Memorandum of Conversation, by the
Politico-Military Adviser, Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian,
and African Affairs (Daspit)
- Discussion of MECO Position Paper—April 24, 1952.
- Mr. Bruce
- Mr. Matthews
- Mr. Nolting
- Mr. Bohlen
- Mr. Jessup
- Mr. Nitze
- Mr. Ferguson
- Mr. Wadsworth
- Mr. Bonbright
- Mr. Byroade
- Mr. Lewis Jones
- Mr. Daspit
The meeting was called by Mr. Matthews to discuss the draft position paper on the MECO prepared by the State–Defense Working Group.2 The principal points made in the course of the discussion are summarized under topical headings.
(1) Benefits to be Expected from MECO.
Underlying the discussion was the assumption that at least during its initial phase, the MECO would not make a substantial direct contribution to the military strengthening of the Middle East area. To justify US participation, there must be a reasonable prospect that the organization will produce desirable political results.
(2) Military Aspect of MECO.
Mr. Nitze stated, and there was no disagreement, that so far as its military operations were concerned, the MECO would be in its initial phases merely a paper organization. It would have small forces and there would be little place to put them. Given current scarcities of military equipment and the relative position of the Middle East area in the system of worldwide priorities, the ME could expect very small amounts of equipment. Moreover, it was doubtful that MECO would have much control over such supplies as were made available. Mr. Nitze also doubted that there was sufficient substance involved in the MEDLO operation to make this organization meaningful and attractive to the Arab States. In reply, Mr. Byroade conceded that the Command would not have much of immediate substance with which to concern itself. Nevertheless, it would not vary greatly from other operations with which the British were familiar. The South East Asia Command during the war, for example, had been little more than a planning operation but it had a certain utility.
(3) Effect of MECO on Western Position in the Middle East.
Mr. Byroade thought that the organization, at the least, would provide a means for demonstrating the unity of the United States, United Kingdom, France and Turkey and their interest in the defense of the area. It would provide a useful forum in which the four powers could speak jointly to the states of the Middle East.
The question was raised as to whether participation by the US in the MECO would have the effect of raising Western prestige generally in the Middle East or of pulling down the US to the level of the UK and France. Mr. Nitze stated that what we were proposing to do was to use our prestige but not our strength to keep up the [Page 220]British position. The British, however, have little physical and less moral strength in the area; consequently in embarking on this course we ran the danger of becoming involved in their general decline in the Middle East without being able effectively to halt it.
Mr. Byroade said that he assumed that our policy was one of continued cooperation with the UK and secondarily with France in the Near East, and that he felt the MECO was the most promising way of making that cooperation effective. If it was proposed that we abandon this policy and play a lone hand, then of course the proposals would have to be considered in a different light.
Ambassador Wadsworth felt that unless the US became strongly identified with the MECO, the prospects of the organization would not be good. He felt that its best hope of success would derive from its having the strongest possible US flavor. Specifically, he felt that the proposed preliminary planning meeting should be held in Washington and that the MECO Steering Group should be located in Washington.
(4) Possibility of Securing Arab Cooperation.
Mr. Nitze asserted that the MECO as proposed would be merely a planning operation and planning with weakness at that. He felt the Arabs would sense this fact and would be frightened off. To go ahead without the Arabs might be a dangerous and destructive course, as it might be construed by the Arabs as a combination of the West against the Middle East. If the Anglo-Egyptian dispute could be settled and Egypt were willing to cooperate, he felt these dangers would disappear and that it would be proper to go ahead with the establishment of the MECO.
Ambassador Wadsworth felt that even without initial Arab support or positive commitment of forces from Turkey, it would nevertheless be desirable to go ahead with the establishment of the MECO. He felt it was essential to plan on an area basis, and that MECO was needed for this purpose. He felt that the position of the Middle East was vital to NATO planning since it involved the Southern flank of the European command. He suggested that it might be desirable to have the views from the JCS and the Standing Group.
(5) Effect of Establishment of MECO on Iran.
Mr. Nitze advanced as another objection to proceeding with the establishment of the MECO, the effect this action might have in prejudicing an alternative development which he considered preferable. This alternative was the extension of the Truman Doctrine to Iran and the development in that country of a really effective barrier to Soviet expansion. If this could be accomplished, it would provide a solid defensive shield extending from Yugoslavia through [Page 221]Pakistan. This would provide the Middle East area with more real security than the paper planning of MECO. He thought that the achievement of this objective would be made more difficult, if not impossible, by the decision of the US to place its major military emphasis on the MECO, which would be primarily a British show under the Command of a British General.
This thesis was not generally accepted. It was pointed out that the developments which Mr. Nitze wished to see in Iran were even more remote and beset by doubts than the development of real military strength through MECO. Mr. Ferguson stated that he did not consider that the two courses were mutually exclusive and there seemed to be fairly general agreement with this view.
(6) The Extent of US Commitment to Participation.
Mr. Jessup cited a statement in the November Declaration that the four powers intended to proceed with the establishment of the Middle East Command and the communiqué issued on January 9 after the Truman–Churchill talks reaffirmed the intent of the US and the UK to press ahead with the establishment of a Command. He felt that if it should be decided to scrap the Middle East Command, it was essential that something else be found to put in its place.
(7) Timing of Seven-Power Meeting.
It seemed to be generally agreed that it would be impossible to hold a planning meeting of the nature contemplated in the report on a secret basis. News of the meeting was certain to leak out and regardless of whether the meeting was designated “Preliminary” the effect of US participation would amount to a final and irrevocable commitment on our part to push the MECO through. Mr. Matthews considered that the present state of affairs with the Middle East and with development in Tunisia, Egypt and Iran was not propitious for holding a meeting.
(8) Next Steps.
Except for the position indicated in (7) no decisions were taken with respect to the Working Group paper. It was agreed that no intimation should be given to the Defense Department that the Department was not proceeding urgently with the consideration of the draft. Mr. Matthews agreed to raise with the British Ambassador the question of present British thinking on the MECO and the possibility was left open of strictly secret bilateral discussions between the British and ourselves.