232. Response to National Security Study Memorandum 1351

NSSM 135—POLICY TOWARD MALTA

[Omitted here are the Table of Contents and Sections I, The Situation in Malta; II, Malta’s External Relations; III, Current Military Importance of Malta; IV, U.S. Interests in Malta; and V, What Does Malta Want of the U.S.?]

[Page 749]

VI. Summary Conclusions

A. Successful renegotiation of UKGOM agreements leaving the way open to NATO and US use of facilities would obviously be the preferred outcome. A de minimis solution would be one leaving the British in and excluding NATO, provided the Warsaw Pact and member nations are at least as rigidly excluded.

B. American affirmative interest in Malta has been historically negligible and is not likely to increase dramatically. Our experience in dealing with the Maltese is likewise limited, a fact that we should recognize as the most basically sound reason for keeping the British in front. We must nevertheless recognize that our attitudes and actions may significantly affect British options in dealing with Mintoff and the Maltese. If we decide we cannot help the British cope with Mintoff’s financial demands, this will undoubtedly increase their predilection to wait him out, hoping he might be toppled from within.

C. We cannot make confident predictive statements concerning Malta under Mintoff. There are as yet too many unknowns. If the UK treated Mintoff too stiffly or too generously for example, we could conceive in either case of his calling a quick new election on his own initiative—seeking and obtaining a stronger mandate from the Maltese people. Or he might, citing a crisis situation, seek to rule without Parliament. On the other hand, there are several domestic factors beyond Mintoff’s control which will inhibit any precipitate move away from Malta’s traditional European ties. The inherently conservative nature of the Maltese themselves and the still powerful influence of the Catholic Church will impose major limitations on Mintoff’s initiatives. The economy would have difficulty in adjusting to the jolt of a sudden British withdrawal, even if Mintoff were to accept massive Libyan aid. Moreover, Labor’s one seat margin in the Parliament will also subject Mintoff to pressure from the moderate wing of his party, which is already reported to be concerned with his foreign policy tactics and proposals.

D. With our reserve in predicting specific Maltese outcomes noted, our best guess is that if Mintoff categorically rejects a British counter-proposal, presumably setting in train an actual British withdrawal, he will probably precipitate a domestic crisis either economic or political and possibly both. The same European reluctance to contribute which has been notable in NAC discussion of the UK proposal would confront Mintoff in making the approach directly. No one except perhaps the Libyans seems prepared to quickly infuse the massive inputs needed to replace the British in the Maltese economy. A British withdrawal would still mean serious and sudden loss of jobs and local transfer earnings, which may amount to three times what would be lost by the stoppage of subsidy alone—perhaps combining to total a poten[Page 750]tial $45 to $50 million loss. A sudden turn to the Libyans to avert economic crisis, might, however, galvanize the opposition who, seeing Malta’s traditional ties to Europe threatened, could also call on the residual anti-Arabism in the Maltese population. Under such conditions of potential turbulence, the position of the British and their friends on Malta would be strongly enhanced if they could demonstrate that they had done their best and come up with a fair and reasonable offer to help the Maltese.

E. There is no likelihood that modest, independent US programs in Malta of the sort hitherto conducted are likely to have any significant effect.

F. If the British, over time, fail to maintain influence, a preponderant Western European presence, negotiated on whatever terms, would seem to be in the interests of ourselves, the Europeans and the Maltese. West Germany may be the most logical single state to give Malta the longer term economic support it needs on reciprocating terms advantageous to both sides, and to coordinate the contributions of other allies.

G. We should have no objections to modest Libyan investments in Malta as long as they come without meaningful political strings (which we believe would also be objectionable to many Maltese) and do not assume preponderance. Indeed Malta could become interesting in a three-cornered sense for Western businessmen, including Italians, Germans, and Americans, who have assets in Libya that they have trouble operating on the scene.

H. Incident to a settlement with the Europeans, modest expansion of US-Maltese ties along functional lines of mutual interest would be useful: e.g., increased trade, scientific and cultural exchanges and US Fleet visits conducted in an atmosphere of practical usefulness for both sides.

I. While we have no great problem if Mintoff implements a mild program of “political” diversification to attract the economic enrichment the island needs, a more radical “balance politics” could over time make Malta shaky and potentially dangerous. Militarily, we clearly prefer a parity of non-use to a parity of equal access. We could, however, live with a rare and occasional Soviet fleet visit, which might also have self-canceling advantages/disadvantages for the USSR and thus not be a wedge for stepped up pressure on the Maltese.

J. A Maltese break with the West does not necessarily suggest either an immediate or a likely medium term possibility of Soviet penetration or dominance. Mintoff has shown himself to be very careful vis-à-vis the Russians, and the social orientation of the Maltese people provides no apparent ideological footholds of any consequence for Communism. Further there is considerable evidence that an alliance [Page 751]with the Libyans would militate against Soviet influence in Malta. Qadhafi has shown himself to be highly suspicious and opposed to Russian penetration efforts, as have other North African leaders including Algeria’s Boumedienne.

[Omitted here is Section VII, Options for U.S. Policy.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–187, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 135. Secret.