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38. Response to National Security Study Memorandum 1961


The Problem

The response to NSSM 196 which follows is the third major analytical study in recent years to assess the adequacy of the basing, support, and operating rights structure the U.S. maintains overseas. Unlike its predecessors, the Nash and the Wood studies,3 this study—which was prompted in large measure by our difficulties in routing supplies to the Middle East during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war—seeks to identify (a) future basing requirements and (b) pressures and trends which impact upon base negotiations and on basing usage.

The aim is to produce suggested courses of action to retain the bases, facilities and operating rights deemed vital, to make them more reliable for contingencies of interest to the United States, to look for other locations where necessary, and to suggest possible alternatives to current overseas basing. The review centers on an examination of less-than-general war contingencies because the constraints with which this study deals would presumably not apply under general war conditions.

The Assumptions

The study takes a ten year look ahead. It assumes that while changes—including reductions in our overseas presence and denial of certain specific bases and operating rights—will doubtless occur during that time, we will not be confronted with changes which will have a major impact on the general pattern of requirements for basing and operating rights. Thus, we postulate no revolutionary changes in U.S. interests, in the basic threats to those interests, or in the strategies evolved to advance those interests of such a nature as to affect our [Page 169]needs for access to major allies and free transit through and over the high seas. These assumptions—based on our best estimate of the future—permit us to deal substantially and accurately with the most likely sets of basing and operating difficulties we will encounter in non-general war situations during the next ten years.

Categories of Basing Requirements

There are roughly three categories of base/facilities requirements. The first such category relates to bases and facilities necessary to support technical and relatively routine collection and support operations, such as communications stations, navigational support, intelligence collection, nuclear event detection, space tracking, and so forth. These activities are normally not controversial, not widely known, and not, therefore, subject to the kinds of pressures applied against more visibly active facilities.

Forward deployed U.S. forces in vital areas like Korea and Germany fall into a second category. While issues and frictions can arise as a result of our presence in these areas, and while we can get involved in highly complex negotiations on the financial aspects of our presence (e.g., offset in Germany), the host countries basically accept the U.S. presence as important, if not essential, to their own defense. With a few exceptions, these facilities are exempted from this study under the general war exclusion.4

The third category—and the major focus of this study because it presents the thorniest political problems—embraces those bases and facilities which are used for operational and support requirements outside the host country. Since usage involves activities which are not related to the defense of the host country and which may not conform to its policies and interests, pressures can arise which restrict or otherwise impact upon that usage.

Forms of Pressure on Basing

Pressures on our basing presence are not all foreign in origin; some arise from our own situation at home. For ease of analysis, potentially restrictive pressures on basing, staging, and overflight rights have been grouped into four functional categories: (a) those which are primarily political; (b) those which are primarily economic/commercial; (c) those which are primarily technological; and (d) those which are primarily ecological. These functional pressures vary according to the sources from which they arise, i.e., the host country (“theirs”); the United States (“ours”); and/or some third country or international entity (“multina[Page 170]tional”). We have examined these pressures in terms of some 15 countries whose significance is important to us.

Political pressures are the most common and frequently the least tractible, because of the broader foreign policy implications they have. Pressures in the “theirs” grouping involve at their heart the sovereign right of a host country to regulate the activities of foreign military forces on its soil. Such regulation can run from petty harassment through restrictions on certain kinds of operations to a complete turnabout in relations resulting, for instance, in a request that we withdraw. Pressures in the “ours” grouping result from changes in our domestic political priorities which produce policy decisions contracting or otherwise affecting our operations overseas. A special case involves problems we face in maintaining support domestically for basing arrangements in countries whose form of government or whose policies are distasteful to many Americans, e.g. Greece. Another special case is the Senate’s effort, through various legislative proposals, to establish a direct participatory role for the Legislative Branch on all major basing agreements.

In the “multilateral” category are such pressures as are produced by international terrorist activities, as well as considerations growing out of Law of the Sea or other United Nations activities.

