147. Letter From the Ambassador in Libya (Tappin) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Allen)2

Dear Mr. Secretary: I am writing to convey to you my personal impressions of certain factors having direct bearing on the validity and effectiveness of our present military and political attitudes toward Libya, in terms of its strategic importance in overall U.S. military planning for the European-Mediterranean-Near Eastern area and, more generally, of its place in U.S. foreign policy as a whole.

In the light of what I have learned during four short but very busy months here,3 I feel that we should most definitely take a fresh look at Libya. In my opinion, it presents opportunities unequalled in the Near East and North Africa for the establishment not only of a secure bastion for defense of the area, but also of a springboard for swift and massive retaliation against any aggressor.

Among the numerous advantages we enjoy, the following are some of the more significant:

Libya is an independent state which has voluntarily granted military facilities to the U.S. on a long-term (20-year) basis with what clearly appears to be the full consent of its people. Even those who opposed the ratification of our Base Rights Agreement4 did so for internal political reasons not directly related to the presence of American forces.
There is in Libya no anti-colonial, nationalist movement directed at an occupying or mandatory power, which might threaten the security of U.S. installations, as is the case in Morocco, for example. Moreover, there is no ascertainable internal opposition which views the Base Agreement as a reason for attacking the “ruling class” or for accusing it of supporting “imperialists”. The only political opposition to the present Government is embodied in a group which is essentially pro-British and which, while it would probably not be as helpful to us as is the present Government, would nevertheless be relatively friendly if it came to power.
There is at present no active or sizeable Communist Party in Libya nor is there in fact any Communist influence. Although the economic basis for an organized Communist movement is present in the extreme poverty and backwardness of the mass of the people, continued US–UK economic assistance and support of development projects can prevent its exploitation.
There exists no articulate “unemployed-educated” group of intellectuals to plague the Government with destructive attacks and, since for the immediate future Libya will be able to employ all the educated or half-educated citizens it can train, this great bane of the Middle East will be slow to develop. Technical training can be exploited to the point where it becomes a desirable goal for young Libyans and can thus serve to prevent them from forming a center of dissatisfaction.
Our hands are, to date, completely clean in Libya. With the exception of the French forces in the Fezzan,5 we are not directly associated with mandatory or occupying powers and have not acted like one ourselves. There is no underlying animosity against us because of troop activities during or since the war. The airmen of Wheelus Field have managed to establish a generally good “public relationship” with the local populace and we are formulating long-range plans to preserve and improve it.
There is no “free” press in the normal Middle Eastern sense of the word and consequently, provided we retain the friendship of the Government in power, we are not subject to irresponsible attack through that medium.
The present Prime Minister, Mustafa Ben Halim, is ambitious to become an “international statesman” and will do what he can to retain the support of the major powers (UK and US) who he realizes can materially assist him in attaining his goal.

The provincial police forces, largely British trained and commanded, are at present capable of maintaining internal order. This ability will be enhanced even further if they are centralized under Federal control. Additionally, if an expanded national army is achieved, its mission will be basically the maintenance of internal security and cohesion.

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Libya occupies an advantageous geographical location, at the mid-point in the North African-Mediterranean coast line, directly south of Italy, Sicily and Malta. Its year-round excellent climate and vast areas of uninhabited desert wastelands make it an ideal area for Air Force operations and training, both tactical and strategic.

I have discussed the above advantages on numerous occasions with Col. Rollen H. Anthis, the Commanding Officer at Wheelus Field, and with senior Air Force commanders passing through or visiting Libya, in particular with Maj. Gen. Frederic E. Glantzberg, Commander of the Seventeenth Air Force, with Headquarters presently in Morocco.

That the Air Force already recognizes the possibilities for developing facilities here is exemplified in the construction and expansion of Wheelus Field, a $75 million project. This installation is incorporated in current military planning on the basis of the following missions; the list was prepared by Col. Anthis and has been approved by Gen. Glantzberg:


Present plans make Wheelus Field a vital link in SAC war plans for use as a bomber, tanker refueling and recon-fighter base. A TAC fighter squadron and an AC&W Group, plus two tanker squadrons, will form a critical link in the US Air Defense net in the entire Mediterranean area and presently augment the entire Air Defense System for Moroccan bases.

. . . . . . .

Wheelus Field is presently nearing completion of extensive construction designed to provide large AvGas and jet fuel storage facilities, in addition to being programmed as a forward supply point for the entire Near Eastern area. Large ammunition stores, designed to support combat requirements in war-time operations, are currently on hand at Wheelus Field.
Air Resupply and SAC escape and invasion plans are based upon availability of Wheelus Field as a refueling point, since all aircraft radii of action are predicated on the fact that aircraft can use Wheelus as a refueling base.
Expansion and extension, now under way, of Globe Communications facilities at Wheelus Field make it an essential link in the US world-wide communications net. Wheelus Field is likewise the “gateway” to the Near and Far East for MATS transportation routes.
Wheelus Field plays an important role in the defense of the entire European area by providing important training areas for USAFE air power.
In the event that the Mediterranean becomes untenable in time of war for US Naval Forces, Wheelus Field will become the last [Page 418] major US air base in support of Allied activities for an area extending as far east as India.

Parenthetically, it is possible that in the future the Southern Command of NATO may find itself in need of the real estate provided by the Libyan terrain and port potential around Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk. How utilization by NATO of this area outside of NATO might be brought about would depend somewhat on circumstances at the time, but we have a beginning in the existence of the US Base Agreement and UK Treaty with Libya.6

In the light of Libya’s present role in US Air Force planning as outlined above and in view of the very considerable advantages inherent in Libya’s political stability and fundamental friendship for and faith in the US, I feel the time has come for a review at the NSC level of US policy objectives and means of attainment with specific reference to Libya in the context of our entire North African-Near Eastern position.

I would appreciate your comments and those of your NE and AF staffs relative to a current review of Libya’s possibilities and of US plans to exploit them advantageously. More particularly, I wonder whether the primary role given to the UK in Libya by the NSC7 is still valid or advisable under present circumstances. The members of my staff here who are cognizant with British Embassy activities during the past few years have been impressed by the marked failure of the UK to wield any positive influence in Libya, either politically or economically. It is perhaps significant that the newly arrived British Ambassador, W.G.C. Graham, in a recent conversation with me, professed to be ignorant of any arrangement between the United States and the United Kingdom relative to “primary responsibility” and had assumed from his Foreign Office briefing that we, in fact, were expected to play the major role here. This attitude, if representative of official Foreign Office thinking, could in an emergency lead to much confusion and an “After you, Alphonse” situation which might seriously jeopardize both our positions. I feel very strongly that this point should be clarified with the British, [Page 419] once we ourselves have determined exactly what we want to accomplish here, both now and for the future.

Sincerely yours,

John L. Tappin8
  1. Source: Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1. Top Secret; Official–Informal.
  2. He presented his credentials on November 16, 1954.
  3. Documentation on this agreement, which went into effect on October 30, 1954, is in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xi, Part 1, pp. 538 ff. For text, see 5 UST (pt.3) 2449; TIAS 3107.
  4. On the basis of a treaty subsequently negotiated between France and Libya, the French withdrew their forces by the end of 1956.
  5. The British Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with Libya, signed July 29, 1953, became effective on December 7, 1953. Its text is in Modern Libya by Majid Khadduri (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1963), pp. 363–385.
  6. The only existing NSC paper dealing with Libya was NSC 19/5, “U.S. Position on the Disposition of the Former Italian Colonies,” printed in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. iv, pp. 571578.
  7. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.