29. Editorial Note

Between December 1970 and May 1971, as Pakistan’s ongoing constitutional and electoral crisis devolved into civil war, its ability to maintain its membership in CENTO emerged as a critical issue in the considerations of the alliance. On December 16, 1970, CENTO Secretary General Turgut Menemencioglu informed the United Kingdom’s Embassy in Ankara that a potential Pakistani withdrawal in 1971 would mean the end of CENTO. The British responded that, given the recent success of bilateral meetings between Iran and Turkey, perhaps those countries could convince Pakistan to stay. If Pakistan’s withdrawal was imminent, it should be encouraged to leave “gracefully,” and CENTO could make the appropriate structural adjustments to continue without it. (Telegram 207252 to Ankara, London, Islamabad, and Tehran, December 21; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, CENTO 6–2 PAK)

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The Department of State, anxious that Britain not push too rapidly in this regard, presented four alternatives for CENTO’s future premised on Pakistan’s withdrawal. (Telegram 828 to Ankara, January 5, 1971; ibid.) Alternative A continued CENTO in its present form without Pakistan; Alternative B eliminated CENTO, abolishing the civilian secretariat and the Combined Military Planning Staff; Alternative C maintained CENTO, but abolished the Secretariat and Military Staff, making it more closely resemble the ANZUS arrangement; Alternative D maintained the treaty but streamlined the Secretariat and Military Staff. The Department rejected Alternatives A and B, and stated its preference for C. (Telegram 18946 to Ankara and Tehran, February 3; ibid., DEF 4 CENTO)

In a February 12 memorandum, however, Stanley Schiff, Director of Regional Affairs, NEA, wrote Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph J. Sisco that opinions within the Department had shifted in favor of Alternative D, given the opposition of Turkey, Iran, and the Department of Defense. (Telegram 638 from Tehran, February 3; ibid., CENTO 3; and telegram 863 from Ankara, February 8; ibid., DEF 4 CENTO). The JCS, particularly, had “strong reservations about dismantling the military side of CENTO.” (Memorandum from Schiff to Sisco, February 12; ibid., CENTO 3) Subsequent talks with the British in February 1971 brought the United States and Britain to a general agreement on Alternative D, and on the necessity of Iran and Turkey bearing the responsibility of talking to Pakistan. These talks revealed that the United States was less inclined than Britain to predict Pakistani withdrawal or to take an activist stance toward reordering CENTO before conditions inside Pakistan became clearer. (Telegram 32549 to Ankara, Islamabad, London, and Tehran, Feburary 25; ibid., DEF 4 CENTO)

Menemencioglu visited Washington March 1–5, having recently visited Pakistan, and relayed the information that Pakistani withdrawal was not imminent and that no changes to CENTO should be undertaken until the situation clarified. He also urged the United States to help Pakistan “psychologically and materially” and to maintain a “spirit of cooperation” with the United Kingdom, Iran, and Turkey should Pakistan eventually determine to leave. Department officials reiterated the positions taken at the bilateral meetings with Britain. (Telegram 38929 to Ankara, Islamabad, London, and Tehran, March 5; ibid.) During his conversation with President Nixon, Menemencioglu said that “CENTO’s value lay not in its military commitments or the various meetings but rather in the atmosphere of close association and the umbrella effect which developed within CENTO.” For example, the Shah had told Menemencioglu that he “considered CENTO useful in the context of the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf. After the British go, it would be possible to continue multi-national naval exercises in the Gulf under [Page 100]a CENTO label.” The President confirmed his personal support for and commitment to outgoing Secretary General Menemencioglu. (Memorandum of conversation, March 2; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 212, Agency Files, CENTO)

As part of a longer tour of the Middle East (April 29–May 8), Secretary of State William Rogers attended the CENTO Council of Ministers meeting in Ankara at which he reiterated the need to adapt to the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf and to maintain CENTO in view of the larger Soviet threat, as evidenced in the recent domestic insurgency in Ceylon. Rogers reported to President Nixon that the decisions to maintain MIDEASTFOR and to establish a U.S. presence in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean had been sound. Moreover, CENTO maintained communication and development programs among the member states and provided a necessary military umbrella. (Telegram Secto 65/3073 from Ankara, May 1; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, ORG 7 S)