356. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Rountree) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Policy Planning (Smith) to Acting Secretary of State Dillon0


  • Use of Force to Maintain Access to Persian Gulf Oil
For the past several months an intra-Departmental committee chaired by S/P and consisting of representatives of C, NEA, E and INR has studied the practicability of maintaining access to essential requirements of Near Eastern oil by the use of military force within the purview of (Tab II) NSC 5820/11—the latest statement of US policy on the Near East. Paragraph 23 of this document, which was approved last fall, provides that the US should be prepared to use force as a last resort, either alone or in support of the UK, to insure that the quantity of oil available from the Near East on reasonable terms is sufficient, together with oil from other sources, to meet Western Europe’s requirements. The criterion relates the use of force, as a “last resort”, only to the supply of Western Europe’s essential oil requirements. This is the only test of the use of force established in NSC 5820/1.
The study (Tab I),2 of which we suggest that you read only the covering memorandum of conclusions and recommendations, is transmitted herewith. It reaches three broad conclusions: That (a) the criterion for the use of force unilaterally or in support of the UK, as provided in paragraph 23 of NSC 5820/1, is unrealistic since (i) “last resort” situations are unlikely to occur and (ii) the criterion does not cover situations short of a “last resort” under which the British might invoke force in the Persian Gulf area to protect what are considered to be vital national interests; (b) the adverse consequences of the use of force to maintain access to Near Eastern oil on reasonable terms would be such as to make military force impracticable in the long-term; and (c) serious divergencies exist between the British and ourselves on the issues and situations which might justify the use of force in the Persian Gulf area, especially in respect of Kuwait.
The study recommends that (a) paragraph 23 of NSC 5820/1 be reviewed for purposes of developing, if possible, more realistic policy [Page 789] guidance on the circumstances under which force might be invoked in the Persian Gulf area (this would not require the reopening of the whole of NSC 5820/1 to review, which we would oppose at this time); (b) an effort be made to determine whether divergent US-UK views on the use of force in the Persian Gulf area can be reconciled; (c) the US-UK study adjustments which may be required in the area to insure continued peaceful access to essential oil requirements on reasonable terms; and (d) US-UK contingency military planning continue against the possibility that situations may arise requiring the use of force to prevent an expansion of Soviet influence in the area.
Certain of these recommendations—(c) and (d)—are being implemented at present. You are of course aware of the contingency military planning which continues in London. We have also recently received a voluminous UK study, presented by the British Embassy, on Middle East oil concessions which an inter-Departmental committee is now studying. Thus no further action is called for at present under these recommendations.
We believe that recommendations (a) and (b) should be activated, though we do not at this time believe that it would be productive to discuss further with the British our differing approach to the use of force in the Persian Gulf area. Rather, we recommend that the proposed review of paragraph 23 should examine whether these divergent US-UK views can be reconciled and whether it is in our interest to make the effort. We also believe this study might well be forwarded to the Secretary of Defense for his information and that he also be informed of what further action we propose to take on the study’s recommendations.


That you authorize review of paragraph 23 of NSC 5820/1 along the lines proposed herein.
That you authorize forwarding of the study to the Secretary of Defense as proposed.
  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, NEA and Middle East. Top Secret. Drafted by Henry C. Ramsey of S/P and cleared with Merchant and Reinhardt.
  2. Document 51.
  3. The study, June 9, was attached, but is not printed.
  4. Dillon approved both recommendations on July 20. The letter to the Assistant Secretary of Defense forwarding the study is Document 68.