305. Paper Submitted by the Control Group to the Special Committee of the National Security Council 1
THE NUCLEAR FACTOR IN THE NEAR EASTERN SITUATION
- The most significant feature of the role of nuclear capabilities during the Arab-Israeli hostilities was the absence of direct impact. In contrast to the situation in 1956, the Soviet Union made no indirect nuclear threats, and did not engage in “ballistic blackmail.” Instead, the “Hot Line” was used to reinforce the coincident desire of the USSR and the US to avoid any direct involvement of the nuclear powers in the conflict.
- The recent belligerents themselves do not, of course, have nuclear weapons, and no allegations to the contrary have so far entered the exchange of charges and allegations. In the short run, it is not likely that the nuclear factor will affect the confrontation or the contest over a settlement.
- Over the longer run, in the absence of a significant political settlement, it is likely that the recent hostilities and continuing conflict heighten the pressures for one or both sides to acquire unclear capabilities. Despite its recent successes, Israel may conclude that in the last analysis it must rely only on its own military power to defend its vital interests. Especially if Israel is eventually compelled to settle for something much less than it feels it should gain from its victory, concern over the future may well impel the Israelis to proceed with a nuclear weapons program. In the words of Tom Lehrer’s ditty, “The Lord is our Shepherd, it says in the Psalm, but just to be sure—we gotta have the Bomb.”
- The Arabs are, of course, highly suspicious of Israeli nuclear intentions, and may be influenced by their suspicions whether these are well-founded or not. If, however, the Israelis in fact take the nuclear road, this would be bound at some point to become known and to [Page 513] insure a frenzied Arab reaction of some kind. None of the Arab countries have either the general industrial base, or the foundations of nuclear industry in particular, on which to launch a nuclear weapons program of their own during the period while Israel could be acquiring its own nuclear weapons. The Arabs will, therefore, have to look elsewhere. One possible recourse would be to try to build overwhelming conventional superiority of their own, and perhaps also to stress CW, and then to strike Israel before it could build up a nuclear arsenal. However, in view of the recent debacle, this latter course of action could only be a desperate last resort. Perhaps the Arabs would turn to Moscow, and fall even more into line behind Soviet foreign policy positions in order to get whatever hedged Soviet pledges of nuclear support might be forthcoming. The Soviets are not likely to provide nuclear weapons, even under their own custody. Particularly in view of the lack of direct Soviet military support during the recent hostilities, and actual continuing Soviet caution with respect to potential Great Power nuclear confrontation, some Arabs might be tempted at some point to risk their ties with the USSR by turning to the Chinese Communists for nuclear weapons. And the Chinese might feel they could gain influence with the Arabs and others in the Third World, at modest cost, and with real risks only to the Soviet Union, the Western Powers, and the Near Eastern countries themselves.
- Thus, the need for effective measures to curb nuclear proliferation in the Near East has grown. Moreover, the credibility of the US as a party able to reassure each side that its adversary is not getting nuclear weapons has certainly been impaired by the recent developments. There would appear to be three possibilities to meet the proliferation problem: (a) a firm non-acquisition undertaking, preferably with mandatory IAEA safeguards, by both Israel and the UAR as a provision in a general settlement; (b) a Near Eastern nuclear free zone; or (c) Israeli and Arab adherence to a general non-proliferation treaty. Possibilities for action along the first course should be kept in mind, but it is unlikely that progress in the highly complex tangle of elements already necessarily involved in the settlement would be facilitated by tossing in yet another contentious problem. However, at some point it might prove possible to raise the proposition of mutual safeguarded undertakings not to acquire nuclear weapons in a general compromise package settlement. A nuclear-free zone might be possible, although the question of defining the area to be covered could raise serious problems for the US. On balance, the best solution—if it becomes feasible—would be a non-proliferation treaty. With respect to a non-proliferation treaty, negotiations in Geneva are now going as satisfactorily as can be expected. If and when a non-proliferation treaty is open for signature, it will of course be important to press hard for Israeli and Arab adherence.
- At least heretofore, the UAR has endorsed a non-proliferation treaty, with safeguards; Israel has been conspicuously silent as to her stand on such a treaty. In general, the difficulties in getting Israeli, and perhaps UAR, acceptance have probably increased. On the other hand, the Arabs may wish to obtain international safeguards on the more advanced nuclear program of their adversary; it is less likely, but possible, that the Israelis might consider that such a treaty would head off possible Arab acquisition of nuclear weapons from the Russians or Chinese. Of course, the final positions of both sides on non-acquisition or general non-proliferation undertakings will be greatly influenced by progress, or lack of progress, toward a viable general settlement. Israel, as the power whose security is most imperiled by non-nuclear military power in the long-run, and as the power with a real nuclear potential, will be most reticent to give up its nuclear option with substantial progress in meeting its long-term security requirements in some other way.
- The question of peaceful nuclear programs in the Near East should also be borne in mind. We have been examining the possibility of a nuclear de-salting plant in Israel, including conducting a joint survey with the Israelis. If it is decided to proceed with this project, we might want to tie our agreement not only to Israeli acceptance of IAEA or equivalent safeguards on the nuclear energy component of the desalinization project itself, which would of course be necessary, but also to Israeli acceptance of IAEA or equivalent safeguards on all their indigenous nuclear facilities as well. With due regard to economic feasibility and other considerations, including progress on a political settlement, we might also consider making parallel offers of assistance to the UAR at the time we agreed to assist the Israelis, providing there is a government in power with which we could conclude an agreement.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 ARAB–ISR. Secret; Exdis. The paper, unsigned and undated, was sent to McGeorge Bundy on June 19 by Executive Secretary of the Control Group John J. Walsh with a covering memorandum transmitting two papers submitted by the Control Group to the Special Committee. The second paper, headed “The Arms Supply Question and the UN,” undated, is not printed. Both papers were revised and approved for transmission to the Special Committee by the Control Group on June 17. (Minutes of 22nd Control Group meeting, June 17, 11 a.m.; ibid., Office of the Executive Secretariat, Middle East Crisis Files, 1967, Entry 5190, Box 17, Minutes/Decisions of the Control Group, Folder 1)↩