1. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Eagleburger) to Secretary of Defense Richardson1
- U.S. Policy in the Persian Gulf
(U) You expressed an interest in U.S. Persian Gulf policy during your recent meeting with King Hussein. The purpose of this memorandum is to bring you up to date on the subject and to note, in particular, the role DoD plays in supporting our Gulf policy.
(U) As you are aware, three events have focused increasing attention on the Gulf since 1968:
—the January 1968 UK decision to withdraw its military forces from east of Suez by the end of 1971
—the entry of the Soviet Navy into the Indian Ocean for the first time on a sustained basis in March 1968
—the growing awareness, beginning in 1970, of a probable future U.S. dependence on Persian Gulf oil.
(S) NSSM 66, dated 12 July 1969, directed a study be made of U.S. policy toward the Persian Gulf. The study was required to address two specific Defense issues: the future of the U.S. Navy’s Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR), and U.S. arms policy in the area. The initial draft of the study discussed but did not give the pros and cons of these two issues. At ISA suggestion, pros and cons were added, though not as fully as we desired. The final study, together with a paper describing the principle elements of a U.S. presence in the Gulf and their budgetary implications, was forwarded to the President on 30 July 1970.
(S) The President in NSDM 92 of 7 November 1970, approved a general strategy for the near term of promoting cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran as the desirable basis for maintaining stability in the Gulf, while recognizing the preponderance of Iranian power and developing direct relations with other Gulf states. The President approved expansion of U.S. diplomatic representation in the Lower Gulf and directed that plans be developed for such representation. He also directed that plans be developed for technical and educational assistance and cultural exchange through private as well as public programs. Plans were subsequently submitted on both subjects in late 1971. In the area of diplomatic representation, the U.S. has accredited our Ambassador resident in Kuwait as non-resident Ambassador to Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. A small mission has been opened in each of these countries except Qatar, and one is expected to be opened there shortly. We are responsive to requests from the lower Gulf states and Oman for reimbursable technical assistance and have asked for authority to provide “topping off” of salaries for U.S. personnel in certain cases.
(S) In NSDM 92, the President decided in principle not to reduce the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf at this time. In a decision relating to the Indian Ocean, the NSC Senior Review Group a year later approved a recommendation to improve the quality of MIDEASTFOR ships (a flagship homeported at Bahrain and two destroyers rotated on temporary assignment from the Atlantic Fleet). In August 1972, we replaced the flagship (a 26-year old converted seaplane tender) by a larger and more modern ship (amphibious transport dock), and we have now begun to assign better destroyers as occasion permits.
(C) The independence of Bahrain on 14 August 1971 and the British military withdrawal in December meant that MIDEASTFOR, which had previously been supported at the British base on Bahrain, would have to make direct arrangements with the Government of Bahrain (GOB). On 23 December 1971, the USG and the GOB concluded a [Page 3]stationing agreement. This agreement, which came under Senate scrutiny and some criticism last year, contains no military or political commitment, either explicit or implied, to the GOB or any other state. It merely provides for the continued use of support facilities formerly made available by the British. A leasing agreement, fixing the first year’s rent at $600,000, was concluded on 1 January 1972. As a result of the assumption of shore facilities (10% of the former British base) and the assignment of a larger flagship, MIDEASTFOR personnel homeported at Bahrain have had to be increased from 261 to 527.
(U) The primary mission of MIDEASTFOR is to demonstrate, by visiting friendly countries in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and western Indian Ocean, the continuing interest of the U.S. in those countries and our desire to maintain good relations with them. By being homeported in the Gulf, MIDEASTFOR gives special emphasis to our interest in that strategically important area. MIDEASTFOR, unlike the former British forces in the Gulf, has no protective mission to perform; U.S. officials have repeatedly said that we do not plan to take over the former British role in the Gulf.
(S) The President on 17 January 1971 declared Kuwait eligible for arms under the Foreign Military Sales Act. In April 1972, the NSC Under Secretaries Committee forwarded a report to the President on U.S. arms policy toward the lower Persian Gulf States and Oman. This study drew a distinction between our arms supply policy toward Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the one hand, and the lower Gulf States and Oman on the other. With respect to the former states, we look to them to bear the main responsibility for peace and stability in the Gulf and to deter Iraq, which borders them and is considered to be the main external threat. We are, therefore, willing to help these states modernize and expand their armed forces and are already deeply involved in major arms, advisory, and training programs with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Kuwait, with our help, is studying its defense requirements and may turn to the U.S. for some of its arms. In the case of the Lower Gulf States and Oman, we consider the main threat to be internal and to come from Arab revolutionary elements hostile to U.S. interests. The only likely external threat to these states would come from Saudi Arabia or Iran, which might intervene for limited territorial objectives or to restore order and stability of the sort we might also desire.
