788.5/3–454: Telegram

No. 431
The Ambassador in Iran (Henderson) to the Department of State1

top secret

1872. Limited distribution. In view its contents, urge extreme care distribution this telegram.

It not quite clear to me whether Department has in mind that in answering questions which Shah put to me last autumn re future Iranian army, I keep in framework memorandum set forth in paragraph 2, of Deptel 1798, March 1, information London 4454.
If I should confine my answer to points outlined in that memorandum, Shah undoubtedly would think I not being frank with him. He could be expected try to draw me out, asking series of questions, as for instance:
What do we mean by “some capabilities”; is he to interpret this expression as “capability to engage in delaying-defense action?” or
What do we mean when we state “our future attitude …2 would inevitably be influenced by developments in area as a whole”; what kind of developments; specifically which area; in which directions might we be influenced? or
What are we contemplating at this moment for Iranian army; can’t we give him some indication of what should be done to army in present circumstances so he can make plans for immediate future; how can he be expected to take action on basis such vague generalities? or
What kind of “defense posture” should Iran assume in order influence Congress give sufficient additional aid to enable Iran have delaying defense capabilities? or
What precisely do we mean when say eventual Iranian participation in regional defense arrangements “will be influenced by developments in area as a whole as well as developments in Iran”; if all right for Turkey and Pakistan to participate in regional defense arrangements without awaiting certain developments in area, why do we think Iran should wait?
[sic] If I give evasive replies to questions this kind or if I avoid frank discussion our position Shah will become suspicious. He may conclude US and UK not in agreement re kind of armed forces Iran should have. He may even suspect US and UK have privately agreed Iran expendable and therefore minimum amount men, matériel, and funds should be wasted on its defense. Suspicions this kind on part Shah would almost certainly become known to his close advisers; they could not long remain concealed from his military leaders; in absence adequate security measures in Iran they would eventually become known to Russians.
If on other hand I should give frank replies based on Deptel 1782 information London 44053 to various questions which Shah might put to me and if British Ambassador in subsequent conversations should follow somewhat different line, Shah would conclude British and we not in agreement re role Iran should play in maintenance ME security. Such conclusion would be unfortunate.

It seems to me our difficulties in formulating reply to Shah’s questions re future Iranian armed forces are in part reflections difficulties which US and UK are encountering in deciding in advance what to do in case Soviet Union should engage in unprovoked aggressive war against Iran. On one hand there are tendencies to consider Iran or at least northern part Iran as expendable; to take position it preferable for free world lose all or portion Iran rather than to try wage local defensive war in Iran against Soviet Union or to become involved in another world war because of Iran. Apparently both US and UK believe it would be almost impossible for them turn back Soviet forces in war localized in Iran. At same time both seem still be unwilling decide—and prepare for implementation of such decision—to regard Soviet aggression against Iran as attack on free world which must be answered by countermeasures against Soviet Union in theater of free world’s choosing. Situation seems somewhat similar to that of Korea in spring 1950 except that we have not thus far let Communist world know, as we did in case Korea in 1950, that we do not consider defense Iran [Page 936] vital to security free world. Shah’s questions would tend to bring to fore certain problems latent in our inability make firm decisions re Iran.

We do not like idea for instance of expending human and material resources in efforts strengthen Iran army if that army with all its equipment in absence help from US is certain eventually to fall in Soviet hands in case of Soviet aggression. Furthermore, if we commit ourselves to preparing Iran army to engage in delaying-defensive action in case of Soviet attack and if subsequently Iran falls victim to Soviet aggression our prestige as defenders remainder free world would be affected more seriously than it would have been if we had, from beginning, taken position that Iran was expendable. On other hand we realize that if Iran should obtain impression US and UK would not consider aggression against Iran as aggression against free world to be met with all forces at their command, it would become discouraged and in its hopelessness it doubtful that it would be able, over extended period time, put up effective resistance against Communist infiltration. Soviet Union would probably be able eventually to take over an apathetic Iran without necessity resort to armed aggression. Furthermore, if Soviet Union should itself become convinced US and UK consider Iran expendable, it certain immediately to adopt more aggressive attitude re Iran. I aware certain circles both in UK and US who even as of today fail understand basic motivations Soviet Union, still toy with idea settling problem Iran by compromise; by letting Soviet Union have north with understanding south to remain in free world. Cynical solution this kind vapid and impractical; its adoption would almost certainly result in loss Iran and all ME and might involve moral international bankruptcy of US and UK.

