24. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1



Note: This is not a decision paper. It is an exercise to find a broader conceptual approach to policy in this area. Policy formulation is now handled in more than half a dozen bureaucratic compartments, and real issues are often obscured.

I. The Area Under Study

A. Definition. Some would say that the states bordering the Mediterranean are too diverse to be thought of as a coherent region. The forces and relationships that play across this area, however, are [Page 82] significant enough to suggest that a slightly broader definition would identify an area of serious policy concerns. For instance:

  • —The arena of increased Soviet activity defines an area including Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Algeria, perhaps Libya, UAR, Somalia, Sudan, South Yemen, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, potentially the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea itself.
  • —As a platform for NATO–U.S. strategic response, the area has contracted from one including SAC, transit, missile or training bases in the NATO countries, Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Spain, to one involving only the NATO members, Spain, and the Sea itself. Even on the Sea, the strategic role of the Sixth Fleet has changed somewhat with the threat of Soviet air or naval bases on the southern or eastern shore.
  • The area defined economically would start with the Common Market nucleus and first reach out to include those nations associating with the Market or having a special relationship with one of its members— Greece, Turkey, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, with more to come. This area might also be broadened to include the principal suppliers of oil to Western Europe—Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya— because the oil is a major factor in the area’s strategic as well as its economic importance.
  • —Areas of special U.S. interest include, in addition to the NATO countries, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel.
  • —Definition of the area should also take into account the principal relationships of nations within the area in addition to those above:
    • France–Arab nations
    • France–Spain–Morocco–Tunisia–Algeria–Libya
    • Maghreb
    • Arab nations
    • Israel–Turkey–Iran (recognized common interests and cooperation)
    • Libya–UAR–Sudan (new association)
    • UAR–Iraq–Jordan–Syria–Lebanon (confrontation states)
    • Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, UK (guarantor powers, Cyprus) Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, UAR, Jordan (Khartoum Fund economic assistance)

Conclusion: These interrelationships seem to define a geographical area of intensified activity which includes the states bordering on the Mediterranean plus the mainly Western European, Arab and Persian Gulf states behind them. Beyond that area the criss-cross of interrelationships falls off sharply, though Pakistan and to a lesser extent India as well as the Indian Ocean play a role on one side and sub-Saharan African associations on the other.

B. Advantages from this kind of treatment. While it would be artificial to try to formulate detailed policy for an area as diverse as this, [Page 83] there are advantages in looking at the area’s major problems in relationship to each other. For instance:

  • Arab-Israel. The more narrowly this problem is viewed, the fewer the U.S. options seems to be. Viewed in the context of the broader area, there is greater choice since the U.S.-Soviet contest appears as but one of the forces at work; the dangers of working via proxies become more apparent because the limits on outsiders are seen as a more general phenomenon; ways of strengthening our position elsewhere in the area while riding out the absence of an Arab-Israeli settlement become more apparent.
  • Greece and Spain. There is substantial pressure to keep each at arms length because of their present non-democratic forms of government. It is only when these countries are seen in light of the fact that they are two of the few points the U.S. can count on for staging into other parts of the Mediterranean that the counter-argument becomes compelling. Also, their influence could add to the number of constructive forces at work in the area.
  • Trade policy worldwide dictates that the U.S. oppose preferential trade agreements, and preferential arrangements between the Common Market and the Mediterranean countries are not necessarily components of closer relations between them. However, the U.S. may have a strong political interest in evolution of closer economic relationships between the countries of this region and preferential arrangements would speed that process.
  • —The Sixth Fleet was established principally to fulfill a general war mission in connection with NATO forces. Increasingly the contingencies the Fleet is most likely to be called on to deal with are less general war contingencies and more contingencies within the region itself.
  • —The Persian Gulf is sufficiently remote and yet dependent on Western European petroleum markets that the U.S. is tempted to stand back and let the stronger powers around it organize its security and stability. It is only when it is related to broader forces at work in the area as a whole—Arab radicalism, Soviet naval interest, Arab-Iranian rivalry, the drive for modernization—that one becomes less easy about leaving it to its own devices.

II. Analytical Bases for Policy and the Issues

Disagreement over policies in this area often grows out of different judgments over what really are the significant developments there. The annex to this paper2 discusses in detail the major actors, their interrelations, and the operational issues flowing therefrom.

