The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Matthews) to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1


Dear Mr. Secretary: For nearly a year the Department of State has been exchanging views with the Department of the Air Force concerning [Page 507] the possibility of continuing, after June 30, 1953, the use of Air Force funds for the maintenance and operation of Roberts Field in Liberia. Last July our Ambassador to Liberia, Edward R. Dudley, also discussed the case with President Truman.

In a letter of December 30, 19522 to President Truman, Secretary of Defense Lovett stated that although the plans of the Air Force and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for years subsequent to June 30, 1953 did not then indicate military requirements which would justify continued financing of Roberts Field, studies by the Air Force were under way which might result in a change in this position. The Secretary also indicated that until those studies were completed and approved, the Department of the Air Force would be unable to justify the expenditure of appropriated military funds on a purely military basis for Roberts Field in Fiscal Year 1954 and subsequent years.

Since the action which the Liberian Government may take, in the event the United States Government does not continue to finance the Field, may require that Government to reconsider its budgetary expenditures and may affect Liberia’s contribution to the Point IV program as well as its ability to meet payments due next year to the Export-Import Bank, I am particularly anxious that the Liberian Government be notified in sufficient time of the United States Government’s intention in this regard. It would be embarrassing to this Government and inopportune for the Liberian Government were the latter not informed until shortly before June 30. In such circumstances the Liberian Government might feel compelled to take hasty action which might not be to the best interests of either Government. In any event the decision of the United States Government will have a direct bearing on the Liberian Government’s attitude toward the renegotiation of the Defense Areas Agreement, now lapsed, in which the Department of the Air Force has informally expressed interest.

Your attention is also invited to certain political aspects of this problem which could seriously affect the interests of the United States in West Africa. Roberts Field is a symbol of the close collaboration that has existed for many years between the United States and Liberia. Withdrawal of our financial support for the Field would have a damaging effect upon that collaboration and would play into the hands of the racist and nationalist movements in Liberia which are opposed to the traditional United States leadership which has been dominant in the republic since its founding. Moreover, withdrawal of our support would have unfavorable consequences for Liberia’s attitude toward future United States defense requirements in its territory. Accordingly, the Department of State believes the maintenance and support [Page 508] of Roberts Field would be a matter of national interest to the United States, the broader aspects of which, we feel, should be weighed carefully in reaching a decision upon the continuation of financial support after June 30, 1953.

In view of the foregoing considerations, I should appreciate being advised of your decision in this matter as soon as possible in order that the Liberian Government may be informed at an early date.

Sincerely yours,

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. The approach to Wilson was suggested by Byroade on Feb. 18. (711.56376/2–1853)
  2. Ante, p. 501.