89. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • The Persian Gulf

The NSC Review Group has completed a study of the Persian Gulf following withdrawal of British military forces and termination of formal defense treaties and protectorate responsibilities.2 Since the British never planned to withdraw their political presence and since announcement of the revision of their relationship has released local nationalist aspirations, the problem is less one of filling a vacuum than of dealing with a readjustment of the balance in the area.

It does not seem that this subject warrants discussion in the NSC at this time, but it does seem desirable to describe the options considered and to seek your concurrence in the general line of policy that is [Page 280]being followed. There will be discussions soon with the Shah and the British about a base for our Persian Gulf naval force after the British military leave, and plans must be included in your next Budget for slightly increased diplomatic representation and other activity. Alonger paper reflecting the Review Group discussions is at Tab B,3 but the options and decisions to be made are summarized below.

The Problem

The central problem is that it is easy to recognize the potential for instability in the Gulf and increased Soviet and radical exploitation, but it is difficult to determine how the U.S. can best help minimize the consequences.

While the Persian Gulf is important to U.S. allies and friends, its potential instability seems relatively unresponsive to U.S. power. The main evolution will come through political intrigue or subversion in politically unprogressive and often inaccessible areas. Because the main U.S. interest lies in the interests of allies and in the area’s relationship to the global strategic balance and because U.S. power may not have significant impact on evolution within the area itself, the problem is more one of devising the best possible international framework for that evolution than it is figuring out how the U.S. can influence it. Within the limitation of that framework, though, it is important to determine what kind of U.S. presence can be most constructive.

The Strategy

The Review Group went through the exercise of considering five distinct strategy options:

assuming the UK’s role as protector ourselves;
backing Iran as our “chosen instrument” to be keeper of stability in the Gulf;
promoting Saudi-Iranian cooperation;
dealing directly with the new states of the lower Gulf; and
actively promoting a regional security pact.

The first and the last were ruled out as impractical, and the middle three options are not really alternatives. The logical course seems to be to marry those middle three. Our course then would be:

  • —to promote Saudi-Iranian cooperation as the mainstay of a stable regional system but
  • —to recognize that Iran is in fact the preponderant power in the Gulf and
  • —to do what we can to develop a working relationship with the new political entities in the lower Gulf.

A Saudi-Iranian confrontation would increase instability, and both at present recognize the importance of their cooperation. If a radical regime were to take over in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. would have little choice but to move closer to Iran—and there is no reason now not to go on preparing Iran for that contingency. But as long as those two major regional nations are trying themselves to create the framework for political evolution, the U.S. has every reason to support it.

As for an independent U.S. presence, the U.S. interest is two-fold:

  • —imaginative technical and educational assistance through governmental and private programs can inject Western methods and relationships into political and economic evolution;
  • —while the U.S. may not have plans for military involvement, now would not seem the time to cut back the small U.S. naval force that operates from Bahrain. This show of interest seems important vis-à-vis both the regional entities and the USSR.

It is important to note that the British—despite revision of their formal relationships—intend to remain active in the Gulf’s political, diplomatic and commercial affairs and in military supply and training.

The Decisions To Be Made Now


General U.S. strategy. While no precise decision is required now, it would be helpful to have your general reaction to the strategy that is now contemplated for the near term. I am doing a further study to look at our longer term interests and objectives in the Gulf area.4 The proposed short-term strategy will not foreclose any options for the longer term.

Recommendation: That you approve the general strategy outlined above for the near term—promoting Saudi-Iranian cooperation while recognizing Iran’s preponderant power and developing a modest U.S. presence in the new states.5


The future U.S. naval presence. The small U.S. naval force (2 destroyers and a converted seaplane tender) is home-ported on Bahrain by agreement with the British. The Bahrainis would like us to stay. The [Page 282]British have offered us first refusal on some of their facilities (a dock and a few small communications and storage shacks).6 They will need to know soon whether the U.S. wants them to work out a transfer. We should also sound out the Shah. There would be an argument against introducing new forces, and the present force may not be welcome there for a long time. But while most of our friends regard it as an important sign of U.S. interest, it seems untimely to remove it.

Recommendation: That you approve a decision in principle not to reduce the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf at this time unless further exploration should prove it politically unacceptable to friends of the U.S. in the area.


U.S. diplomatic and aid presence. One of the serious limitations on U.S. ability to contribute to orderly evolution in the Gulf is that one of our usual instruments of policy is not available. Capital assistance is not needed by these oil-rich states. While they do need the technical assistance relationship that usually goes with capital aid, we do not now have a well-developed program for providing it to states with their own financial resources. When asked for a plan for a U.S. presence in the lower Gulf, State came back with a fairly conventional blueprint for diplomatic posts.7 While modestly expanded diplomatic representation is desirable, our main interest is in pressing the agencies to break new ground in a serious effort to adapt our programs to meet the needs of an area like this. Your foreign policy message to Congress last February identified this problem.8 Some staff work has been done and the new technical assistance institute would help. But a prod would be in order.

Recommendation: That you approve the general principle of a U.S. diplomatic presence in the lower Gulf but instruct the Under Secretaries Committee (1) to review plans for this presence to assure that it is imaginatively adapted to the needs of this emerging area and (2) to oversee the development of programs—emphasizing technical and educational assistance, exchange, and effective use of private as well as public resources—that can provide for a growing U.S. presence consistent with the strategy of promoting regional responsibility for stability.


Arms sale policy. The British have been the traditional supplier of arms and would like to remain a major supplier. The U.S. has reason to want the British to remain in the business of military training and supply. At the same time, Kuwait has approached us to buy some transport aircraft, and there have been other feelers from some of the states in the lower Gulf. The only logical way to deal with this would seem to be to [Page 283]look at a few concrete cases to get a feel for the political and legal problems involved rather than trying to make a decision in the abstract.

Recommendation: That State and Defense be asked to prepare a recommendation for you on outstanding requests for military supply and that you withhold decision until it can be made on concrete cases.9

The above decisions—if you approve—would be recorded in the decision memorandum at Tab A.10

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–220, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 92. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 83.
  3. Attached but not printed at Tab B is the October 19 paper “U.S. Policy Options Toward the Persian Gulf.” A handwritten note attached to another copy of the paper reads: “Peter: You did a truly outstanding job on your draft of the Persian Gulf paper. The more I worked with it, the higher my respect for it became. I am most grateful for your help. Hal.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Office Files, Box 16, Subject and Chron Files, Persian Gulf Drafts)
  4. “Long-Term U.S. Strategy Options in the Persian Gulf,” December 30. (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–165, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 66) Kennedy’s December 30 covering memorandum to Kissinger noted that the paper looked at the “broader range of issues and considers our interests and likely prospects in the region several years into the future.”
  5. Nixon initialed his approval under all the recommendations in the memorandum.
  6. See Document 72.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 83.
  8. The President’s “First Annual Report to the Congress on United States Foreign Policy for the 1970s” is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 115–190.
  9. Memorandum from Sisco to Kissinger, November 4; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–220, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 92.
  10. Tab A is printed as Document 91.