44. Memorandum From the Secretary of the Navy (Nitze) to Secretary of Defense McNamara1

Ser 001653


  • Proposed Limited Support Facility on Diego Garcia (S)
I believe we should reconsider the decision made last fall that approval for the proposed limited support facility at Diego Garcia would depend on substantial British participation and financing. The two recent episodes involving U.S. ships and South African ports have dramatically underscored the lack of any politically neutral and usable facility for the Navy in the entire Western Indian Ocean.2
This situation is not likely to improve with time nor is the use of the Indian Ocean by U.S. ships likely to diminish. In these [Page 104] circumstances the logic of making early use of Diego seems to me to be impressive. We have just concluded a base rights agreement with the British providing for the use of Diego and other islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The location is ideal for use by our ships transiting the Indian Ocean to and from Viet Nam (Tab A)3 and its political visibility is very low.
More specifically, with a facility at Diego, a carrier transiting from the South China Sea to the east coast of the United States could refuel at Diego, then transit to Rio de Janeiro, thence homeward—all without oiler support and independent of Cape Town or any other politically vulnerable port. The extra distance would be only some 1200 miles. A tabulation of transit times and the money advantages of Diego as against present refueling arrangements not using Cape Town is at Tab B.
Developing Diego would not involve protracted new negotiations, nor would it foreclose any other option—such as renewing use of South African ports at a later time or of using fleet oiler support—but it would give us a valuable option for operations in the Indian Ocean which we now lack.
By no means am I suggesting that we abandon the effort to attract British participation. I share fully your views on the importance of their continued presence in that area. In accordance with Mr. Vance’s decision, we have discussed with the Royal Navy the possibility of their participation. These talks have been encouraging and, although there has been no commitment, we anticipate a British response sometime in the spring. We are also going forward with plans for a joint UK-US survey of Diego which is now scheduled for 25 June-5 August 1967. It has been clear in our discussions with them thus far that, based on their earlier experience with our communications requirement on Diego, they have some reservation as to the firmness of present U.S. requirements to support this project. A decision by the U.S. to construct the facility would resolve British doubts and give support to those in the Government who favor continued UK presence East of Suez.
However, I am convinced that whether the British ultimately participate or not, we should make the decision now to build the kind of limited facility on Diego Garcia that you and I have discussed over the past year. In brief, that proposal was for a 26 million dollar austere facility, funded in two increments, which would meet existing requirements [Page 105] for transiting units and provide a nucleus that could be expanded if need arose. That proposal to my mind, remains feasible. A summary of it is at Tab C.
I therefore request your approval in principle to include in the Defense FY 69 Military Construction budget the first increment—$13 million—for a U.S. Naval facility at Diego with the understanding that we will continue our efforts to obtain British participation.
Paul H. Nitze
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 72 A 2468, Indian Ocean 323.3, 24 Feb. 67. Secret. A copy was sent to the Under Secretary of the Navy.
  2. For documentation on the controversies surrounding scheduled visits of the USS Independence and the USS Roosevelt to South African ports, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XXIV, Documents 602, 605, 620, and 630.
  3. The tabs are attached to the source text but not printed. On December 30, 1966, the U.S. and U.K. Governments signed a base rights agreement on the availability of certain Indian Ocean islands, including Diego Garcia, to meet the defense needs of both Governments. (TIAS 6196; 18 UST 28) For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 640-642.