355. Memorandum From the Legal Adviser (Becker) to Secretary of State Herter0


  • Iraqi attack upon Kuwait: effect of Middle East Resolution

It is my opinion that if Iraq attacked Kuwait and Kuwait requested military assistance from the United States, the granting of such assistance by the United States would be covered by the Middle East Resolution (Public Law 85–7, 85th Cong., H.J. Res. 117, March 9, 1957). In Section 2 of that Resolution it is stated in part:

“… the United States regards as vital to the national interest and world peace the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East. To this end, if the President determines the necessity thereof, the United States is prepared to use armed forces to assist any such nation or group of such nations requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism: Provided, That such employment shall be consonant with the treaty obligations of the United States and with the Constitution of the United States.”

You will note that there are two requirements under this resolution, namely, (1) that the nation being subjected to armed aggression request assistance, and (2) that the armed aggression emanates from a country [Page 787] controlled by international Communism. I believe that such a finding could, under existing circumstances, be made with respect to Iraq.1

A request by the UK would not conform to the first requirement of the Middle East Resolution. In the Lebanon situation, the use of troops was authorized not under the Middle East Resolution, but rather under the President’s constitutional authority as President and Commander in Chief to give aid to a country, the independence and integrity of which were regarded as vital to the national interests and world peace. In that case, however, Lebanon requested military assistance. If we were to send troops to Kuwait, solely on the basis of a request from the British (and particularly if the Government of Kuwait objected), our position would be doubtful, to say the least, under international law.

The question of whether the UK did or did not collaborate in military operations in Kuwait would not affect the position of the United States under international law. I am not aware of any treaty or agreement committing us to assist the UK in such military operations.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786D.5–MSP/5–1559. Confidential. Herter and Becker were in Geneva for the Foreign Ministers Meeting on Germany and Berlin. Merchant wrote the following note at the top of this memorandum: “Mr. SECRETARY (per your request this morning).” A note attached to this memorandum by Max V. Krebs, May 22, indicates that the Secretary found this memorandum “extremely interesting” and asked that it be sent to Washington for appropriate distribution.
  2. Merchant wrote the following comments next to this sentence: “I doubt whether this finding could be conclusively supported and even so whether under present circumstances it would be wise to make it [?] public. LTM.”
  3. On May 14, Harold Macmillan sent Eisenhower a letter reminding him that during their Camp David talks (see Document 62), they agreed that a potentially dangerous situation might arise in Iraq, Kuwait, and Iran. Macmillan wrote that the British Chiefs of Staff were engaged in reviewing plans to meet a threat to Kuwait from Iraq and hoped that Eisenhower would agree to initiate joint U.S.-U.K. planning for Kuwait along the lines of joint planning done for Lebanon. (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, International File, Macmillan)