S/PNSC files, lot 62 D 1, NSC 117 Series

No. 111
Memorandum by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Secretary of Defense (Lovett)1

top secret
[NSC 117]

Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense


  • The Anglo-Iranian Problem.
This memorandum is in response to your memorandum, dated 8 October 1951,2 on the above subject.
If Iran passes to the domination of the USSR, the following consequences are to be expected:
Immediate loss of Iranian oil and probably eventual loss of all Middle East oil with the consequent greatly increased and possible intolerable deficiency in oil resources;
Demonstration of the strength of the Soviet system and of the weak position of the Western World in opposition thereto;
Expansion of the Soviet empire to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean;
Major threat to the position of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India;
The almost inevitable collapse of Afghanistan to Communism;
Such enhancement of the Soviet position in the Middle East as to increase greatly the danger of Communist domination during peacetime of Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and India; and in the event of war to permit prepositioning of USSR military forces with oil immediately available which would greatly increase the chances of their military success against the Middle East and/or Pakistan–India; and
Turkey would be so flanked and uncovered as greatly to threaten its military position.
If Iran comes under Soviet domination in peacetime:
The Truman Doctrine would be breached;
The USSR would be provided with a springboard for domination of the entire Middle East; including the Eastern Mediterranean and the Suez Canal areas; prior development by the USSR of bases, facilities, and military stockpiles (including oil) would permit the Soviets to advance greatly any time table for military operations against the Middle East and/or Pakistan-India; and
The USSR would be permitted to develop facilities for delivery of Iranian oil to the territory of the USSR.
If the Iranian oil problem results in the complete denial to the British of any stake in Iranian oil, the position and prestige of the United Kingdom in the Middle East and possibly throughout the world would, in all probability, be further weakened. Events in Iran cannot be separated from the world situation and specifically from developments in Egypt.
The following is responsive to the three specific questions in the paragraph of your memorandum:
If Iranian oil should fall to the USSR a greater and, in all probability, a longer effort by the Western Powers would be required to bring about the defeat of the USSR and its satellites;
Whether or not any alteration of our strategic targets would be required in the eventuality of control of Iranian oil by the USSR would depend largely upon the length of time available to and the scale of effort by the Soviets for development of facilities for delivery of that oil to the USSR; and
If the USSR achieves control of Iran in peacetime, the Soviet power position (including its logistical position) would be so improved that, in all probability, an increase in the level of the military establishments of the Western World would be required.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that the United States should take most energetic measures, as a matter of urgency, to support or arrive at the achievement of a solution of the Iranian problem which will:

Provide for the continued orientation of Iran toward the Western World (this should receive overriding priority);
Make possible an effective command organization for the defense of Iran in coordination with the other areas of the Middle East; and
Assure the continued supply of Iranian oil to the Western World, at least during peace.

Accordingly, they would support action which would achieve those objectives, such as an offer by the United States of its “good offices,” as outlined in the first paragraph of your memorandum.

Strictly from the United States military point of view, Iran’s orientation towards the United States in peacetime and maintenance of the British position in the Middle East now transcend in importance the desirability of supporting British oil interests in Iran. The Joint Chiefs of Staff would be forced immediately to reexamine their global strategy in the event that the USSR breached the Truman Doctrine in regard to Iran by measures short of war.
For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
Hoyt S. Vandenberg

Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
  1. Attached to the source text were a memorandum, dated Oct. 17, from the Secretary of Defense to the Executive Secretary of the National Security Council asking that the JCS memorandum be distributed to the President and the Council; a note, dated Oct. 18, from the Executive Secretary indicating that the JCS memorandum was being circulated for the information of the Council; and a cover sheet, dated Oct. 18. These documents were designated NSC 117.
  2. Not found in Department of State files, however, the memorandum dated Oct. 17, referred to in footnote 1 above, reads:

    “Paragraph 1 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum refers to Secretary Lovett’s memorandum, dated 8 October 1951. In this memorandum he requested the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present a quick survey of the military judgment of the change in Russian military potential if the Iranian oil should fall into their possession or control. He particularly wished to know if Iranian oil would permit the Russians to continue and [the] war longer; if their possession of this oil would require an alteration of our strategic targets; and if it possibly would require an increase in the level of our military establishments.”