148. Letter From the Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of Defense (Wilson)1
Dear Mr. Secretary: The Libyan Government has urged us for more than a year to grant Libya sufficient military aid to make possible the expansion of the Libyan Army, presently numbering about 1800, to a strength of about 5000, at a cost of approximately $6.5 million.2 The Prime Minister, backed by the King, has appeared to make this an important test of United States friendship. Our Ambassador in Libya has emphasized strongly the need of a Libyan Army adequate to ensure internal security and cohesion, on which the continued smooth operation of our military facilities depends.3
Into this picture has now come the drastic new factor of Soviet penetration into the Near East and North Africa. Libya recently announced that it had agreed to exchange diplomatic missions with the USSR.4 Libya, as an Arab State and neighbor to Egypt, is obviously susceptible to the influence of Egypt and appears to be under strong temptation to adopt Egyptian tactics in the conflict between East and West, not for any love for the Soviets but as a device to get what it wants in the way of arms and other assistance.
The Libyan Prime Minister has told the British Ambassador (realizing the Ambassador in turn would inform us) that Egypt has offered to supply Libya with its requirements for arms from the [Page 420]stocks Egypt can amass.5 If true, this means that Libya, through Egypt, would have access to Soviet bloc shipments. The Prime Minister said he was embarrassed by this offer but would have no basis for refusal before his Council of Ministers unless the United States made a counteroffer.6 The Egyptians are pressing the Libyans for an answer to their offer. Thus the matter is of some urgency.
Despite the elements of bargaining that crop up here, I feel we should move swiftly to accommodate the Libyan arms request in order to forestall the spread of Soviet influence to Libya through the supply of arms. Such a development would involve obvious dangers to our presently safe and unhindered use of military bases there.
Our political position in Libya is basically a favorable one and I feel there is still a good chance of persuading Libya that it has more to lose than to gain in responding to Soviet advances. However, I think the balance might slip rapidly against us if we are unable to counter the prospect of Soviet arms with an attractive proposal of our own. Libya, for reasons of prestige and security, is like other Arab states in its determination to get arms without much regard to the source.
The British, who maintain a military mission in Libya have informed us that they have studied the Libyan requirements, and believe that they can be met at a considerably smaller cost than $6.5 million. The British estimate is approximately $1.12 million. The British have proposed that we join them in a joint gift to the Libyans of equipment in part of the above amount. We have had no indication as to whether the Libyans will be satisfied with the British appraisal. I believe that the United States should (1) agree immediately to the British proposal, and (2) at the same time decide in principle to supply the Libyans with further equipment up to the amount of $6.5 million should the need become apparent.7 The latter decision should not be revealed to the Libyans but would be available as a basis for quick action if and when the need becomes apparent.[Page 421]
In view of the inroads the Soviets have made into Egypt through their arms play and other offers of assistance, I think it is particularly important to separate Libya from other Arab states which might be tempted to follow the Egyptian example. It is likewise important to place a barrier across the Soviet path into North Africa, for I am sure that any Soviet designs on Libya will be made with an eye to the larger game in French North Africa.
If you agree with me on the need and desirability of United States military assistance to Libya at this time, I would suggest that members of our staffs meet to determine the practical extent and form of military aid to Libya. I enclose for your information a memorandum prepared in the Department of State giving further facts on this matter.8
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/11–1255. Secret.↩
- The Libyans periodically renewed their requests to the United States for military aid. See CA–716, July 29, 1954, in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xi, Part 1, p. 591.↩
- In telegram 386 from Tripoli, March 8, Ambassador Tappin expressed support for the Libyan National Army. (Department of State, Central Files, 773.56/3–855)↩
- On September 25.↩
- Telegram 154 from Tripoli, October 7, reported Bin Halim’s approach of that date to Ambassador Graham. Tappin believed that Bin Halim was still hoping for arms from the United States. (Department of State, Central Files, 774.56/10–755) The Czech-Egyptian arms deal was made public September 27.↩
- Tappin summarized his October 25 discussion with Bin Halim in telegram 178, October 27. Bin Halim claimed to have been rebuffed by the British and although he and the King preferred Western arms he was under pressure to accept or justify his rejection of the Egyptian offer. Tappin’s feeling was that “for lack of a nail a shoe was lost, et cetera.” (Ibid., 773.56/10–2755)↩
- The Department of Defense agreed to the first recommendation and Tappin was instructed to join with Graham in informing the Libyans of this on November 15. (Telegram 168 to Tripoli, November 14; ibid., 773.5–MSP/11–1455) As a consequence of the offer, the Egyptian offer was refused.↩
- Not printed. The Department of Defense responded on December 20 in a letter from E. Perkins McGuire, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (ISA) for Mutual Defense Assistance Programs. He noted that any expenditure was impossible unless Libya signed a bilateral agreement as required by Section 142 of the Mutual Security Act of 1955 or the President specified such aid under the provisions of Section 401. He urged the Department of State to employ the second technique so that the $560,000 required in fiscal year 1956 could be made available. (Ibid., 773.5–MSP/12–2055)↩
- Printed from a copy that bears this stamped signature.↩