121. Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Battle) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • Iran: Contingency Planning

Under the aegis of the Task Force on Iran, State and Defense have reviewed political and military contingency planning on possible United States actions to deter Soviet military action against Iran, as well as to meet other possible forms of Soviet pressure direct or indirect. The current status of military contingency plans is discussed in the attachment to this memorandum.

In reviewing possible and desirable United States courses of action in the event of heightened Soviet pressures against Iran, it was found that the United States was inhibited in both the military and the political spheres. It has been assumed that Soviet military attack on Iran means general war. There are therefore no plans for United States response to overt Soviet action on less than a general war level. Politically, deterrent actions have been circumscribed by the absence of a clear policy determination on several issues, including whether or not the United States would be willing to risk general war in order to defend Iran against Soviet military attack. If the United States is not, it must be determined whether the United States is willing to engage its prestige in a pretense that we are willing to go to general war, in the knowledge that if our bluff were to be called it might have disastrous results.

In an effort to cope with this situation, an informal joint State-Defense Working Group has been urgently preparing a study of those political and military deterrent actions which can be taken under present policies, and a parallel list of those actions which might prove feasible and desirable in the event of certain policy decisions being reached. It is anticipated that this study will be put in final form following the publication on October 5 of a Special National Intelligence Estimate on the [Page 285] Soviet threat to Iran.1 The Task Force will then be in a position to make concrete recommendations as to its disposition.

Melvin L. Manfull2




Our war plans covering situations which might involve the Soviet Union and the United States in Iran have been reviewed as a matter of urgency. They consist of general war plans designed to support indigenous forces and contingency plans covering situations of a local nature, but not involving Soviet forces. These plans are based upon former United States policy outlined in paragraph 45 of NSC 6010, dated June 3, 1960, U.S. Policy Toward Iran3 as follows:

“In the event USSR military forces invade Iran, the United States should proceed on the assumption that general war may be imminent …”

While NSC 2427, 19 May 1961,4 replaced NSC 6010 it deferred any decisions on whether or how the United States would react militarily to Soviet attack on Iran. In the review of our current contingency plans specific military and political areas were identified where new guidance is indicated.

U.S. military contingency plans in support of Iran against internal strife and possible incursion from other Middle East countries provide for the possible employment in excess of two divisions with commensurate air and naval forces. These plans do not address themselves specifically to a situation covering a Soviet invasion of Iran since they are formulated on the assumption that such an invasion would mean the imminence of general war.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reported to the Secretary of Defense that the United States does not have sufficient military assets to [Page 286] station permanently significant additional forces in Iran or adjacent areas and meet current worldwide security commitments. Furthermore, a decision to deploy sizeable forces to the Middle East area to assist Iran against a Soviet attack must consider the possibility of the conflict escalating into general war and the effect of the decision on United States general war posture. Within present general war strategy, it is not contemplated that sizeable U.S. combat forces will be deployed to the Middle East area, at least initially. It is within the framework of these facts and former policy that our United States military plans have been developed.
Inasmuch as there are no military plans, other than those covering general war, which deal specifically with a limited war between the Soviet Union and the United States confined to Iran a gap may exist in our military planning. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are, therefore, being asked to develop a study of the capability of the United States conducting a limited war against the Soviet Union in Iran with or without nuclear weapons.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.88/10–461. Top Secret. Drafted by Marcy (NEA/GTI) and cleared by Colonel Price (JCS), Colonel Tucker (DOD/ISA), Talbot, and G/PM. This memorandum was written in response to a September 13 White House request; see Document 108. On October 5, Komer sent it to Bundy under cover of Document 122.
  2. SNIE 11–12–61, “The Soviet Threat to Iran and the CENTO Area,” October 5.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Manfull signed for Battle above Battle’s typed signature.
  4. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. XII, pp. 680688.
  5. Document 51.