26. Minutes of a National Security Council Meeting1
MEDITERRANEAN, GREECE, ITALY: NSSM 90
President: The Mediterranean is a subject that has been under consideration for some time.[Page 91]
Let’s start with a briefing from Director Helms. Dick?
Mr. Helms: I propose to focus on the significance of the area as a whole. The American security interest is recent. For 30 years we have maintained a strong presence there. Our interests are: the southern flank of Southern Europe; the security of Israel; and the security of oil shipments for Europe from the Middle East.
We have seen a fundamental change in the strategic situation. After the Second World War the Soviet Union soon established itself. In the mid-1950’s it began its arms aid to the radical Arab states. By the mid-60’s it had established a Mediterranean squadron. They have always viewed the Mediterranean in geo-political terms, as a strategic military zone that protects the Southwestern border of the USSR and provides a path for projecting southward into Africa. The Soviets’ naval objective is principally political and psychological. Militarily, they shadow the Sixth Fleet. It is clear they plan to stay in the Mediterranean area.
Recently they have made striking gains:
- —Their role and presence in providing the air defense in Egypt represents a major upping of their stakes and risks in the area.
- —In Italy they have been steady. The Communists did not make gains in the elections—they dropped marginally—but the Party is 1.5 million strong. It is definitely not autonomous; the Soviets have used pressure, for example, backing the old guard faction. The elections have given Rumor a boost.
- —In Greece and Turkey—Turkey is firmly committed to its NATO ties and is almost certain to remain in NATO. But while they will exert more vigorous influence in the Alliance, they will probably continue to expand their relations with the USSR, particularly in the economic field.
Moscow has played up to both sides in the Cyprus situation.
President: Thank you, Dick. Henry?
Kissinger: We made an intensive examination of American policy toward the whole area, but we also made several special studies of our policy toward specific areas. The discussion today on the operational side will be confined primarily to Greece and Italy.
We have tried to develop conceptual approaches.
There have been substantial changes in recent years.
President: All bad.
Kissinger: There is the increased Soviet military presence (which has its effects in the Israel/Arab context), the fleet, and NATO. There is political unrest in Greece and Italy. There is the relation with NATO— at a time when for Greece the only point of access is the United States. In Italy there is political uncertainty.[Page 92]
The countries of the area can be divided into four types: the NATO countries; friendly countries like Spain and Israel; moderate littoral countries like Morocco and Tunisia; and radical governments like Algeria and Syria.
There are three types of struggles going on: the Arab-Israel conflict; parallel groups of outsiders; and the great power confrontation of the U.S. and the USSR.
Several policies could be conducted, and are being conducted:
- —In the NATO area, the policy is still basically containment of Soviet power.
- —There are efforts for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
- —There is an attempt to let the local balances of forces work themselves out.
- —There is a future possibility of a greater influence and role for the Europeans.
Generalizations about the area are difficult. It is clearly a tricky area for U.S. policy.
The questions we face are the following:
- —To the extent that we continue to seek containment of Soviet power, can we afford not to have firm relations with Greece and not to look at it from the security point of view?
- —To what extent must the Soviet military presence on the southern flank of NATO be contained? If we decide to contain it, how do we do it? It is related to the whole question of NATO force levels.
- —Can we afford to reduce the Sixth Fleet?
- —What is the role of the Fleet in the new situation?
- —What is the relationship of the Arab-Israel dispute to and what is the role of Spain and others in the containment policy?
- —To what extent should we try to line up the moderate states? What is the U.S. interest to shore up the moderates?
- —To what extent can the U.S. rely on Western Europe to play a role in the area? What kind of role can or should Europe play?
President: I expected this would take several meetings. The question of the usefulness of the Sixth Fleet has been directly raised. Let me ask, what kind of military force does Spain have?
Moorer: A good one. It has a problem in technical back-up, but it will be more influential in the future.
Rogers: There are not many encouraging things there, but the Spanish Government at lower levels is good; they’re oriented to closer ties with NATO. With Algeria and Tunisia our relations are closer. Our relations with Algeria are improving. They should have some concern about Libya.[Page 93]
President: There are no Soviets in Libya.
Rogers: Probably there will be later, but not yet. We seem to have neglected the area. We should strengthen our position there.
President: How could this fall down? Many things are not controllable, but how could we let it go? Both we and NATO need to take a stronger view.
Rogers: But they haven’t helped on Malta.
Moorer: Spain could be helpful in the Western Mediterranean.
President: I’ve been in Spain twice before 1968. The younger people are good, and the military too.
Rogers: The new Spanish Ambassador is very capable. The Foreign Minister may take Franco’s place.
[Omitted here is discussion of NATO and possible Greek withdrawal.]
President: We’ve got to take a hard look at our military posture. Let us suppose late in the summer we get a request from Lebanon or Jordan for assistance, or something happens in Lebanon. What can we do?
Kissinger: We could put a division—10,000 marines and forces from Europe. The problem is what would the Soviets do if we do it.
President: It’s different from 1958. The issue is the fedayeen now. We must have ready a plan. There comes a time when the U.S. is going to be tested as to its credibility in the area. The real questions will be, will we act? Our action has to be considered in that light. We must be ready.
Rogers: If our friends in Lebanon asked for U.S. troops—if the Syrians move in—what do we do?
Sisco: I lean toward an affirmative decision.
President: Is the question really a military one or is it our credibility as a power in the area? Congress seems to care only about Israel. Many in the Mediterranean area don’t think this is right.
Sisco: I would rather say to the NATO allies: “Would you be prepared to move in multilaterally?” But the NATO allies won’t do it. We then hold back.
President: What about the French?
Tasca: If the French thought we would go in, they’d stay out.
[Omitted here is discussion of Greece.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–109, NSC Meeting Minutes, NSC Minutes Originals 1970. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room.↩