(S) In NSDM 186 of 18 August 1972, the President accepted the major recommendations of the NSC study. U.S. arms policy will be based on the principles that primary responsibility for stability in the Gulf falls upon the states of the region, that the U.S. should encourage cooperation among them for this purpose, that a continuing British [Page 4]role should be encouraged, and that the U.S. should play an active and imaginative direct role. The U.S. will sell defense articles to the lower Gulf States and Oman that will enhance their internal security. It will refuse articles that are offensive or sophisticated in nature, that could undermine area stability, or that could divert economic resources from pressing civil needs. The U.S. will provide arms on a sales basis and will avoid transactions that require the presence of U.S. military personnel on other than a temporary basis for advice or maintenance. Although the U.S. encourages the British to play a continuing role in the Gulf, the U.S. will respond sympathetically to reasonable requests for arms from the lower Gulf States and Oman, which may prefer U.S. to British equipment or may wish to diversify their source of arms.
(C) On 2 January 1973, the President found the lower Gulf States and Oman eligible under the Foreign Military Sales Act. To date, U.S. arms sales to Kuwait and to the lower Gulf States and Oman have been negligible. They are expected to remain modest, especially when compared to those to Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Other Defense Activities
(U) We expect to provide some training in the U.S. for Gulf military personnel. We have already trained the Crown Prince of Bahrain at the Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth. An increasing number of high-ranking DoD civilian and military officials are visiting the Gulf, especially Kuwait and Bahrain. Each year we join the UK and Iran in a CENTO naval exercise in the Gulf.
(U) The UK, with more experience than any other outside power, continues to play an important role in the Gulf, especially in financial and commercial matters. Although the UK retains no operational forces in the Gulf for peacekeeping purposes, it continues to pursue an active military diplomacy. It maintains an RAF staging base Masirah off the southern coast of Oman, plans to conduct periodic exercises with Gulf military forces, and makes flag showing visits to the area. The UK will endeavor to maintain its arms market in the Gulf, its advisory role with Gulf armed forces, and the training of Gulf military personnel in the UK. It will also, through seconded and contract personnel, continue to play an active operational role in Gulf armed forces and in the police and intelligence services of Gulf states.
Jordanian and Pakistani Role
(C) We welcome efforts by Jordan and Pakistan to play an active and constructive role in the Gulf. Jordan and Pakistan can provide much-needed skilled manpower and contribute to Gulf stability at a time when the lower Gulf states and Oman are under pressure to lessen [Page 5]their dependence on historic British sponsorship of their armed forces. Jordan has military advisers in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Oman, while Pakistan has advisors in Abu Dhabi and Oman and plans to assign some to Qatar.
Areas of Concern
(S) On the whole, political-military developments in the Gulf have gone very well this past year. There are, however, some areas of concern to us.
The Shah’s ambition to play a dominant role in the Gulf and the build-up of his armed forces, with U.S. help, is causing some uneasiness on the Arab side of the Gulf. Were Iran to act against Arab interests, the U.S. could find itself identified once again, as in the case of Israel, as an enemy of the Arabs. Iran’s overwhelming military strength could tempt her to resort too readily to military action in response to some real or perceived threat to her interests.
Progress toward political and social reform in Saudi Arabia continues to be miniscule. While there are no signs of internal opposition to the regime, dissatisfaction is bound to increase over time in the steadily growing numbers of educated armed services officers and civilian technicians.
Iraq and Iran are major antagonists. The greatly superior military strength of Iran is causing Iraq to turn increasingly to the USSR for arms. This, in turn, will result in greater Soviet influence in the Gulf, and could stimulate a regional arms race, fueled by the two external superpowers. In its own quest for greater influence in the Gulf, Iraq will continue to support dissident groups that seek to overthrow traditionalist governments of the smaller Gulf states, although these efforts have not had much success thus far.
The Sultan’s campaign to suppress the Dhofari rebellion has met with marked success this past year, but the effort is absorbing roughly one half of Oman’s oil revenues. This heavy defense burden is hindering efforts at much-needed domestic reform and development.
The efforts of Jordan to play a more active role in the Gulf could create problems with other powers active in the area. Reports have [Page 6]already been received of friction between Jordanian and British officers in Oman and Abu Dhabi. There is also some question of the extent to which Jordan, burdened by financial difficulties and heavily dependent on foreign powers, including the U.S., for financial assistance, can or should play a significantly greater role in Gulf affairs. If Jordan’s activities are carefully monitored and coordinated with those of the British, the Iranians, and the Saudis, the overall net result for Gulf stability, however, should be positive.
Summary: Eagleburger briefed Richardson on current Department of Defense arms and training policies toward the Middle East, in the context of NSC decisions on the subject.
Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330–76–117, Box 19, Persian Gulf, 1973, 000.1. Secret. Drafted by Jason Timberlake (OSD/ISA/NESA). NSSM 66 and NSDMs 92 and 186 are in↩
Foreign Relations,1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Documents 73, 91, and 120.