209. Letter From Secretary of Defense Clifford to Secretary of State Rusk1

Dear Dean:

On the subject of the extension and revision of our Defense Agreement with Spain, which the Spanish have asked be negotiated, I believe it is useful and appropriate to provide State with a Department of Defense position, supplementing the views of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (as set forth in JCSM-35-68 of January 18, 1968, and JCSM-247-68 of April 17, 1968).2 The JCS papers have already been forwarded for your consideration.

The Department of Defense considers that the availability of the Spanish base complex for the next five years will continue to be militarily of great importance to the United States. I therefore believe that we should make every effort to negotiate a full extension of all the base and operating rights which we now have in Spain, and that we should be willing to pay in return a quid pro quo approximately equal to that agreed in 1963. We should leave flexible, however, the particular level of our presence in Spain. As you know, studies are now under way in DOD aimed at improving our balance of payments vis-à-visEurope. It is possible that the results will involve changes in the nature and size of our presence. This possibility, however, should not affect our current negotiations with the Spanish.

Inherent in our judgment about the Spanish base complex are such general factors as the difficulty of establishing alternative bases, our limited access to other facilities on the northern shore of the Mediterranean and in North Africa, the limitations on use of French territory and airspace, and the Soviet build-up in the Mediterranean. The specific military contributions of the Spanish bases are the following.

The facility at Rota provides a naval operating base for nine ballistic missile submarines operating continuously in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic. These boats form part of the alert element of our strategic retaliatory forces, and as such are essential to the nuclear deterrent. In our judgment, the only real alternative to Rota would be CONUS basing, but to provide the same number of boats on station from a CONUS base would require an additional two to four boats in the force, having a 10-year incremental cost of at least $500 million.
Rota also provides logistic support for surface naval elements transiting the area, including underway replenishment ships for the Sixth Fleet. Facilities at Rota have a capacity to provide 45% of the Sixth Fleet’s ammunition requirements and 17% of the POL. While these stores might be relocated elsewhere on the northern shore of the Mediterranean, such a move would have the disadvantage of increasing our political dependence on Greece, Italy, and Portugal.
Rota also provides a staging base for airborne [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reconnaissance, a major communications relay, and [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified].
The air base at Torrejon provides the permanent station for three USAF fighter squadrons committed to missions at forward bases in Italy and Turkey and partly deployed in these forward areas. The forward bases have inadequate facilities for maintaining and housing the full squadrons, especially the personnel and their families. Availability of the Spanish complex has thus provided a feasible alternative to basing these squadrons in CONUS, which requires more aircraft to meet the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] mission in Italy and Turkey. Also, 400 MAC sorties per month are now handled at Torrejon, which represents 75% of the airlift load formerly handled at Chateauroux, France.
The air bases at Torrejon, Moron, and Zaragoza are required by fighter, tanker and bomber aircraft deploying from CONUS in execution of any one of several US contingency plans for the use of US forces in Europe and the Middle East. These bases are used to support tanker aircraft to refuel deploying fighters and bombers, and to receive the deploying aircraft for enroute stops including necessary refueling, maintenance, arming if required, and crew rest. The restricted availability of French airspace and the political uncertainty of US access to bases in the Azores and Greece and along the southern shore of the Mediterranean will make our access to Spanish bases of great military importance for these missions, until at least 1972; at that time, the advent of the C-5 aircraft may reduce our reliance on intermediate bases between CONUS and the ultimate point of destination in the Middle East.
The base at Zaragoza, now in stand-by condition, also offers an alternative to Wheelus AFB as a gunnery range and weapons training center, in the event we should leave Wheelus. All other range possibilities (in Turkey, Italy, Sicily, Portugal and Corsica) are now used by our NATO allies and are overcrowded. There is a generally acknowledged shortage of air training areas in Europe, as evidenced by the German construction program in Portugal and the extensive German training in the US. It is both cheaper and more effective to accomplish USAFE tactical air training in Europe than in CONUS, and the training [Page 413] is extremely important to the combat effectiveness of our European air forces. Training in CONUS would cost perhaps an added $25 million per year; moreover, the crews would be carried in transports, hence could not train in their own tactical aircraft; this factor would lower the value of the training.
The air bases in Spain were originally built for SAC operations, and SAC still has contingency plans for their use. These involve the prestrike forward deployment of some B-58 bombers and accompanying tankers, the post-strike recovery for a few B-52’s [1 line of source text not declassified] in the Middle East.
Spain is now a nodal point for US military communications, carrying about 8.4% of the trans-Atlantic channels and 11.1% of the channels connecting the Mediterranean area with Germany and the UK. While communications satellites will gradually reduce our reliance on relay stations in Spain, the present facilities there will continue to constitute major components of the world-wide defense communications system until 1972.

Taking into account the foregoing factors, the Defense Department considers an extension of the Spanish Base Agreements for another five years to be of great importance to the military security of the United States. In addition, it would seem highly desirable to maintain meaningful political-military ties with Spain during a transitional period which could involve significant changes in Spanish political life and in Spain’s relationships to Western Europe. A continued US presence could be a factor for moderation, and could facilitate the development of broader and more harmonious Spanish relations with Europe.3


Clark M. Clifford
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 15-4 SP-US. Secret; Noforn.
  2. Both entitled “U.S. Bases and Facilities in Spain.” They are in Joint Chiefs of Staff, Historical Office, Joint Master Files, Case File 967/470/8 June 68.
  3. In a July 9 response, Rusk noted that the defense agreement would be “one of the principal subjects” discussed with Castiella and that he would be in touch shortly after Castiella’s visit. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 4 SP-US) In an August 8 letter, Rusk stated that Paul Nitze had been instructed to brief Clifford on these talks. (Ibid., SIG Files: Lot 74 D 355)