18. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


Present Status

The U.S. Government is committed extensively to countries in the Near East, although not in formal treaty relationship with Israel or any Arab state. The principal landmark or reference point in this regard is President Kennedy’s May 8, 1963 statement that “we support the security of both Israel and her neighbors… We strongly oppose the use of force or the threat of force in the Near East… In the event of aggression or preparation for aggression, whether direct or indirect, we would support appropriate measures in the United Nations, adopt other courses of action on our own to prevent or put a stop to such aggression … “2 Subsequent reaffirmations have been made by President Johnson and3 as recently as December 1966 by Vice President Humphrey.

It is clear from the background and circumstances of these affirmations that our commitment to the security of Israel, in particular, is unequivocal. We believe the intention of the U.S. Government to uphold Israel’s continued existence is clearly known and respected by the governments and peoples of the Near East, no matter how much some of them may argue that it is unjust.

Vis-à-vis the Arab countries, the U.S. Government’s security involvement is deepest in two instances: Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In Saudi Arabia a closeness of relations arising from a wholly American-owned oil industry has led us to give a special guarantee of territorial integrity. In essence, this commits us to come to Saudi assistance in event of what we regard as unprovoked attack.4

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In Jordan, because it controls a piece of geography we have consistently considered of great importance to area stability, we have over the last decade committed one-half billion dollars of aid as a sort of insurance premium against an explosion. The apparent result of this vast sum of material and moral support we have given King Hussein’s regime is that we find ourselves increasingly seeing the preservation of this regime as an end in itself, so much so that our commitment to keep it afloat is fast becoming regarded in the area as nearly comparable to our guarantee to Saudi Arabia.

Problem Area

The constantly threatening lack of Near East stability causes us to wonder if the United States is in fact over-committed, or wrongly committed, there. From the point of view of resources for the task, it is realistic to expect that a declining quantity of USG money and material resources will be made available by the Congress for this area over the next few years. Perhaps we should apply the scarce available resources more selectively than at present. From another point of view, we might question whether existing USG undertakings in the area have materially contributed to the little stability the region has witnessed in recent years. One might argue that the region would have been more stable without our involvement, since area states might have been more concerned at the possible consequences to themselves of their own acts. From yet another angle, it has become very difficult to say with any precision whether in a given set of circumstances affecting Israel, Saudi Arabia or Jordan one of these clients is provoking a third party into the very action from which it wants our protection. This grey area may become even harder to interpret as time goes on. Should we therefore recede from our present commitments?

Some Alternatives

We could recede on all fronts from our 1948-66 historical record of promises of support for the security of Near Eastern states. This might, at the outset, take the form of placing new stress on a pledge of support for the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts—both the existing mechanisms and any future UN involvement triggered by complaints of aggression.

Alternatively, we might simply drop, either in outright fashion or by gradually watering-down, our policy of support for one or more of the states with which we have special relations. This would of course raise a great hue and cry, and with respect to Israel would be virtually impossible. The logical outcome of this course would be for the USG to become the formal guarantor of Israeli security alone—a position favored by some elements of U.S. public opinion.

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Another possibility would be to change the nature of our commitments from virtual guarantees of territorial integrity against any aggression to guarantees only against threats from outside the area.

Or we could consciously pick out one or more pieces of geography in the region and pledge our prestige to preserving the government(s) in control there. Such choice(s) would presumably be determined by a careful assessment of just where we should make a stand to retain the most important combination of United States interests.

Finally, we can continue along present policy lines, determining as best we can, case by case, what actions are needed either to shore up our prime clients or to prevent major adverse affects on our own national interests.

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/ARP Files: Lot 69 D 350, POL 2a, Briefing Book Materials, Middle East, 1967, Meeting of NEA Advisers. Confidential. Prepared in the Office of Israel and Arab-Israel Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. No date appears on the memorandum; the date used was the drafting date. This paper was one of ten staff studies prepared for a panel of outside academic advisers scheduled to meet with NEA officers for a Near East Policy Review, February 10-11.
  2. For Kennedy’s statement, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 373.
  3. See ibid.: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1964, Book I, pp. 740-741 and ibid., 1966, Book II, pp. 796-797.
  4. or a discussion of the nature of U.S. assurances to Saudi Arabia, see Document 287.