132. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Taylor)0

My scouts tell me that by today’s State/JCS meeting1 you and your cohorts had become even more dubious about a token air deployment to Saudi Arabia, and are offering the Sixth Fleet instead.

I recognize the military concerns and contingent risks which rightly worry the Chiefs,2 but I hope they have in mind the essentially political [Page 304] rationale of this exercise. As I understand it, it is in fact designed to deter a form of escalation into larger inter-Arab war, which might really involve us in military deployments along the lines of the 1958 Lebanon affair. A token deployment under certain stiff conditions would serve this end by: (1) warning Nasser off from further bombing of Saudi territory; (2) reassuring Faisal as to Saudi security but at the price of requiring him in effect to abandon his covert support of the Yemeni Royalists. Unless both Nasser and Faisal stop misbehaving we may find ourselves in the middle of something more than a civil war in Yemen, one involving greater likelihood of Soviet meddling and greater pressures on us from both sides.

So my question is whether we could not accept a lesser risk of military involvement in an effort to avoid a greater. I would say that the odds are against Faisal accepting our terms in the first place, in which case we would get the benefit of the gesture without having to take the risk; (2) the odds are even higher against the Egyptians risking a clash with U.S. aircraft, with all this would imply; and (3) the odds are quite high against such an encounter leading to an air war between the U.S. and UAR—how could Nasser win this?

The Sixth Fleet force strikes me as at once too large a gesture and too vague to have bite at the point of impact. If Nasser feels he must react to the Fleet’s presence and bombs Najran again, we surely would not bomb UAR airfields in reply. We would still have to send planes to Faisal or be paper tigers, after all our strong words to Nasser and reassurances to Faisal.

I gather the Chiefs also wonder whether this flea-bitten part of the world is one where we should get involved. I’m afraid we are involved here long since—even though it may have been a mistake in the first place. But remember oil.

There are risks either way, but the greater danger may be to do nothing, in a case where we have so much at stake. I think the President will want to hear argument if State and the military can’t agree on how our strength should be used here.

[Page 305]
McGeorge Bundy3

P.S. I am sending this to be on your desk early in the morning, with the thought that we might argue about it at one of our Saturday WH meetings.4

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Saudi Arabia, 1/63–3/63. Secret.
  2. A memorandum of the substance of discussion at the State-JCS meeting held at the Pentagon on January 11 is in Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 70 D 199, State-JCS Meetings. Talking points prepared for the JCS prior to the meeting are in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 218, JCS Records, 1961, 9180/3100 (31 December 1962).
  3. On January 9, Sloan (OSD/ISA) telephoned Grant (NEA) to indicate that the Department of Defense could not agree to a proposed cable on the dispatch of U.S. air units to Saudi Arabia, because the JCS believed that the terms of reference for such a mission had not been sufficiently spelled out. On January 10, Komer informed the Department of State that President Kennedy would want JCS concurrence in any action. (Memorandum from Grant to Talbot and Strong, January 9; Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US-SAUD)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  5. On January 13 in telegram 408 to Jidda, cleared with the White House, Defense Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Department of State instructed Hart to inform Faysal that the United States was prepared to consider the prompt dispatch of tactical fighters to visit Saudi Arabia on a periodic basis. These could only be sent, however, if Faysal would give his word that Saudi Arabia would suspend all transportation and shipments of military equipment and ammunition to the Royalists and that no foreign pilots and aircraft be brought in for the Royalists via Saudi Arabia. For his information only, Hart was informed that these aircraft would not be employed against Yemeni or UAR forces unless they were directly engaged and needed to respond in self defense. (Department of State, Central Files, 786A.5486B/1–863)