It seems to me that we have no choice other than (a) to decide aggressive armed attack on Iran by Soviet Union will be considered as attack on free world which Soviet Union must understand will result in free world (or at least US and UK) mobilizing their full military and political forces against Soviet Union; or (b) to do our utmost to conceal from world public, particularly from Iran and Soviet Union, fact we may prefer to see Iran fall victim to Soviet aggression rather than to become involved in war with Soviet Union over Iran. It seems to me that (a) is realistic and logical choice; that regardless our desire for peace, war will become inevitable if Soviet Union should seize Iran and that it would be preferable fight immediately on basis principle rather than later on basis expediency after Soviet Union has already had time convert Iran into armed bastion from which to launch further attacks on ME and South Asia. I realize, however, that in view certain military, technical, psychological, and political factors it may be found inadvisable [Page 937] to take position (a) at this time and that we may be compelled choose (b) at least for time being. It seems to me that whether we choose (a) or (b) it important that we give Shah kind of reply which will encourage him believe US and UK determined support independence of Iran and will give him, Iran leaders, and eventually Iran public ground to hope Iran has as good chance of survival as other countries of free world. We should, therefore, indicate to Shah our agreement that Iran should have army capable of certain amount of defensive action and that we are prepared if Iran desires to increase our military assistance to help Iran have such army. We might emphasize, however, that Iran army should not be developed into one of character which would make such heavy financial demands on Iran budget during years to come as seriously to retard development of Iran national economy. We might add that in our opinion with careful planning Iranians could within a few years after oil settlement be able support modest army capable of slowing up advance across country of invading enemy without unduly burdening its economy. Such army should be developed gradually and unspectacularly over period of time, special care being taken not to reorganize in haste which would give rise to waste and confusion and not to burden it with unnecessary trappings. Reorganization should take place by stages, it being made sure army capable make effective use equipment and training furnished at each stage.
I believe participation by Iran just now in regional security arrangements would not be advantageous to it and would not be in interest ME security. Nevertheless I think it would be preferable not to discourage Iran participation. Best course in my opinion would be for us take position countries of this area should be free to decide for themselves what cooperative measures, if any, they might advantageously take to promote regional security. I doubt that Iran after receiving such advice would be over-hasty in seeking to become party to Turk-Pakistan defense arrangements; on other hand, feeling that its participation would be welcome might prevent growth of resentment in Iran on ground that defense arrangements of its neighbors in which it not wanted might result in channelizing Soviet aggressive activities through Iran.
I assume NSC in referring to “contracts for military aid and training” (Deptel 1751, February 19) has in mind formal prolongation, with perhaps some amendments, of ARMISH and GENMISH agreements and that no additional military aid and training agreements are contemplated. Some advantage would undoubtedly be obtained from formalizing existing present informal and oral prolongation of these agreements. I do not believe, however, this is “appropriate time” to press this matter. Present government likely to [Page 938] encounter difficulties in obtaining passage through untested new Majlis of number urgent measures, including (we hope) oil agreement, new currency and tax legislation, et cetera. We should not add to these difficulties by insisting that it submit matter military missions and aid to public debates which might degenerate into demagoguery embarrassing to government and to us. I might again mention to Shah and Prime Minister necessity that these contracts be formalized at appropriate time but I do not believe that in so doing I should hint that amount our military assistance might be influenced by such formalization. If this session Majlis acts on other matters in reasonable way government itself may well take up matter of formalization during next session. In meantime it seems to me Iran Government living up to its informal commitments in satisfactory manner.
In view foregoing I suggest I be permitted talk to Shah informally along following lines:

US Government regrets delay in reply to questions which HIM put to me last autumn re future Iran Army. These questions however raised number problems which it was necessary for US Government to study and to discuss in some detail with UK Government. US and UK Governments are in agreement that Iranian armed forces should have capabilities beyond those maintaining internal security. HIM should, therefore, understand that in replying to these questions I am speaking only in behalf US Government; nevertheless what I say is believed also to represent in general views UK Government. HIM may care later, however, to discuss this matter direct with British Ambassador.

