35. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Planning Board0
ISSUES ARISING OUT OF THE SITUATION IN THE NEAR EAST
I. The Basic Problem
The underlying problem facing the United States in the Near East is well summarized in para. 2 of the General Considerations of the current long-range U.S. policy toward the Near East (NSC 5801/1, January 24, 1958):1
“Current conditions and political trends in the Near East are inimical to Western interests. In the eyes of the majority of Arabs the United States appears to be opposed to the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism. [Page 115] They believe that the United States is seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress, and that the United States is intent upon maneuvering the Arab states into a position in which they will be committed to fight in a World War against the Soviet Union. The USSR, on the other hand, has managed successfully to represent itself to most Arabs as favoring the realization of the goals of Arab nationalism and as being willing to support the Arabs in their efforts to attain those goals without a quid pro quo. Largely as a result of these comparative positions, the prestige of the United States and of the West has declined in the Near East while Soviet influence has greatly increased. The principal points of difficulty which the USSR most successfully exploits are: the Arab-Israeli dispute; Arab aspirations for self-determination and unity; widespread belief that the United States desires to keep the Arab world disunited and is committed to work with ‘reactionary’ elements to that end; the Arab attitude toward the East-West struggle; U.S. support of its Western ‘colonial’ allies; and problems of trade and economic development.”
The coup d’état in Iraq accelerated the deterioration of the Western position in the Near East. The fall of the Iraqi monarchy has further reduced the possibility of carrying out a policy to develop the Arab Union as a counter-weight to the UAR. Other conservative Arab regimes face increased internal opposition and most are now leaning toward Nasser. The introduction of U.S. troops in Lebanon and U.K. troops in Jordan has been interpreted as further identifying the United States as the opponent of Pan-Arab nationalism. Soviet support of the Pan-Arab nationalist movement and of Nasser has also been greatly highlighted. Popular feeling in the Arab world, even in such states as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, is generally favorable to the Iraqi coup and hostile to U.S. intervention in Lebanon and U.K. intervention in Jordan.
II. Current Policy Issues2
A. Should the United States make serious efforts now to reach an accommodation with radical Pan-Arab nationalism of which Nasser is the present symbol?
This is the key policy issue, because our policy toward radical Pan-Arab nationalism will fundamentally affect our position on all of the other issues discussed below. For example, the U.S. might: (a) make a substantial effort to improve our relations with the UAR; (b) promptly recognize the new government of Iraq and undertake to normalize relations [Page 116] with it; (c) make clear that we accept Arab neutralism; (d) make clear that we accept the right of Arab peoples to determine their form of government and the nature of their association with other Arab states, perhaps by UN-supervised plebiscites or elections;3 (e) expand all kinds of contacts and exchanges with Near Eastern countries, especially those of the Arab nationalist group; and (f) seek U.K. cooperation in a course of accommodation to radical Pan-Arab nationalism, particularly with respect to those areas in which the U.K. has a special position.
The argument for seeking an accommodation: We must face up to the fact that Arab nationalism is the dominant force in the Arab world, and that it has assumed a radical form symbolized by Nasser. To the extent that we back regimes which seem out of step with it, or otherwise seek to retard its impact, we are going to appear to oppose it. Accordingly, we must adapt to Arab nationalism and seek to utilize it, if we are to retain more than a steadily declining influence in the Arab world.
Though many steps might be taken to give our policy a cast less hostile to radical Pan-Arab nationalism, these cannot be more than palliatives, so long as in the eyes of most of the area our actions seem basically inconsistent with this posture. Inasmuch as Nasser is the symbol of radical Arab nationalism, unless and until we are able to work with him we cannot really avoid the onus of appearing to oppose the dominant force in the Arab world.
Support of Arab nationalism implies support of Arab unity, which at present seems most likely to occur under the aegis of Nasser. Certain important advantages might result from closer political association among the Arab states of the Near East. Such association could satisfy the desires of Pan-Arab nationalism for unity, dignity and status and thus might gradually eliminate the virulence of that nationalism. It might make the Arabs more able politically to accept the compromises necessary to a settlement with Israel. A strengthened Near East might be less vulnerable to divisive Soviet tactics.
The recent events in Iraq and their aftermath have foreclosed, at least in the short term, the possible alternative of creating an Arab counter-weight to the Nasser-led UAR. Even the military defeat of the UAR or the death of Nasser would be unlikely to have any long-run effect upon Pan-Arab nationalism.
