160. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 36.5–56


The Problem

To estimate likely developments in Libya over the next few years and their impact on US interests, particularly base rights.


Provided the ailing 66-year-old King Idriss remains at the head of the government, Libya will probably be able to maintain a precarious political stability over the next few years. However, political immaturity, factionalism, and rivalry between the provinces will be continuing problems for the foreseeable future. The death or incapacitation of the King would remove Libya’s principal unifying force and probably precipitate a complex internal struggle for power, with intensified competition for influence between Egypt, the USSR, the UK, and other foreign powers. (Paras. 12–13, 17, 19–21, 28–29)
Premier Ben Halim is not popular and his tenure remains largely dependent on royal favor and support. However, he will probably succeed in strengthening his political position, and if still in office on the death of the King, will seek to assume full control. (Paras. 14–15, 18–20)
Unless current and projected oil explorations prove extraordinarily successful, Libya will remain heavily dependent on foreign [Page 455] assistance to pay for essential imports and to meet governmental expenses. (Para. 16)
Libya’s foreign policy is likely to be ambivalent. The king tends to be pro-US, but his principal advisers and possible successors, including Ben Halim, are more opportunistic. Despite Libya’s dependence on US and UK financial subsidies, it is sympathetic with the anticolonial and anti-Western feelings of the Arab world, and is subject to extensive Egyptian influence. Libyan leaders fear Egyptian domination and suspect Egyptian intentions, yet they will cooperate with Egypt in various policies, some of which are hostile to Western interests. However, at least as long as Idriss is in control, Libya is unlikely to join the ESS Arab bloc. (Paras. 12–30)
With respect to Soviet relations, Ben Halim has recently rejected, and has promised to reject in the future, Bloc offers of technical and economic assistance.3 Nevertheless, he or his successors will almost certainly again use any future Bloc offers as bargaining counters to gain concessions from the US and UK. As time goes on, the Libyan government will probably be increasingly tempted to follow through with some deals with the Bloc, particularly if the principle of dealing with the Bloc becomes generally accepted in the area. Although the Libyans will probably continue to be restrained by fear of alienating the US and UK, and thus prejudicing the continued receipt of substantial Western assistance, they will probably go as far in the direction of deals with the Bloc as they think the traffic will bear. Should future US–UK aid fall substantially short of expectations, or should Idriss depart from the scene, the likelihood of Libyan deals with the Bloc would increase. (Paras. 31–34)
There are unlikely to be any serious moves toward the repudiation of US base rights so long as King Idriss remains in power. However, retention of US base rights in Libya is likely to become increasingly costly and troublesome. There is likely to be increasing nationalist opposition to base concessions, which might lead initially to demands for a reduction in the present degree of US control over these bases. Moreover, in the confused situation which would probably result from the king’s death or retirement, while a continuation of US base rights would not be precluded, the difficulties and risks would be increased. (Paras. 38–42)
In view of the authoritarian character of the regime and the low level of popular political consciousness, we consider it unlikely that the local security of US bases will be seriously threatened within the next year or two at least. (Para. 40)

[Here follows the “Discussion” section of the paper.]

  1. Source: Department of State, INRNIE Files. Secret. Files of National Intelligence Estimates, Special Estimates, and Special National Intelligence Estimates, retained by the Directorate for Regional Research, Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

    National Intelligence Estimates (NIE’s) were high-level interdepartmental reports presenting authoritative appraisals of vital foreign policy problems. NIE’s were drafted by officers from those agencies represented on the Intelligence Advisory Committee (IAC), discussed and revised by interdepartmental working groups coordinated by the Office of National Estimates of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), approved by the IAC, and circulated under the aegis of the CIA to the President, appropriate officers of cabinet level, and the National Security Council. The Department of State provided all political and some economic sections of NIE’s.

    According to a note on the cover sheet, “The following intelligence organizations participated in the preparation of this estimate: The Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and The Joint Staff. Concurred in by the Intelligence Advisory Committee on 19 June 1956. … The Atomic Energy Commission Representative to the IAC and the Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, abstained, the subject being outside of their jurisdiction.”

  2. Supersedes the Libyan section of NIE–54, “Probable Developments in North Africa,” 31 August 1954. [Footnote in the source text. For text of NIE 71–54, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xi, Part 1, p. 153.]
  3. See supra.