US view at highest level is that Iran should have armed forces which not only would be able effectively to assist in maintaining internal order but also would be capable of certain amount defensive action in case country should be attacked. Such armed forces should be modest in size; should be devoid of all unnecessary trappings; and should possess and prepare to utilize only such equipment as might be of practice, i.e., either for maintaining internal order or for defense against invasion. These armed forces should be of kind which would not place so great financial strain on country during years to come as seriously to retard development of Iran national economy. It is believed that with careful planning Iran should within a few years after oil settlement be able support without unduly burdening its national economy well-organized armed forces capable of slowing up advance across country of invading enemy. Such forces should be developed gradually, special care being taken not to develop them so hastily as to give rise to waste and confusion. Development should be by stages, it being made sure armed forces would be able to make effective use equipment and training furnished at each stage.
Although its matériel and funds limited and inadequate meet urgent needs throughout world, US prepared during its present fiscal year grant Iran certain additional military assistance for use in developing type of Iran forces envisaged. This assistance would [Page 939] be in form of equipment and training. Amount and character of this additional assistance would be determined through conversations between appropriate US and Iran military personnel.
It is of course impossible for US Government to make any definite commitments as to extent to which it would be able to furnish military assistance to Iran beyond present fiscal year since amounts available for expenditure for each US fiscal year are determined annually by Congress. Nevertheless, available funds from this year’s appropriations, together with equipment already furnished should be sufficient to enable Iran make good beginning in direction of developing defensive capabilities in its armed forces.
It is believed that attitude of Congress during future years with regard to extension of additional military aid to Iran will be influenced by number of factors, including developments in Middle East and South Asia as a whole; ability displayed by Iran to utilize with maximum effectiveness aid which had been extended; extent to which Iran by utilizing its own natural resources and strengthening its own economic and financial position demonstrates its ability to create a strong economy capable of supporting effective armed forces; willingness of Iran to maintain, so far as its financial and economic situation permits, its armed forces in high degree of efficiency; degree of cooperation extended by Iran to US Missions in Iran; degree of determination displayed by Iran to defend itself.
US Government understands that Iran does not consider that it would strengthen security Iran or of Middle East or South Asia for Iran in present circumstances to enter into military cooperation with its neighbors. In US opinion Iran, like other countries in Middle East and South Asia, should be free to decide for itself kind of cooperative defense arrangements, if any, it might advantageously make with its neighbors. It quite possible that eventually kind and amount military assistance granted to countries this area US will be influenced by regional defense as well as by individual country defense considerations.
I do not know whether it would be necessary for Department to take matter up again with NSC before it could approve approach along lines suggested above to Shah. If it should be found necessary I hope it will do so. In my opinion it preferable postpone answer to Shah several more days if such postponement could result in approach less damaging to Iranian morale. Department will of course understand that Shah will not be happy even with kind of answer which I have suggested although his disappointment will be considerably less than if I make approach of kind suggested paragraph 2 Deptel 1798. I assume matter will be cleared with British. Ambassador Stevens and I have had number conversations re this difficult problem. He has been most helpful in letting me have UK point of view. I plan therefore, when I see him morning March 5, to discuss with him contents this telegram and read to him paragraph [Page 940] 8 stressing that I do not know whether suggestions contained therein would be agreeable to US Government.
  1. Transmitted in four sections; also sent to London.
  2. Ellipsis in the source text.
  3. See footnote 2, supra.