Because the West has seemed opposed to Arab nationalism, the Arabs have turned to the USSR for support. To the extent that the U.S. works with Arab nationalism, however, the Arabs may feel less need for Soviet political and military support. If at the same time the Soviets become more overt in their penetration, the same nationalist reaction as [Page 117] occurred against the West may develop against the USSR. Hence in the long run Arab nationalism may prove to be the greatest counter-force to Soviet penetration of the area.
In the eyes of almost the entire Arab world, the new regime in Iraq is regarded as more genuinely representative than its predecessor. Moreover, it has made several gestures designed to indicate its desire for continued amicable relations with us. Recognition at this time would be evidence that the United States is not opposed to Arab nationalism per se, and would strengthen a second center of Arab nationalism.
If we are not to accommodate to Arab nationalism, we must face the probable necessity of continued deployment of troops in the Near East, with the likelihood of increasingly serious incidents and the resultant risks of war.
- The argument against seeking an accommodation: Because of the many disparities between our interests and the demands of radical Arab nationalism, the United States cannot afford to accommodate to it. The special U.S. relationship with Israel, both historical and present, puts the United States at a serious disadvantage in any competition with the USSR for the favor of the Arab nationalist. The prospects for establishing a relationship of mutual confidence between Nasser and the West appear remote. Moreover, Pan-Arab nationalism under Nasser’s leadership may be virtually insatiable; it may not stop its march until it has taken over large parts of Africa. Thus, to deal with it may only bring a still more rapid loss of Western influence. An accommodation to Arab nationalism could adversely affect our relations with Turkey, Pakistan and Iran; and might involve the possibility of abandoning our commitments to Jordan and Lebanon, create serious problems for the present regimes in Libya and the Sudan, and eventually endanger other North African regimes. An accommodation with Arab nationalism might prejudice Western security requirements in the area, e.g. by loss of bases at Dharan and Aden. In view of the strong line the United States initially took on the coup in Iraq, and in supporting the regimes in Jordan and Lebanon, a sudden shift in our policy would sow confusion in the Free World, including the United States itself.
Finally, it is very doubtful whether close political association of the Arab states is, from the standpoint of U.S. interests, desirable. Such association might present a more serious threat to Israel’s integrity and to Western access to Near Eastern oil.
B. Should the United States seek an accommodation with the USSR on the Near East, possibly through the UN?
The United States might, for example: (a) seek an arms embargo or a limitation on arms shipments to the Arab states and Israel, with an effective system of inspection and control; (b) seek Soviet agreement to a [Page 118] guarantee of the boundaries in the area including the boundaries of Israel; (c) accept the Soviet proposal for great power non-interference in the internal affairs of Near Eastern countries.
- The argument for seeking an accommodation: The USSR has become a very important factor in the area and can no longer be ignored. Though the USSR’s interests conflict at most important points with those of the United States, it does share with us a concern lest a local conflict in the area develop into general war. This concern could provide the basis for limited, though important understandings. Whether an agreement were to be achieved or not, a more realistic acceptance by the United States of the Soviet presence and a willingness to negotiate could have favorable political effects on the Arab nationalists and upon neutral countries elsewhere. An early embargo on arms shipments would also help to stabilize the Arab-Israeli situation, recognizing, however, that this might involve Israeli initiation of hostilities against the Arabs. Finally, it might become more important for us to forestall Soviet military intervention in, or even arms aid to, the Arab states than to retain these options ourselves.
- The argument against seeking an accommodation: An agreement to great power non-intervention in the Middle East, by which the Soviets almost certainly mean no intervention with outside force, would tie U.S.-U.K. hands, while leaving open to the Soviets many types of subversive penetration. Any broader agreement which would cover all types of great power interference, including the above, would probably be unenforceable. Moreover, an agreement, or even an attempt to reach an agreement, between the United States and the USSR could seriously undermine such limited anti-Communist forces and regimes as are left in the area; an arms embargo or a limitation on arms would work to the disadvantage of pro-Western, though unpopular, regimes with internal security problems.
C. Should the United States reconsider its policy toward Israel?
As part of an accommodation with radical Arab nationalism, the U.S. might, for example, (a) exert all feasible pressures to obtain Israeli concessions designed to promote an eventual modus vivendi between Israel and the Arabs, e.g., limitation of immigration, territorial adjustments, and refugee compensation; (b) at the same time, provide additional unilateral, or if possible multilateral, guarantees of Israel’s integrity.
