65. Editorial Note

On May 13 at the 406th meeting of the National Security Council, the Council discussed the issue of Western European dependence on Middle East petroleum. The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Gordon Gray, reminded the Council that it had asked the Director of the Office of Civilian and Military Defense Mobilization to undertake with other agencies (State, Defense, Commerce, and Interior) a study on ways to reduce European dependency on Middle East oil. Gray called on Director Hoegh to summarize the report that his Office prepared and distributed on March 26. As background, Hoegh stated that the study resulted from a belief that the oil-producing countries of the Middle East were in a position to exert too much economic and political influence on Western Europe. The obvious solution would be the development of alternative petroleum sources in Europe and in other areas of the “Free World” accessible to Western Europe. Hoegh noted that the study suggested that North Africa and West African oil sources would be particularly valuable because of their proximity to Europe. The study recommended development of these and other non-Middle East sources and encouragement of European emergency planning to share oil in time of an energy emergency, including rationing, stockpiling, better storage facilities, and maintaining a surplus of obsolete oil tankers in reserve. It also recommended encouraging construction of oil pipelines from North Africa and research and development of alternatives to petroleum—oil shale, tar sand, natural gas, and nuclear energy. (Study prepared by an Interagency Group chaired by the OCDM; March 26; Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Near and Middle East, 1959–1961) The study is scheduled for publication in volume III.

The Council also discussed at its meeting a split among the various agencies on whether the United States should attempt to reduce Western [Page 221]European dependence on Middle Eastern oil (favored by Defense, Interior, Commerce, and OCDM) or merely retard it (favored by State, Treasury, and the Bureau of the Budget). Although supporting the measures recommended in the study, the Department of State did not want to imply any reduction of interest in the Middle East, to reduce oil revenues to Middle East countries, or to deprive Europe of low-priced Middle East crude. The Treasury’s concern was that the study’s recommendations would amount to U.S. support for development of petroleum by governmental monopolies.

President Eisenhower doubted whether under Europe’s system of free enterprise, Europeans could be induced to reduce their dependence of cheap Middle East oil. He was not in favor of “crash programs” or “governmental programs for oil development” and thought that the United States was doing as much as could be expected to reduce European dependence. The President did not see much difference between “reduce” and “retard” and suggested that perhaps the U.S. objective should be to reduce dependence and the course of action should be to retard increasing dependence.

The Council agreed to "retard” Western Europe’s dependence and to "continue to encourage such action as is economically and politically feasible" to develop alternative sources of oil and energy outside the Middle East. (Memorandum of discussion by Boggs, May 13; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records) The text of the National Security Council discussion is printed in volume IV, pages 610–616.