Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs ( Byroade ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Smith )
- Roberts Field, Liberia
To obtain the President’s decision concerning the continued maintenance and operation of Roberts Field with Air Force funds after June 30, 1953.
Air Force funds have been used for this purpose since World War II, largely because of the political and commercial interests of the United States Government. The Department of Defense wishes to discontinue its financial support on the grounds that it has no military requirement for Roberts Field. The State Department has explored other methods of financing without success.
In its letter of March 2, 1953 (copy attached),1 the State Department recapitulated for the Department of Defense the political factors which, taken together with the commercial and military usefulness of the Field, would appear to warrant the continued maintenance and operation of the Field with United States funds. The Department of Defense thereupon orally informed the State Department that it was referring the question to the President for decision, in view of the political considerations that the State Department had raised. A copy of its letter of April 17, 1953 to the President is attached.2
Colonel Carroll 3 of the White House staff has informed me that the Defense Department’s letter has been construed, quite understandably as a result of its text, as requiring no action on the part of the President and that no action will be taken unless the State Department requests it.
We believe this Field should be kept open for the following reasons:
- Political Importance. It is politically important, at home and in Africa, that the United States show positive interest in Africa. Roberts Field is a symbol of such interest. Withdrawal of our financial support would damage our prestige throughout West Africa, and might be interpreted by important segments of the American public as a decrease of official interest in Africa.
- Liberian Trends. In recent years, Liberian leaders have been exposed to racist and nationalist influences, particularly in the United Nations, with the result that Liberian acceptance of United States leadership has shown a tendency to be less automatic and may no longer be taken for granted. Any sign of lessening United States interest in Liberia would aggravate this tendency at a time when it is generally recognized that the importance of Africa to the free world is increasing.
- French Interest. Americans doing business in Liberia claim that France is eager to maintain and operate Roberts Field if the United States does not. Air France is a recognized instrument of French foreign policy. The American businessmen fear that French operation of Roberts Field would be only another step in French penetration of Liberia. Firestone and Republic Steel (Liberia Mining Company) would view such a development with concern. French interests are considering the establishment of a bank in Liberia.
- Commercial Significance. Pan American Airways is feeling keen competition on the New York–Johannesburg route from BOAC’s Comet. In order to meet this competition over an already thin national-interest route, Pan American has put DC–6 B’s into service and is non-stopping points north and south of Roberts Field. The company prefers for a number of reasons to anchor its DC–6 service at Roberts, a field under American operation. Unless this field can be kept open, services to South Africa will no longer operate through Liberia.
- Future Rubber Supply. Liberia is the largest natural rubber producer outside Ceylon and the Far East. American control of Roberts Field would be very valuable in the event Liberia became the only secure source of our natural rubber supply.
- Costs. Operating costs for FY 1954 are estimated at $589,491. In addition to operating costs, however, an estimated $4.5 million would be required to effect necessary runway repairs.
In view of the fact that a balancing of political and military factors is required, I recommend that you seek a White House decision on this issue for the reasons stated above.