- The argument for reconsideration of U.S. policy toward Israel: Because a major element in Arab resentment toward the United States has been its part in promoting the growth of Israel, it is essential to any permanent reconciliation with the Arab populations that the United States demonstrate its intention to seek to limit Israel’s future immigration, to [Page 119] ameliorate the refugee situation, and to effect reasonable territorial adjustments. Such action might also make feasible a modus vivendi between Israel and the Arab states.
- The argument against reconsideration of U.S. policy toward Israel: It is doubtful whether any likely U.S. pressures on Israel would cause Israel to make concessions which would do much to satisfy Arab demands, which in the final analysis may not be satisfied by anything short of the destruction of Israel. Moreover, if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.
D. Should the United States be prepared to support, or if necessary assist, the British in using force to retain control of Kuwait and the Persian Gulf?
- The argument for such action: An assured source of oil is essential to the continued economic viability of Western Europe. Moreover, the U.K. asserts that its financial stability would be seriously threatened if the petroleum from Kuwait and the Persian Gulf area were not available to the U.K. on reasonable terms, if the U.K. were deprived of the large investments made by that area in the U.K. and if sterling were deprived of the support provided by Persian Gulf oil. If Nasser obtains dominant influence over the Persian Gulf oil producing areas, Western access to this oil on acceptable terms might be seriously threatened. The only way to guarantee continued access to Persian Gulf oil on acceptable terms is to insist on maintaining the present concessions and be prepared to defend our present position by force if necessary. Continued access to Persian Gulf oil gives the West a strong bargaining position.
- The argument against such action: If armed force must be used to help retain this area (or even if there is a public indication of willingness to use force), the benefits of any actions in the direction of accommodation with radical Pan-Arab nationalism will be largely lost and U.S. relations with neutral countries elsewhere would be adversely affected. Such accommodation would better provide the basis for continued assurance of access to Kuwait and Persian Gulf oil.
E. Should the United States increase economic assistance to the Near East as an integral part of an accommodation?
The United States might, for example: (a) increase U.S. economic aid, offering it to the UAR, Yemen and Iraq, as well as to the states committed to the West; (b) offer U.S. support for an Arab development institution open to all Arab states in the area; be prepared to make a substantial contribution to the initial capital and call upon other Western nations to do the same.
- The argument for such increased emphasis: Such action would emphasize our concern for the economic advancement of the peoples of the [Page 120] area. It would be an important means of aligning the United States with the goals of Arab nationalism and, if given without discrimination on political grounds and with emphasis upon regional projects, such aid would help dispel the impression that the United States is interested only in dividing and dominating the area. It could lead to the diversion of Arab nationalism into more constructive channels.
- The argument against such increased emphasis: Under present circumstances it would appear to be an attempt to buy off the opposition to the United States and might well be interpreted as a sign of U.S. weakness. The Arab’s expectations as to what we would be able to do if we really “wanted” to are so great that any likely increase in the U.S. aid program would still be quite disappointing to them. The basic economic situation of Egypt is so poor that no feasible U.S. aid program is likely to arrest a continuing decline in living standards over the long run. Regional projects involving Israel are obviously not presently feasible, while those involving only the Arab states have been difficult to identify. We might alarm some of our friends, such as Iran and Pakistan, and further stimulate their demands for increased U.S. aid.
- Source: Department of State, S/S-NSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5801 Memoranda. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. Submitted to the NSC by Lay under cover of a memorandum of July 29, which stated that the enclosed list of policy issues prepared by the NSC Planning Board was transmitted as the basis of the NSC discussion on July 31; see Document 36.↩
- Document 5.↩
- The examples of U.S. actions following each policy issue are merely illustrative and do not cover all possibilities. These examples are not intended as an integrated program, but may each be considered separately. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- See Annex C. [Footnote in the source text; printed below.]↩
- Top Secret.↩
- In the unlikely event that Iraq remains in the Pact it would probably be inopportune to change the existing membership in the short term. Even so, if Iraq becomes closely associated with the UAR, military planning under the Pact will probably be rendered ineffective and in the long run the U.S. might have to reconsider the pattern of regional security arrangements in the Near East. [Footnote in the source text.]↩
- Top Secret.↩
- Top Secret.↩