[Page 84]

There are two broad views of the dynamics of the area:

  • One view is that the main factor is that this area has become the major new arena in the global U.S.–Soviet contest. This approach emphasizes that, with a stand-off long established on the NATO central front, the East-West conflict has now spilled over to the south of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This bases U.S. policy on the judgment that this is the main thing going on in the area.
  • A second view does not dismiss the fact that this is the major new area for Soviet–U.S. competition, but tends to place this more in the context of other new forces at work there. It asks whether there is advantage in thinking of the area this way: This area is in a period of adjustment to a new configuration of international influences. After years when major powers provided the dominant external influence, now no single external influence is likely to dominate. In the future, a collection of external and internal influences will seek a balance.

The fundamental question for the policy-maker is what blend of the above attitudes to adopt as a touchstone for policy judgments:

  • —What degree of direct U.S. control and involvement are necessary to counter expansion of Soviet influence throughout the area or to encourage indigenous forces that will?
  • —Conversely, to what extent can the U.S. take a secondary role, relying on indigenous forces to deny Soviet control?

Whichever view of the area one holds, limiting Soviet influence is a major U.S. interest. The question for argument, in short, is: What is the best way to limit that influence, given the forces now at work in the area?

The answer depends initially on the answers to questions like these:

  • —How important are our interests in the greater Mediterranean and how much direct U.S. support do they require?
  • —How great is the Soviet military and political threat and what are its goals?
  • —What capabilities do the regional states have for preserving the security and independence of the region?

But the basic issue is:

With what combination should the U.S. contest the extension of Soviet influence: mainly by means of military containment—either directly or through proxies like Israel—or mainly by trying to subordinate military containment to a pluralistic strategy based on indigenous political containment?

  • —Some argue that a strong military posture is the only position that Moscow understands and will respect. The Soviets apparently see a large enough interest in the UAR to accept the risks of operating [Page 85] weapons systems to counter Israeli attacks. The U.S. risks appearing to have backed down in the face of Soviet pressure if it does not seem prepared to respond directly to protect its friends.
  • —These would argue that the U.S. has no choice but to bolster the position of its effective friends and allies—NATO members, Israel, Iran—to withstand encroachment by Soviet forces and proxies. If strengthening our friends has the effect of looking like a challenge to the USSR, that may be beneficial. Since U.S. friends tend to be more effective than Soviet proxies, the lesson might be learned that it pays to deal with the U.S.
  • —Others contend the U.S. has no interest in a direct confrontation with the USSR over the area unless that confrontation becomes an adjunct to a larger confrontation over Europe. If the U.S. does not wish to go to war over any part of this area for its own sake, the U.S. should avoid wherever possible escalating this contest into a direct U.S.-Soviet confrontation.
  • —The contest is primarily a long-term one for political influence, not mainly for current military position. Neither U.S. nor probable Soviet strategy requires military control over specific territory in the area. Military forces and position will be used mainly to enhance political influence, not vice versa.
  • —A policy of military containment and confrontation will not be supported by interested European states in the area.

There are two related questions:

