780.5/8–1552

No. 83
The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Secretary of Defense (Lovett)1

top secret

Dear Mr. Secretary: As you know, our military planning has always considered the British responsible for the defense of the Middle East, just as our political thinking has always allotted to the British primary responsibility for maintaining stability in the Near Eastern area.

However, I understand that current British plans envisage the defense only of a portion of Turkey and of the Mediterranean seacoast from Lebanon south. This of course would permit enemy occupation of the greater part of the Near East and of virtually all of its oil resources.2

The Department of State believes that the time has come when we should reasssess this situation to determine whether a forward defense of the Near East, designed to protect at least a portion of the oil and give greater protection to our strategic bases, could not be undertaken. It is fully recognized that neither troops nor equipment are presently available to the Western Powers to make such a defense possible, but we need not assume that this will be the case indefinitely. It is our thought that we should begin now to prepare for the time, which might come in 1956 or 1957, when other commitments may permit the furnishing of equipment in significant quantities to the Near East.

It is at least theoretically feasible to count on raising defense forces within the states of the Near East which, with adequate [Page 267]training and equipment, might themselves play the major role in their own defense. Such a development would of course require progress in our political relationship with those states, but would raise fewer problems than would a defense strategy which required the stationing of substantial numbers of Western troops in the area. From the political point of view, it would therefore be desirable to maximize the contribution of the Near East States to the defense of the area. Such a contribution would, of course, be possible only if we are able and willing to make available the necessary equipment and training assistance.

As a basis for future decisions, I think we need first of all an objective military estimate of what would be required for a forward defense of the area in terms of divisions, aircraft, naval supporting forces, etc., and an estimate of the cost of the equipment of these forces. Having such an estimate, we would then be in a position to decide whether the enterprise is within our forseeable means and those of our allies and to what extent the investment would be worthwhile relative to competing defense needs in other parts of the world. Without such an estimate, we cannot decide what policy objectives we should set for ourselves in the Near East.

I suggest, therefore, that you request the Joint Chiefs of Staff to undertake a preliminary study of the essential requirements, from the military point of view, for the forward defense of the Middle East, which for these purposes, I suggest, should be considered to include Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, the Arab States and Israel.3

Sincerely yours,

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. This letter was attached to a memorandum, dated Aug. 6, not printed, from Byroade to Matthews. According to the memorandum, the letter had been discussed in draft by John Ferguson with Rear Admiral H. Page Smith of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who considered the request desirable and indicated that the letter was appropriate.

    The memorandum stated that the study under reference in the letter was essential because “in spite of our long-standing concern with the problem of Middle East defense and the mounting evidence that it is beyond British capabilities to defend any substantial part of the area, there has been no US study of what would be required in terms of force and equipment to effect a forward defense of the Middle East.” (780.5/8–1552)

  2. For documentation, see Documents 242 ff.
  3. A reply from the Secretary of Defense, dated Oct. 28, not printed, informed the Department of State that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had conducted planning regarding military force requirements for defense of the Middle East and had tried to obtain British intentions for fulfilling their responsibilities in that area, but that the question was extremely complex. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were at that time making a further estimate of requirements as part of the development of a Joint Strategic Objectives Plan for 1956, and expected the plan to be completed early in 1953. The concluding paragraph of the letter reads: “The Joint Chiefs of Staff will continue to study and reassess this problem, and you will be informed at a later date as progress is made in current studies and reassessments.” (780.5/10–2852)

    Telegram Telac 41, Oct. 30, to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, transmitted the text of the Defense letter to Secretary Acheson, who was at New York as the Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the Seventh Regular Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. (780.5/10–2852)