78. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Jones) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant)0


  • CENTO Command Structure

I understand that the agenda for your discussions with the JCS on March 111 includes Middle East command. As I believe the JCS may be considering this subject partly in connection with another matter which is not on the March 11 agenda, namely CENTO command structure, I believe the information set forth below may be of use to you as background.

The three regional members of CENTO (Iran, Pakistan and Turkey) have long favored the establishment of a command structure complete with theater and service headquarters. They believe this is essential in order to strengthen the military side of CENTO. There are clear indications that they intend to pursue this subject vigorously at the CENTO Military Committee meeting, March 28–30, and in the CENTO Ministerial meeting, April 28–30. For instance, CENTO’s Secretary General, who previously has served as the Shah’s cat’s paw in the Shah’s efforts to garner for himself the role of CENTO commander-in-chief, has informally asked Ambassador Warren what would be the U.S. reaction to a request that we provide a commander-in-chief for CENTO forces.

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The United States has opposed a CENTO command structure on the ground it would be both a political and an economic liability at this juncture. The Department has felt its creation would be seriously misunderstood by other countries in the area and would intensify pressure by the CENTO regional members for increased military aid, for CENTO “common infrastructure,” and for the assignment or earmarking of U.S. forces. The JCS has felt, on the other hand, that a command structure is warranted from a military viewpoint, when conditions permit, meaning in effect when the Department withdraws its political objection. There are indications that the Air Force feels less strongly on this matter than the Army and possibly than the Navy. Our military may, from a military viewpoint, find interesting the possibility of providing a CENTO Supreme Commander.

The British have felt less strongly than ourselves but last summer, after some indecision, agreed with us that on political grounds a command structure is politically premature. Embassy London reported last week that the Foreign Office still is “not advocating command structure, only examining how question should be handled tactically”. The Counselor of the British Embassy here told me somewhat more forthrightly that the Foreign Office was thinking along the line that, if we must give in later in 1960 to the regional states’ views on this matter—and the Foreign Office thought we would—then why not do so gracefully now and thus be able more effectively to limit the scope of the structure created.

The current situation within CENTO as regards planning on command structure is as follows. The Ministerial Council in Washington last October directed the Military Committee to undertake planning on this matter. Thereupon the Combined Military Planning Staff (CMPS), CENTO’s international military planning body, took up the matter and, according to our latest information, is still seized with it. Customarily the CMPS’s study would be subjected during consideration by the Permanent Military Deputies Group (PMDG) to the national views of the participating countries, before being sent to the Military Committee. But in view of the shortness of time remaining before the Military Committee meets on March 28, the PMDG’s consideration is likely to be perfunctory at best. In order to have ready instructions for General White, who is to represent us in the Military Committee meeting, the JCS is now considering CENTO command structure, even though it does not have before it a CMPS paper on the subject. Not having yet completed its own study on the matter, the JCS may not wish to take the initiative in raising CENTO command structure with you or to engage in a substantive discussion on the subject.

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That you indicate to the Joint Chiefs your hope that you and they may discuss CENTO command structure at an early date, in anticipation of the Military Committee meeting.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Regional Files: Lot 66 D 8. Secret. Drafted by Michael R. Gannett of NEA/NR.
  2. See Document 79.