22. Minutes of a Review Group Meeting1


  • U.S. Policy Toward the Mediterranean Area (NSSM 90)


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • State—
  • William I. Cargo
  • Donald McHenry
  • Thomas Thornton
  • Defense—
  • Richard A. Ware
  • Robert Pranger
  • CIA—R. Jack Smith
  • JCS—MG Albert J. Bowley
  • OEP—Haakon Lindjord
  • USIA—Frank Shakespeare
  • NSC Staff—
  • Harold H. Saunders
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt
  • Richard Kennedy
  • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

The Joint Staff would prepare an analysis of the nature of the Soviet threat and our comparative capabilities in time for the NSC meeting on the Middle East tentatively scheduled for June 3;2
The Working Group would revise the Cargo paper3 along the lines of the restatement of the approaches done by the NSC staff;
The response to NSSM 88 on Italy would be reviewed and a paper on Greece would be prepared as the basis for a brief discussion of the two countries at an NSC meeting on the Mediterranean.

Mr. Kissinger referred to the comprehensive paper for the meeting and mentioned two problems: (1) how to discuss the substance of the paper and (2) how we could meet the President’s desire to talk about Greece and Italy in an NSC meeting on the Mediterranean. With regard to the paper, he asked if it made any sense to talk about the Mediterranean as an area or if it would be better to break it up into component parts.

Mr. Cargo said that geographic influences do exist but that political issues can probably be broken out into separate areas with one exception—that of the US strategic position and force levels. He referred to an INR study which had concluded that the features of disunity and the lack of commonality in the area were more distinctive than the unifying features.4 He thought, however, there was some educational and orientational value in looking at the Mediterranean as a whole.

Mr. Kissinger said there appeared to be a number of related but separable issues: e.g., Italy was not particularly influenced by Arab-Israeli developments except insofar as Italy might feel isolated by increasing Soviet influence in the area.

Mr. Ware commented that the question of the Soviet military and political role in the Mediterranean is a unifying factor.

Mr. Kissinger agreed that the Soviet strategic role should be discussed.

Mr. Cargo commented that the area appeared more separable than not. He noted the Arab-Israeli question was being considered in a separate group; Greece was being discussed by the Under Secretaries Committee; Italy and North Africa were the subjects of separate NSSMs.

Mr. Kissinger suggested we consider this paper as a general introduction to a specific examination of issues as was done in the case [Page 72] of Latin America. We might first take a general conceptual approach which would be followed by a more politically oriented approach.

Mr. Lindjord commented that we might make the case that the Mediterranean had not had any strategic unity since 1945 when British influence was removed.

General Bowley said it was necessary to establish an overall policy for the Mediterranean before one can study the specific issues. He argued that the Joint Staff had not had an opportunity to insert their views into the Cargo paper.

Mr. Cargo replied there had been as much exchange as possible with Defense and JCS within the brief time allowed for the production of the paper.

Mr. Ware said that Defense had not seen the issues and options chapter before the paper came to the NSC staff and that they had serious problems with the paper. He believed that, if this paper were to become an introduction for consideration of specific problems, it would be necessary to take a second look at its basic concepts. He added that the paper recently produced by the NATO group also raised serious issues.

Mr. Shakespeare asked the nature of the fundamental disagreement between Defense and State.

Mr. Ware replied it related to the reason for the decline of the US role in the Mediterranean. Was it based on the success of our policy, as the Cargo paper implied, or have we reversed our policy of working with at least the moderate Arab states? He thought we should pay more attention to the political/military aspects of the area, and that the USSR was very successful in weaving together its political and military roles. He considered that the problem of the Soviet threat and of force structures had not been covered adequately in the Cargo paper. He agreed that the JCS had not had a chance to make their views known in the short time period allotted.

Mr. Kissinger said he saw no sense in discussing the Arab-Israeli question in this group since it was already under consideration in another group and would then move to the NSC.

Mr. Pranger referred to the NATO paper, saying that the issue of the Soviet threat was being discussed in the North Atlantic Council if not in Washington.

Mr. Cargo agreed there was no reason to go into the Arab-Israeli question in this group. With regard to force levels, he agreed that the paper did not discuss them in any detail. He referred, however, to the section on the long-range US role in the area (page 64) and the three options discussed, with their implications of different force levels. With regard to strategic comparability in the area, he believed there was a fairly thorough-going statement of Soviet and US objectives (page 11, page 16 and following).

