80. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • CENTO Command Structure


  • Defense
    • General Thomas D. White, Chief of Staff, USAF
    • Major General Douglas Johnson, USA—Joint Staff
    • Brigadier General L. J. Fields, USMC—Joint Staff
    • Admiral Elonzo B. Grantham, Jr.DOD/ISA and others
  • Department of State
    • Assistant Secretary G. Lewis JonesNEA
    • Michael R. GannettNEA/NR

This conversation took the form of exploring the ground between the position of the Department of Defense on Command Structure as set forth in Mr. Irwin’s letter of March 21, 1960, to Mr. Merchant,1 on the one hand, and the Department’s traditional position on this subject, on the other hand.

Mr. Jones noted that Mr. Irwin’s letter had reached the Department only today and thus there had not been opportunity to consider it as yet; nevertheless, he would find useful an exploratory conversation even if no firm conclusions could be reached at this time. He described at some length the political factors on which the Department has maintained its position that a Command Structure at this time would be premature, noting in particular (1) the adverse reactions which the establishment of a Command Structure would create in the Middle East and particularly in India, (2) our concern that regional states would endeavor to use U.S. participation in a Command Structure as support for their own positions in intra-area disputes, and (3) the inability of the regional members to support a Command Structure in the absence of extensive additional assistance from us. Mr. Jones also described the proposal contained in Ambassador Caccia’s letter of March 18, 1960, to the Secretary.2 (Note: This proposal was to the effect that the U.S.–U.K. seek [Page 247] through diplomatic action removal of Command Structure from the Military Committee’s agenda and reserve it for discussion by the Ministerial Council, indicating that the two Governments were favorably disposed toward some form of Command Structure; the Ministerial Council would then agree in principle to establishment of the structure but, in view of Summit considerations, public announcement would be deferred until the following Council meeting. This proposal was subsequently withdrawn following comments made by U.K. Embassies in the CENTO countries.)

Using the analogy of buying a house, Mr. Jones asked why the JCS thought it was desirable to commit ourselves in principle to a Command Structure without having first negotiated the terms of sale. General Fields replied that the JCS had addressed itself to the military desirability of a Command Structure; having reached an affirmative answer, the JCS stated its conclusion and the condition upon which it is based, namely, agreement on the terms of reference. In response to Mr. Jones’ next query, as to what in the JCS’s opinion is the U.S. military requirement for a CENTO Command Structure, General White spoke briefly of the convenience which such a structure would provide in straightening out U.S. national command arrangements in the Middle East area.

Mr. Jones noted that the JCS guidance would leave open the possibility of the appointment of a U.S. officer as Supreme Commander failing the selection of a regional national, an alternative to which Mr. Jones took exception on political grounds. General White replied that the JCS did not have strong views on a U.S. officer. General White and his staff stated in response to another query that, in reviewing legal aspects of possible U.S. participation in CENTO Command Structure, they had considered merely whether there are prohibitions to U.S. involvement, not whether it would be advisable to seek Congressional views or specific approval.

General White gave the impression that the Joint Chiefs in considering the question of Command Structure had in fact informally delegated to him responsibility on the matter. He seemed relaxed and in fact expressed a personal preference to see the matter dumped into the lap of the Ministerial Council where, because of its political implications, a decision could be more conveniently made. With perfect equanimity he summarized as follows the four alternatives which he found open to us, listing them in order of descending preference:

The position outlined in Mr. Irwin’s letter of March 21, namely, that the U.S. representative in the Military Committee not oppose establishment of a CENTO Command Structure subject to subsequent agreement on terms of reference, and that the matter be referred back to the CENTO Military Planners for the detailed study and staff work which it requires before action could be taken to implement the decision.
The Military Committee and the Ministerial Council should not pass upon the need for a CENTO Command Structure in advance of further study and staff work on the matter, to which CENTO’s military planners should now address themselves.
Removal from the agenda and referral to the Ministerial Council, as proposed by the U.K.
The Department’s traditional position.

In listing these alternatives, General White indicated that the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs were prepared to agree to whatever the Department directs on the matter, in view of the political ramifications involved in the proposal to establish a Command Structure.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 378/3–2260. Secret. Drafted by Gannett.
  2. Not printed, but the letter is summarized in this memorandum. (Ibid., NEA Regional Files: Lot 66 D 8, CENTO Military Committee, 8th Session, 1960)
  3. In this letter, Caccia stated that British Foreign Secretary Lloyd believed that before long the United States and United Kingdom would have to agree to a command structure to avoid a crisis of confidence in CENTO. Caccia then proposed the plan described in the note. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence Files: Lot 66 D 204)