43. 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.

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 [Page 169] 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 elections2 —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 170]

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 are 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 171]

President: There are no Soviets in Libya.

Helms: No.

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.3

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.

Moorer: Yes.

Rogers: The new Spanish Ambassador is very capable. The Foreign Minister may take Franco’s place.

Brosio is very worried about the future of NATO. He wanted to head the Scandinavians off to avoid a Greek walkout. It was a tough meeting.4 The Dane was concerned about the U.S. giving military aid to Greece. We urged the Greeks not to walk out. The Dane finally decided on a milder speech than he earlier planned. The Greek thanked me and agreed to ask his government to move as much as it can. The Norwegians and Danes wanted us to get the Greeks to do something visible before we go ahead with military supply.

President: The decision has to be in two different parts: NATO-related arms, and arms related to internal defense.

Rogers: The decision is as to timing. It’s possible that Norway and the Danes may leave. If we could get the Greeks to do something, we’d be O.K. They have already said they will stop the military courts and return to civilian rule. If they could announce this, that would be all that’s needed for us.

Amb. Tasca: They will do it.

President: The idea is not to blackjack them but to work out a deal privately.

Tasca: We want to avoid a situation where those who are against us charge that we haven’t done anything.

President: [To Sec. Rogers]:5 Do the Europeans understand the dangers in the situation?

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Rogers: Yes, they understand. Any weakening will be a source of great concern.

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 1958.6 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.

President: What about the King of Greece? What’s his situation?

VP: It’s hard to judge, but. . .

Tasca: He’s had many faults in the past. There is great opposition to him among the younger and middle officers.

President: What do they want?

Tasca: They want a Republic. The Army is more of this mind than the others because of their background. They think the King might put in older exiled officers. If the King was prepared to make a statement that he wants the Greeks to have arms, that could help reconcile the various groups.

President: I know him reasonably well. He has strong qualities. His father was a decent man. He has good points but was pulled and hauled by the radicals. He’s idealistic but he was exploited. Could he be persuaded to do that? The symbol of the King is good in Greece. In his self-interest, he doesn’t have the political sophistication to know that [Page 173] those outside really don’t support him. If he could get a statement on arms, action on arms, and go ahead with a promise to have a constitutional government by the end of the year . . .

Tasca: They never have made a promise before to do this by the end of the year.

Rogers: The NATO people don’t believe they’ll do it.

VP: What is the Soviet attitude?

Tasca: They are knocking on two doors: They’re trying to discredit this government, and at the same time they’re trying to queer its relations with the U.S. to get us out of Greece.

VP: Who stimulates the public relations figures in the U.S.? The Greek-American Committee is amazed.

Tasca: The International Red Cross tell us—they have free access—that they don’t believe the torture stories. This may have been in the first 18 months—on Communists who were in the ’40s civil war—but not anymore now.

Rogers: We have to realize that regardless of the facts, the young people in Europe believe them. We can’t afford to lose them all. The Europeans say they haven’t done anything.

Tasca: They do have serious problems. They don’t understand their image problems abroad.

VP: I don’t believe there are groupings of “young people,” “poor people.” These constituencies don’t exist. They are diverse.

President: One thing is relevant: The USIA people say that the only major U.S. paper they see in Europe is the Herald-Tribune. That’s basically the New York Times and Post. The TV in Europe is state-controlled and leftist-oriented. What is involved is a barrage of propaganda unfavorable to the U.S.—and also a negative picture of the Greeks. The idea is that the U.S. shouldn’t give arms and then the Greeks would change. They’d change alright, but the wrong way. In 1947 I visited Greece as a young Congressman. I talked to guerrillas—who were probably properly coached—and I came back convinced that the Greek-Turkish Aid program should go forward. I got a barrage of cards and letters saying, “Don’t give arms, give food to Greece.” The left was against giving arms. The major difference is that in the 1950’s it was unfashionable to support Communists but it is no longer so. People now say they don’t care about the security of Europe; they want the Greeks to be pure. I don’t know what would happen at the lower levels in Europe. I know what I’d do—we need the Greeks because of 10 divisions, and the Mid-east. We don’t like the government but we’d like its successor less. We can’t do this, of course. Papandreou is a cold-eyed tough guy of the left. We have to do it right. Constantine should come [Page 174] back for his interest and Greece’s interest and tell them we believe they should move and say they will move.

VP: Has the media and opinion effect really been examined? The media here are not representative. Couldn’t this be true in other countries, too?

President: The American leader class—the intellectuals, the media, etc.—they have a viewpoint that makes them no longer fit for leadership. The strength of America is in the “hard-hats”—the stevedores, the working people, some in the colleges. But American opinion in a hard decision could be with you. It’s not so in Europe. Luns, who’s a tough man, said that on TV.

Rogers: One thing of the difference between the young and the old: The young don’t remember the war and they have no sense of history.

President: Tasca, you go back and try to get it done. If we follow the Danes, the Norwegians and other Socialists, the French and Italians, we do nothing. They are weak; we’ve got to lead. We’ve got to support the Greeks. It must be made palatable. The others all know if we weren’t there, they’d be terrified. We look all the more important because the Europeans can’t sell security to their own people.

Rogers: All they really ask us to do is do it wisely—not the Danes and Norwegians—but they help us by taking our problems into consideration.

Tasca: We care about it but we want to talk and bring the Greeks along. The Greeks are very friendly.

President: We want a Sixth Fleet mission—what is its role?

Kissinger: We can cover that as part of our NATO force review.

Packard: We’ve been talking about the Sixth Fleet but we need strong relations with Spain, Greece, Italy, and Turkey, too.

President: But what about the Sixth Fleet?

Moorer: It has two missions: First, a NATO mission, to keep the Mediterranean open and support a land battle. Second, a national mission, to maintain a line of communication and a point of involvement, and project our power overseas to the shore and to take care of the Soviet fleet. We keep all Soviet ships missile-capable-targeted. The Sixth Fleet can handle the Soviet ships in Mediterranean now. But the NATO countries on the littoral would be adversely affected if the Sixth Fleet were to be cut or withdrawn.

President: Is it out of the question to get some support from the other NATO countries for our contingency plans in case there is trouble in the Near East?

Rogers: Why not try?

Sisco: It would have to be discreet. And you can’t count on much.

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President: If the Greeks work out, would they help?

Tasca: Yes.

Rogers: We should move on the negotiating front in the Near East generally.

  1. 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 was held in the Cabinet Room. Briefing papers prepared for the President’s use, including talking points, together with a copy of Helms’s written briefing paper, a response paper, “U.S. Interest In and Policy Toward the Mediterranean,” prepared in the Department of State, and a threat analysis prepared in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are ibid.
  2. Apparently a reference to regional and local elections held in the spring of 1970.
  3. Reference to the decision of Prime Minister Dom Mintoff to remove British and NATO bases from the island.
  4. The NATO Foreign Ministers meeting at Rome May 26–27.
  5. Brackets are in the original.
  6. Reference to the U.S. intervention in Lebanon.