[Page 73]

Mr. Shakespeare asked if the JCS had not participated in the drafting of the paper.

General Bowley said JCS had been a member of the Working Group but had merely read the paper, did not like it, but had no opportunity to change it. He recommended, therefore, that the paper not go forward, and distributed a specific recommendation for a new study to “look at the Mediterranean properly.”

Mr. Kissinger, referring to the JCS recommendation, asked if they were suggesting that the present paper took an “undisciplined and unsystematic approach” to the paper.

General Bowley said yes—that the JCS had found the paper generalized and unspecific. He thought we would have to get into the various regions in order to be specific. The paper lacked a comparative analysis of our interests with those of others. It contained no range of threats with matching strategies and did not adequately discuss the increasing Soviet threat in relation to the decreasing US capability. The paper contained four issues: (1) what is the threat; (2) should the Europeans do more; (3) the relation of the Arab states; (4) the relation of the North African states. He thought the last three questions could not be answered without an answer to the first question, and an answer to the first question would automatically provide answers to the other three. He thought the paper did not meet the requirements of the NSSM and that we needed a new start.

Mr. Cargo did not agree with General Bowley. The paper raised the essential questions, and the Soviet interest and threat was the central issue. He thought the JCS suggestions were additive and would provide more detail but he did not consider them essentially a substitute for the existing paper.

Mr. Kissinger asked if we could not add the military analysis and a comparative analysis to the section in the existing paper on the Soviet threat. He asked if we had not done a study of the Soviet threat in the Mediterranean in an earlier WSAG exercise.5

Mr. Saunders agreed that such a study had been done but was not as thorough as that now envisaged by the JCS.

Mr. Cargo agreed that we should have an analysis of the Soviet threat but commented that he was reluctant to lose the broader context of the existing paper.

Mr. Kissinger agreed with JCS that, whatever stance we take, we need a clearer idea of what we are taking a stance toward. He asked if [Page 74] we could not try to incorporate a military and strategic analysis of the nature of the threat and our comparative capabilities.

Mr. Pranger questioned the tone of the paper, saying that it implies a fresh approach in viewing the Mediterranean in terms of “the interaction of outside forces on the one hand and subregional problems on the other.” He believed the area had always been viewed in that way and that the existing paper does not add much that is new.

Mr. Kissinger commented that we could distinguish between what is historically true and what has been historically done in the bureaucracy.

Mr. Cargo agreed that we have not looked at the Mediterranean as a whole.

Mr. Shakespeare asked if the JCS wished to analyze various likely Soviet objectives and interests.

General Bowley replied that they wished to examine the nature of the threat in the Mediterranean.

Mr. Kissinger commented that we could agree on the threat without agreeing on what to do about it. He thought we could have an analysis of the threat. However, deciding whether to confront the Soviet Union, let national forces play it out, or a combination of the two— is a political judgment. We need the analysis first. He noted that heretofore he had considered the Mediterranean as an American logistics area, but that he had learned in a WSAG exercise that we probably could not physically move our forces today as we had at the time of the Lebanon exercise.

Mr. Ware said we should not look at the threat as only a military one since the Soviets had integrated the military, political and economic aspects quite well.

General Bowley thought we must make some assumptions as to what the Soviets will do and then consider our options in terms of these various assumptions.

Mr. Shakespeare reminded Mr. Kissinger of the comment by Admiral Moorer at an earlier meeting that next year’s budget would involve substantial reductions in US forces in the Mediterranean and that Mr. Kissinger had thought that unacceptable.

Mr. Kissinger asked what sort of comparative projection we would need.

Mr. Ware asked about the timing of the exercise.

Mr. Kissinger replied that the Arab-Israeli situation would probably be discussed in the NSC in about two weeks.6 He thought the threat [Page 75] portion of the Mediterranean paper should be ready by then. He thought we had a little more time on the rest of the paper but noted that the President was anxious to discuss Greece and Italy. Since the Italian elections were so close, he suggested we might delay this NSC discussion until after those elections.

