135. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to the Under Secretary of State (Irwin)1


  • Saudi Security Situation—Information Memorandum

I understand that you have asked whether there is anything we should be doing on the Saudi security front as a result of the assessment contained in our 211261 (attached, Tab A)2 which gave our estimate that the Saudi regime is vulnerable in the long run to growing internal political and social demands and rising area tensions. Jidda’s 4186, which concurs in our assessment, is attached (Tab B).3

We have been concerned for some time at the long-term prospects of the Saudi regime. Moreover, the Libyan experience has fortified our view that some sudden coup is always possible in Saudi Arabia. On balance, as indicated in State 211261, we believe the recent Saudi/PRSY confrontation has temporarily strengthened the Saudi establishment. Other factors, such as King Faisal’s energy, the size, role and ruthlessness of the Saudi royal family, suggest that an early collapse of the regime, as happened in Libya, is unlikely. To ameliorate prospects for the longer term, we have been seeking to strengthen the Saudi security establishment and also to do what we can to move the regime in the direction of modest political and social reform.

On the security front, we are engaged in a police and security training program with the Saudi Ministry of the Interior. Our Military Training Mission is the chief source of advice for the Saudi armed forces. [Page 434] We have recently completed surveys of the Saudi Navy and the Coast Guard/Frontier Force and have offered to help implement these proposals to the extent we can. We also continue to be forthcoming in meeting periodic Saudi requests for specific military items.

Such measures are, of course, at best only negative ways of controlling what could become a difficult and uncertain internal security situation. A developing and modernizing Saudi Arabia capable of preserving internal stability and national unity is one of our prime objectives as set forth in the most recent Country Policy Statement on Saudi Arabia of November 21, 1969.4 For this purpose, an acceleration of political and social reforms will be required, and we have sought to do what we can on this difficult and sensitive issue. One of the primary purposes of arranging the visit here last fall of Prince Fahd, Saudi Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, was to stimulate further attention to this problem. Fahd has spoken favorably in the past of the need to establish municipal councils and similar organs of local government. While he only returned to Saudi Arabia on December 17, his talks here with top-level officials,5 and his experience in visiting the country privately, may already be bearing some fruit, as indicated below.

Ambassador Eilts has periodically sought to remind the Saudis of the need for evolutionary political change and the inutility of excessive arms purchases. He took this line most recently with Acting Foreign Minister Mas’ud on December 23. Jidda’s 4215 (attached, Tab C)6 reports the welcome news that Prince Fahd is now asking, through the Saudi Embassy here, for a team of experts to evaluate Saudi military plans and the technical and manpower skills available to support them. We are encouraged by this evident recognition that military purchases, with their attendant waste, have to be related to Saudi Arabia’s absorptive capacity and competing priorities. We plan to respond positively to the Saudi request when received.

Through these and other ways we will continue to try to strengthen Saudi Arabia on a bilateral basis and encourage its leaders to look to the future. It is unfortunately true, however, that Faisal is aging and unreceptive in the best of circumstances to advice on internal matters. At present, there is also the additional handicap that, in view of the Arab/Israeli situation, even friendly Arabs are less likely to heed our advice than might otherwise be the case. We are nevertheless watching the situation closely and will continue to do all we can to encourage Saudi internal stability and evolutionary progress.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23 SAUD. Secret. Drafted by Brewer and cleared by Rockwell.
  2. Tab A is not attached, but a copy of it, telegram 211261, December 22, is ibid., POL 32–1 SAUD–SYEMEN.
  3. Tab B is not attached, but a copy of it, telegram 4186 from Jidda, December 23, is ibid. In it, Eilts disagreed with Iranian and Moroccan concerns over Saudi Arabia and found that “despite various worrisome recent developments, short-term prospects of Saudi regime survival still good. This assumes loyalty of National Guard to regime. In longer terms, if current Arab-Israeli tensions continue to rise and there is no appreciable progress in meeting domestic political and social aspirations, outlook for Saudi dynasty may be gloomier.” Davies forwarded a Department of State paper, “Assessment of the Saudi Internal Security Situation” to Pranger on January 28, which further elucidated the consensus in the Department on Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, he told Pranger that the paper had been sent to Rogers and Kissinger. (Ibid., POL 23 SAUD) The paper, dated January 20, is ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 629, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. I.
  4. Document 133.
  5. See Documents 131 and 132.
  6. Attached but not printed. Telegram 4215 dated December 27.