Economic pressures are also either “theirs” or “ours,” or “multinational.” One of the most frequent “theirs” pressures grows from changes in land-use patterns near overseas bases. Limitations in the aggregate or in the allocation (or both) of the kinds of quids used to support base negotiations and base rights are the most frequent pressures on our side. And a most recent illustration of a “multinational” economic pressure was the threat—and in some cases application—of a petroleum boycott by the Arab oil producers.5

Technological and ecological pressures are less noteworthy, but important nonetheless. Technological advances, e.g., in weapons sys-tems, can have the incidental effect of reducing or otherwise modifying overseas basing requirements. To that extent they can be regarded as potential “ours” pressures. In addition, it should be noted that technology can also be a tool in the deliberate search for alternatives to needed overseas bases. Some of the “hardware” alternatives reviewed in this study—though very few are in a state of development enabling them to make an early impact on the current basing structure—fall into this category. Ecological pressures—mostly “theirs”—focus heavily on pollution considerations, but include also sensitivity to NPW visits and nuclear weapons storage.

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Illustrative Scenarios

We dramatized these pressures and examined their operational limitations through a set of nine scenarios requiring the deployment of U.S. forces in support of U.S. interests. The scenarios are aimed primarily at exercising the routing structure on which we would have to depend in or enroute the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, east Africa, south, southeast, and northeast Asia, and southern South America.


Based on this analysis, we concluded that:

(1) The maintenance of a substantial forward basing structure is vital to our ability to meet security commitments abroad. While this structure is likely to be modified in the next ten years as a result of pressures noted above, the general pattern of overseas basing requirements is not likely to change markedly.

(2) In particular, the facilities and operating rights we have at strategic locations around the rim of Eurasia are critical in a variety of ways to our ability to project military power into crisis situations in that vast area. The following locations were specifically singled out.

a. Japan: routing and staging for northeast Asia; fleet support; basing.

b. The Philippines: routing and staging for southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean area; fleet support; basing.

c. Greece and Spain: routing and staging to the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East; fleet support; basing.

d. Azores: ASW operations; staging to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Europe.

e. Iceland: ASW and maritime surveillance; northern route staging to Europe; and North Atlantic aircraft surveillance and warning facilities.

f. Bahrain and Diego Garcia: fleet support and communications in the Indian Ocean/Arabian Sea area; Diego Garcia can also provide staging into the Middle East area from the Pacific.

g. Thailand: operating and staging rights and facilities, as distinct from the presence of combat forces which are important in the near term as a symbol of our potential to support operations in Indochina but which are of lesser importance as time goes by.

(3) Of these, the most vulnerable, in the near term, are Lajes AFB in the Azores (ASW and enroute staging to the Middle East) for which we are now attempting to negotiate an extension; certain bases in Spain (airlift staging and aircraft tanker support) which are included in comprehensive renewal negotiations over the next 16 months; Iceland (mari[Page 172]time surveillance in the North Atlantic), also the subject of ongoing negotiations; our facilities and rights in Thailand; and our naval facility at Bahrain.

(4) The principal problem we face with regard to our current network of bases, facilities and operating rights is not its adequacy but rather its reliability in those less-than-general war contingencies in which the interests of the United States and of the host country are not in harmony.

(5) Moreover, in the ten year period ahead, without effective U.S. action the pressures on usage, the types of agreements we can get, the quids that may be demanded and probable instability in some host countries, will tend to combine to make our network of bases and facilities less reliable than it is today.

(6) Finally, this reliability factor affects different facilities and installations—even within the same country—in varying degrees, having little impact on those facilities which are essentially static in their function (category 1 above), but having a marked impact on facilities which visibly reflect an ebb and flow directly related to events outside the immediate area (e.g., those in category III above).

Alternative Base Strategies

Moving from the problem to the possibilities for solution (and thus to Phase II of the NSSM), suggestions were developed which could give some hope of improving the reliability of the bases identified as critical to our worldwide interests. Alternatives to the current structure were also examined, including the possibilities offered by technological innovation, to reduce our dependence on current overseas bases.

The recommendations of the NSSM response are contained in three basic options, the principal distinction among them being one of urgency. Thus they are essentially additive rather than sharply differentiated courses of action.

Option 1—Continue Present Planning

This option presupposes that the problems identified are not of sufficient severity to warrant special responses. Under this option, we would continue with present planning and negotiation efforts, employing present procedures and existing inter-agency mechanisms. We would also continue to press forward with current programs and negotiations for Tinian and Diego Garcia.

The advantages of such a program are that it requires no revisions to existing programs or structures, nor any significant new funding requirements. The disadvantages are that it may underestimate the severity of the problem and leave us relatively unprepared should we be [Page 173]confronted with a repeat of the restrictions imposed on us during the Mid East war.

Option 2—Enhanced Warning and Planning6

This option would (1) more systematically alert the U.S. government to the existence of the overseas basing problem and (2) institute coordinated planning that focuses on the timely identification of specific problems and provides alternative solutions. Under this option, we would:

(1) Continue to move forward with plans and negotiations for Tinian and Diego Garcia.