Mr. Ware said the Working Group had not been able to function because of the deadlines imposed and suggested that we let the Working Group revise the basic paper.

Mr. Kissinger agreed, except for the threat study which would be useful for the NSC discussion of the Middle East.

Mr. Saunders agreed that the threat study would be useful background and asked how elaborate it would be. He assumed that work had already been done on the Soviet threat in the area and that someone could collect existing material and summarize it in usable form.

General Bowley said the study could be completed in two weeks.

Mr. Smith asked how we could separate the Soviet threat in the Mediterranean from the Arab-Israeli problem. He thought it would be extremely difficult to define except in those terms.

Mr. Kissinger asked if he meant that you could not separate the SA–3’s and Soviet aircraft in Egypt from the Soviet threat in a larger area. He asked what would be the effect if Soviet aircraft in Egypt were used against the Sixth Fleet.

Mr. Saunders said there were two questions: the Soviet naval threat and what would a Soviet air system operated out of Egypt do.

General Bowley commented that it was larger than this, noting possible extension to Wheelus. He said we were watching Soviet influence build and should ask where it is leading.

Mr. Kissinger asked why it would be so difficult to estimate the importance of Soviet air bases on US Mediterranean operations.

Mr. Ware referred to the implications in a Soviet use of Malta.

Mr. Smith explained that he meant a study of the threat must include Egypt.

Mr. Cargo saw no problem in expanding this discussion. He noted, however, that the existing paper was interlarded with references to Soviet power in the Mediterranean, citing pages 20 and 23.

Mr. Shakespeare agreed, however, that the paper does not lay out clear estimates of probable Soviet moves and how we should be prepared to meet them.

Mr. Smith agreed. He noted, however, that just as we have difficulty in treating the Mediterranean as an area, the Soviets have also found it difficult. He referred in this connection to their Syrian fiasco. He repeated that we would find it hard to agree on the nature of the threat.

[Page 76]

Mr. Cargo cited the estimate of Soviet objectives in the area (page 24) which concluded that the Soviet threat to the littoral states is now mainly psychological and political. However, the security of Europe would be seriously threatened if the North African coast and the Mediterranean Sea should come under hostile domination.

Mr. Kissinger remarked that one of the JCS concerns had been with hardware, but that the extent of Soviet political influence was more difficult to measure. He said the paper raised the issue of whether we should deal with the area in terms of a US-Soviet confrontation or to what extent we should rely on regional forces. He asked if this was a real issue—must it be one or the other? Does anyone want a straight military confrontation with the USSR? Does anyone think a military confrontation plays no role? He thought the issue must be a mixture and was, in fact, a question of emphasis. He wondered if it was possible to decide in the abstract where the emphasis should be placed at any given moment in any given situation. He asked to what extent the countries concerned have an interest in reducing Soviet influence in the area.

Mr. Cargo agreed the sense of nationalism is a positive element insofar as the US is concerned, but that it was one factor and must be related to other factors.

Mr. Kissinger commented that, by putting it in the “either/or” context, it was not a live option. He thought an attempt to expel the Soviets by military power alone was simply not in the cards and that there must be a political component. He wondered if we would be more likely to reduce Soviet influence by relying on national forces or by creating a balance of power so that those who want to resist the Soviets will know that they have a friend.

General Bowley agreed this was very important, particularly with regard to Turkey and Greece.

Mr. Cargo said they had tried to get at this question in discussion of the long-range US role in the area. He referred to the options (pages 66–68), saying that Option A was weighted on the military side; Option B saw a shifting of the balance to the Europeans without severing our ties; and C envisaged retrenchment.

Mr. Ware cited the US withdrawal of 1600 troops from Leghorn, ostensibly for budgetary reasons. He said the Italians simply did not believe that a nation such as the US would withdraw 1600 troops for budgetary reasons alone. They assumed other reasons. Then, when they saw the Soviets moving more and more ships into the Mediterranean they would feel they had to decide which way to turn. This would have an impact on the US posture.

Mr. Shakespeare suggested that the novelty of Soviet influence in the Mediterranean has focused attention on Soviet power as opposed [Page 77] to the acceptance of the established Western presence in the Mediterranean. He thought any unexpected development now, such as the downfall of Hussein in Jordan or a strong leftist election victory in Italy, could have serious psychological effects. It would add to the momentum, would make people in the area exceedingly nervous, and would affect our ability to maneuver. They favored enhancing a NATO capability in the Mediterranean as a counter to Soviet power.

