s defense preparations will have to be made in relative isolation from the Turks,
  • as SACME’s terms of reference will put him squarely in the center of the major political problems of the area, and
  • as the U.S. will neither contribute forces to his command nor undertake any commitment to defend the area,

the question may be asked whether the proposed MEC is in line with the declared U.S. policy of supporting the British position in the Middle East.

The Working Group took the view that the British are reconciled to this dismal situation and will be glad enough to have the MEC established and the position of SACME given to a Britisher even though he will have little or no support from anyone except the Commonwealth. It might be argued that Mr. Churchill’s statement to Congress in January that he would welcome the presence of U.S. token forces in the Canal Zone was not only out of step with modern times but tactless besides. Be this as it may, the question remains whether it is in the U.S. interest to accept a situation to which the British, lacking our support, have no recourse but to reconcile themselves.

4. Can Such a Military Organization Accomplish the Desired Political Objectives in the Middle East?

This is the reverse of the military-political coin. If it may be doubted that a “political” MEC will be able to take effective steps toward the military defense of the area against possible Soviet aggression, it may also be doubted whether an organization bearing the name “Command” and sponsored by six states not indigenous to the area (plus one Middle Eastern state that has joined NATO) will succeed in gaining the confidence and support of the Arab peoples.

5. Should the MEC Concept be Re-appraised?

During the six months since the MEC was rejected by the Egyptians (October 1951) and since the Paris Declaration (November 1951) there have been certain developments which perhaps call for [Page 218]a re-appraisal from both the military and political viewpoints. These developments include the accession of Turkey to NATO, the Anglo-Egyptian dispute, growing Arab unrest in French North Africa, and the Iranian situation.

6. Would a Seven-power Conference in the Near Future Serve a Useful Purpose?

Until the political and military objectives of the U.S. in the Middle East are more clearly defined and widely agreed, and until we have a better idea of what the other interested governments, especially the British, expect of the MEC, the question is whether a seven-power conference could achieve the results evidently expected of it. True, the conference is intended to be “preliminary” and is to try to avoid publicity. If, however, it fails to reach agreement (even on an ad referendum basis) or if it arouses fundamental differences, the news is bound to leak and the MEC enterprise will benefit least of all among the Arabs at which it is aimed.


Mr. Lewis Jones argues, with the support of the majority of the members of the Working Group, that the recommendations in the attached paper are in conformity with U.S. policy toward the Middle East as determined by the highest levels in the Government; further, that the situation in the area dictates this as the best approach to the problem. I have felt bound, however, to put the foregoing questions before you. They really boil down to one question: What is the U.S. stake in the Middle East and is the kind of MEC proposed by the Working Group the best way to defend it?

  1. This memorandum was addressed to Perkins and Bonbright
  2. Not printed; a copy of the complete Working Group Report is in the PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “Near and Middle East, 1952–3”.