(2) Develop coordinated policy mechanisms within the NSC system for relating base and operating rights with the total range of quids available.

(3) Establish, on a close-hold basis, a “courting” list of nations in which we have a potential future basing or operating rights interest so that we might conduct our relations with them in such a way as to improve chances of a positive response, if and when we ask.

(4) Include, in all major planning cycles, assumptions about the availability/non-availability of overseas basing during contingencies.

(5) Additionally, we would:

a. Inject alternate routes/basing into all contingency plans;

b. Establish hardware alternatives as a major R&D management objective;

c. Develop real-time net assessments which would signal not merely the alternativeDCs for action but the routing and base alternatives necessary for support;

d. Establish an intelligence requirement to identify pressures on bases and routing; and

e. Establish, at suitably senior military and civilian levels, base retention councils (if not already in existence) to advise Ambassadors and appropriate Washington agencies of those matters affecting base usage and other rights in their areas.

f. Actively pursue aerial refueling training for strategic airlift crew members (C–5s) so that inflight refueling becomes a viable alternative to enroute staging.

The advantages of such a low key program would be cost—it would be relatively inexpensive—and improved institutionalization of [Page 174]our efforts to deal with an emerging problem. It would permit emphasis on an active overseas presence as well. The principal disadvantage is that it may be a half-speed solution to a possibly full-speed problem.

Option 3—Urgent Hedging

This option would include essentially all measures listed in the preceding option, and in addition these actions:

(1) Develop specific plans for possible alternate bases and staging facilities, to include facility engineering studies, costs, relocation times, etc.

(2) Accelerate the development of large aircraft tankers.

(3) Accelerate the in-flight refueling and fuselage “stretch” programs for C–141 strategic airlift.

(4) Accelerate those R&D programs which provide hardware alternatives to technical overseas facilities such as communications and intelligence.

(5) Review the technology for constructing artificial fixed or floating islands.

(6) Search actively for real estate such as islands that may be available in critical areas.

The advantages of such a program are that it anticipates the problems, takes a positive, “now” approach, keeps the emphasis on an active overseas presence, and possibly puts us in a position to deal better, at an earlier stage with the next less-than-general war crisis we face.

The disadvantages are those mainly of cost, in terms of dealing with a problem the significance of which may not yet be sufficient to sustain Congressional and other public interest. The program could also spark charges of new imperialism in the third world where memories of the last imperial variant are still vivid.

Catalog of Alternatives

As an aid in organizing the large amount of information involved in this study and in choosing among alternative means of satisfying requirements, Table A7 was developed to display legal, hardware, political, economic and other possible alternatives. Table B8 arrays for the most significant countries our current facilities, the legal instruments underlying U.S. presence, the current and projected pressures on that [Page 175]presence and how they may be manifested, and the feasible alternatives for coping with such restrictions and denials which may result from these pressures. These tables consolidate information; they make no recommendations.

[Omitted here are Sections I through VI of the paper: U.S. Basing and Operating Rights, Assumptions Regarding U.S. Interests and Strategies, Current Overseas Base Usage, Pressures on Overseas Basing Structure, Illustrative Scenarios and Feasible Impacts, Options and Alternatives.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–203, Study Memorandums, NSSM 196 [1 of 2]. Secret. The study was prepared by an interagency NSC Ad Hoc group under the chairmanship of the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Plans, and NSC Affairs, OASD/ISA, according to a May 25 covering memorandum under which Wickham forwarded the study to Scowcroft. Davis forwarded the study, under a June 7 covering memorandum, to Clements, Sisco, Ash, Colby, and Moorer for review. (Ibid., [2 of 2])
  2. Document 34.
  3. The Nash study is not further identified. For the Wood study, see footnote 2, Document 34.
  4. Exceptions are Iceland, or the use of some NATO bases in support of lesser contingencies. [Footnote in the original.]
  5. For more on the Arab oil boycott, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Vol. XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, Document 200.
  6. Clements and Harry D. Train II, Director of the Joint Staff, JCS, endorsed this option in a July 30 memorandum to Kissinger and a June 21 memorandum to Schlesinger respectively. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–203, Study Memoranda, NSSM 196 [2 of 2])
  7. Table A, entitled “Compendium of Alternative Measures,” is attached, but not printed.
  8. Table B, entitled “Alternatives by Key Countries,” is attached, but not printed.