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


  • CENTO Item on Agenda for Department-JCS Meeting on March 17, 1961
The JCS have requested that U.S. policy toward CENTO be discussed at the Department-JCS meeting on March 17.1 It appears that the JCS probably wish to ascertain to what extent the Department’s draft [Page 47]policy paper on CENTO, recently sent to Defense, is a definitive reflection of the Department’s current thinking on this subject. A copy of this paper is set forth at Tab A.2
Doubtless you will recall that Mr. McGhee sent you a copy of the draft paper3 under cover of his memorandum of March 2 (Tab B)4 and that subsequently you authorized him to send it to Defense, indicating that it set forth the Department’s thinking. In sending our paper to Defense, Mr. McGhee suggested that officers of the two Departments meet shortly to work out an agreed U.S. position in preparation for meetings in late April of the CENTO Military Committee and Ministerial Council. NEA and S/P would still hope for such an opportunity following your preliminary discussion with the JCS on March 17.
The general concept behind our draft paper is that the major threat to the treaty area at the present time can be expected to come not from external aggression on a massive scale but from failure to solve serious social and economic problems to which the regional member states should be devoting their major attention. At the same time, our paper suggests that we should avoid assuming any attitude toward the military aspects of CENTO which would have the effect of discouraging the member states’ efforts to maintain their military preparedness. The paper recommends that the United States not adhere formally to CENTO nor participate in the establishment of command arrangements but should continue general support of the Organization, particularly in respect to political and economic cooperation.
By way of background it should be noted that the JCS have been concerned for some time that our support for CENTO, particularly in the military field, has been so limited that the regional members are becoming disillusioned and that CENTO is in danger of collapsing. They believe that, should CENTO disintegrate, Iran would probably retreat from its current orientation toward the West and eventually fall under Soviet domination.
With these views in mind, the Joint Chiefs recommended in October that the United States undertake steps to invigorate CENTO as a defensive military organization. They made several specific proposals to this end which the Department of Defense endorsed in general terms when forwarding them to us for our comments. The principal recommendations of the Joint Chiefs were:
The United States should join CENTO;
The United States should take part in the establishment of a command organization; and
The United States should enable CENTO military requirements planning to reflect improved future capabilities for CENTO forces, through inclusion of Hawk missiles in our bilateral military assistance programs with Iran and Pakistan (Turkey’s anti-aircraft defenses are further advanced in view of its NATO relationship) and through the introduction into such CENTO planning of consideration of U.S. tactical nuclear capabilities which we have unilaterally earmarked for deployment to the CENTO area by U.S. forces in event of Communist aggression.
The draft paper at Tab A represents in essence the Department’s substantive reply to the JCS views. It does not, however, respond as directly to points set forth in c. above as it does to a. and b. The points in c. are among those which NEA believes may require further discussion within the Department and subsequently with Defense, particularly the matter of tactical nuclear capabilities. This latter point involves the regional members’ insistence that they must know whether tactical nuclear support would be available to support defense of the CENTO area against Communist aggression. On this matter we are faced by the dilemma of how to formulate an answer which allays the regional members’ genuine concern but which at the same time squares with our policy of not providing nuclear capabilities to the indigenous forces of our non-NATO allies in the Middle East.
There are indications that, if the United States does not proceed along the lines recommended by the JCS, the Joint Chiefs may wish to disassociate themselves in the future from the degree of personal involvement in CENTO military affairs to which they have been committed in the past. We believe this whole matter should be approached gradually in a manner not to discourage the defense efforts of the member states. Since the Military Committee meeting now scheduled for April 24–25 was postponed to that date in order to fit in with the heavy schedule of the JCS members, it is desirable that one of the Joint Chiefs keep this engagement.


That you confirm to the Joint Chiefs that our draft paper (Tab A) reflects accurately the Department’s thinking on CENTO policy.
That you indicate the Department continues to look forward to early discussions with Defense on certain aspects, particularly the tactical nuclear arms problem.
If the issue arises, that you indicate that the Department believes it is important that a JCS member represent the United States at the April meeting of the Military Committee.
  1. Source: Department of State, State-JCS Meetings: Lot 70 D 328, March 17, 1961–11:30 a.m. Secret. Drafted by Gannett (NEA/NR) on March 15 and concurred in by McGhee (S/P) and Courtney (S/AE).
  2. No record of this meeting has been found.
  3. Dated February 24. See Supplement, the regional compilation.
  4. Dated March 9. (Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Chron File-E.M. Wilson)
  5. Not printed. (Ibid., Near & Middle East, 1959–61)