To what extent is Soviet-U.S. interaction likely to influence the political complexion of this area over the next decade?
  • —Some believe that, however much the U.S. and USSR may wish to limit their involvement, their interests are such that their rivalry will be a significant influence on the area. This rivalry cannot help but shape political developments. If, for instance, the USSR forces the U.S. more and more into Israel’s corner, this will increase the political pressure from the radical side on moderate regimes in the area. Thus the posture of the Great Powers—and their global relationship—will at least indirectly affect the turn of political events in the area. They contend that the U.S. cannot afford to underrate the capacity of the USSR to exploit radical movements to enhance its own position.
  • —Others argue that the day is over when outside powers will set the direction of events in this area. Local forces are now strong enough not only to limit the involvement of outside powers but to influence their posture. Local forces have brought an end to British and French predominance and, outside NATO and Europe, to U.S. military bases. These forces have shown wariness of too close a relationship, outside [Page 86] NATO, with both the U.S. and the USSR. They have demonstrated, especially in the Arab-Israeli area, that the major outside powers do not have the capability to prevent the outbreak of war or make peace.
  • —They believe that to assume that the great powers can play out their contest while minimizing the role of local forces is to base policy on an erroneous appraisal of the strength of these forces. There is no question that these local forces will try to exploit the great powers’ rivalry and will in turn be exploited by them to some degree. But the balance is fine enough so that either of the great powers risks being drawn into local conflict against its will if it banks too heavily on its ability to shape the future by manipulating local forces.
To what extent are regional forces likely to work in favor of the U.S. or in favor of the Soviet Union?
  • —Some contend that the more prominent political forces are those that work against Western interests: Arab radical movements are directed at traditional governments and Western oil interests; they also create an atmosphere in which it is difficult for the Western approach to economic development to operate. The Palestinian movements will have the effect first of keeping the Middle Eastern pot boiling; even if the Arab-Israeli issue were defused, they would seem likely to turn against established pro-Western regimes.
  • —Certainly as long as there is no Arab-Israeli settlement, the U.S. cannot hope to improve its position in the Arab parts of this area. Whether or not the radical forces turned loose work in Moscow’s favor, the fact that they work against the U.S. is a step in the right direction as far as Moscow is concerned.
  • —Even some of the Europeans will pursue interests which diverge from the U.S. In this way they tend to operate as a separate force in the area, and the Soviets will be able to exploit these divergencies.
  • —Others argue that the Soviets have shown themselves wary of close alignment with the more militant movements such as the Palestinian movement. Moscow has kept the door open to them, but Moscow has felt it more prudent to deal primarily with established governments. The more radical movements may attack the foundation of Western interests but they do not necessarily offer a commensurate gain to the USSR. At worst, the USSR has to be concerned that such movements in its own backyard will eventually assume more a pro-Chinese than a pro-Soviet complexion.
  • —In any case the Europeans involved may decide to concert their approach, independent of the U.S.
  • —Finally, events outside the area may influence Europeans such as the French to oppose any policy directed openly against the USSR.
  • —One cannot dismiss the strength of constructive forces in the area. There are extensive wealth-producing resources and a large group of people and institutions who could be engaged in the process of turning that wealth into economic progress. The elites and technocrats of the area know well that it is Western technology and development doctrine that will produce these results and not Soviet. This understanding is certainly apparent in Turkey, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and the Persian Gulf, but it is also prevalent even in a place like the UAR.
  • —Even leaders like Nasser would prefer to balance the great powers off against each other rather than to be beholden to one. On the whole the Europeans offer an alternative to Great Power alignment and thus help to defuse tensions.

III. Possible U.S. Strategies

A. Introduction

For the sake of discussion, it is useful to start by posing two different views toward this area. Neither by itself would represent a viable strategy, but they isolate the elements that must be married in a workable strategy.

The first is the view that U.S. interests and the situation in the Mediterranean require a large measure of U.S. control in the region. The Soviet thrust requires a forceful military and political response; only the U.S. has the power and the concern to protect Western interests. The U.S. must, therefore, preserve an independent position in the area and sufficient capacity to influence events so that it is a power to be reckoned with.
The second is the view that local nationalism and other indigenous forces are now strong enough to deny Soviet predominance and that denial is sufficient to create a pluralistic framework in which U.S. interests can be pursued. This does not mean that the U.S. can back off entirely but that the U.S. has the freedom of maneuver to take a few losses.
The issue is not to choose between these two views but to draw a line on range of intermediate positions between them. The question is: What strategy provides the degree of influence the U.S. needs in a situation it cannot control?

B. One way of posing possible strategies. The strategies outlined below are distinguished from each other mainly to identify general differences of approach and emphasis. Elements of several may actually be woven together in working out a realistic course of action toward any given problem. In this conceptual framework there are five basic strategies:

Direct containment of Soviet influence.
Agreed limitation of U.S.–Soviet involvement.
Long-run reliance on an equilibrium of a number of forces in the area.
Passing prime responsibility to the Europeans.
Aligning ourselves more closely with the “Progressive” forces in the area.

Following the discussion of these strategies below, their application to specific problems is illustrated in the next section of this analytical summary.

[Omitted here are sections outlining individual strategies for dealing with the Soviet threat and the application of those strategies.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1248, Saunders Files, NSSM 90—Mediterranean Policy. Secret. This paper is an analytical summary of the response to NSSM 90, Document 19. The response to NSSM 90, originally dated March 23 and referred to as the Cargo paper, was discussed at the May 21 SRG meeting. See Document 22 and footnote 3 thereto.
  2. Attached but not printed.