Mr. Kissinger referred to the discussion of the long-range US role in the Mediterranean and a possible division between the US and the Europeans. We can say we should not take a forward role, but this might have different meanings in different areas. We might look to the French in the Mahgreb, but in the Arab-Israeli dispute no other European country was able or willing to play a role comparable to that of the US. We could use this paper to state general propositions and outline a basic stance. He commended Mr. Cargo on an “amazing performance” in producing the paper, given the nature of the assignment and the time allowed in which to complete it.

Mr. Cargo commented that the basic difficulty in producing the paper lay in the fact that the common elements in the area are not all that many.

Mr. Kissinger said that we should look at the balance of US and European interests. With regard to the long-range US role in the Mediterranean, no one would consider increasing our military posture, as such, as a solution. It would be consistent with the Nixon doctrine that wherever possible we should rely on national forces. They may not be enough in some parts of the Mediterranean and we may have to reach conscious decisions to go in or go out. We could state the general propositions and try to relate them to specifics. He referred to the restatement of the Cargo options done by the NSC staff (pages 7–8 of HAK’s talking points)7 which were not mutually exclusive. He thought we might go through a period of containment to reach equilibrium. He thought this restatement of the propositions might provide an approach to a general stance.

[Page 78]

General Bowley, Mr. Smith and Mr. Thornton all agreed with Saunders’ approach.

Mr. Ware asked if the Working Group could meet on the paper rather than merely comment on a paper circulated for comment.

Mr. Cargo agreed.

Mr. Shakespeare noted French construction of a radio transmitter on Cyprus which would provide a much stronger signal in the Mediterranean than that of the Voice. He saw this as evidence that the French must care a great deal about talking to the Arabs.

Mr. Kissinger asked how we can best handle Italy and Greece. He thought the President’s major concern was to get a feel for the impact of the domestic situations in these countries on their foreign policy and the possible impact of the US on their domestic situations.

Mr. Cargo noted that the Greek situation had been discussed in the arms supply context and said he would talk to the Department to see what type of paper might be useful on Greece. With regard to Italy, he noted that they had already prepared a response to NSSM 88.

Mr. Kissinger asked that the Italian paper be reviewed and that a paper on Greece be considered, with a view to a 15 minute discussion in the NSC on these two countries.

Mr. Smith suggested we might throw in Turkey and consider the three countries with relation to NATO.

Mr. Kissinger agreed that this might be helpful but said the President had not asked for this approach. He was primarily concerned about the domestic policies in Greece and Italy, the problems of the Alliance, their future orientation, and the degree to which these could be influenced by the US.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, Senior Review Group, SRG Minutes Originals 1970. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 26.
  3. The Cargo paper refers to the March 23 “U.S. Interests in and Policy Toward the Mediterranean,” prepared in response to NSSM 90 by an ad hoc group chaired by William I. Cargo. (Ibid., Box H–044, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group NSSM 90) It was to be discussed at the April 24 meeting, which did not take place. The Analytical Summary of the paper, prepared for the June 17 NSC meeting, is Document 24. NSSM 90 is Document 19.
  4. “The Mediterranean Basin: A Poor Prospect for Regionalism,” January 30. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–044, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group NSSM 90)
  5. Presumably a reference to NSSM 33, March 21, 1969, and subsequent studies. Scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1969–1972.
  6. Presumably a reference to the June 17 NSC meeting; see Document 26.
  7. These pages summarized alternative strategies for dealing with an enhanced Soviet role, the balance of U.S. and European interests and responsibilities, and assessment of long-range U.S. interests in the Arab countries and Mediterranean. According to the Talking Points, the alternative strategies were not presented in the Cargo paper, and were broad rather than tactical. The alternative strategies were to offset Soviet military power through establishing a regional balance of power, competition with the Soviets coupled with disarmament, limitation of Soviet influence through regional nationalisms, a lowered U.S. profile without disengagement, and alignment with “progressive” forces in the area. (Talking Points, undated; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–044, Senior Review Group Meetings, Review Group NSSM 90)