198. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Richardson and Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1


  • Yemen Arab Republic Request for Urgent Military Assistance

In a separate Memorandum for Mr. Kissinger, the Department of State has provided background on an urgent Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) request made on March 29 for U.S. military assistance to resist a threatened invasion by forces of the neighboring People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). That memorandum analyzes the potential implications were such an attack to occur and sets forth actions already taken by U.S. Government agencies as a consequence of the Yemeni approach.

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We are approaching this immediate problem in the larger context of our overall policy of encouraging regional collective security efforts in the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf area. Our objective is to persuade our friends there to look at their area, from Jordan to the Gulf, as an interrelated whole, to urge cooperation among them, and to make clear that we see a mutuality of interest among them, and between them and us, in the region’s security, with all concerned making contributions based on the kind of resources each of us has available and is best qualified to provide.

Status of the PDRY Threat:

The current YAR request for help was prompted by information it received that PDRY had massed troops along its borders with the intent to invade and occupy YAR territory near the strategic Bab al Mandeb Straits at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. This would allegedly be followed by two other moves further east against the important Yemeni city of Taiz. The YAR has also reported recent arrivals in PDRY of considerable quantities of Soviet military equipment including tanks and jet aircraft (MIG–21’s) which would strengthen PDRY capability to launch such an attack.

[less than 1 line not declassified] PDRY troop concentrations as of three weeks ago in the area indicated to us by the YAR. [less than 1 line not declassified] however, indicates some pullback of PDRY troop and armor concentrations from the border area. The British confirm some Soviet deliveries to the PDRY though not in the amounts claimed by the YAR, as well as the arrival in PDRY of Cuban MIG–21 pilots. MIG–21’s have not yet arrived but are expected soon. The British discount reports of a planned invasion.

In a subsequent (April 4) conversation with our Chargé, YAR President Iryani said as a result of a direct approach to PDRY, he did not consider an attack imminent—a conclusion our latest intelligence tends to confirm. Given the strained relations between the two Yemens, however, it could become a serious possibility at some future time.

U.S. Interests Involved:

Were PDRY to attack the YAR, it would affect U.S. interests and policies in the area. It would be seen as a move by a Soviet-backed radical Arab state, in a strategic area, against a moderate Arab regime friendly with the United States. Extension of PDRY control in the Bab al Mandeb Straits would increase the risk that this territory might be used by hostile elements, including Palestinian fedayeen or Eritrean dissidents, to interdict traffic moving in the Red Sea. We have an important interest in assuring continued freedom of transit for ships of all nations, including our own. We would be hard pressed by the [Page 649] Saudis to give direct military support to the YAR. If the Saudis should also step up their support for counter-attacks by dissident South Arabian exiles along the Saudi and YAR borders with PDRY, it would stimulate PDRY to seek additional Soviet support. A prolonged confrontation would seriously affect the YAR’s feeble economy and a YAR military defeat would jeopardize the moderate Iryani government.

U.S. Courses of Action:

While we remain unsure of PDRY intentions, we believe it is important to focus now on what we can do to deter a possible PDRY invasion of the YAR, and how we can respond to the urgent YAR request made to the Saudis and ourselves to supply up to 36 jeep-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles, 300 trucks, 500 machine guns, 6 helicopters, and some water trucks. We think it preferable to maintain low public visibility to: 1) avoid complicating any efforts which may be undertaken in the Arab context to calm the situation, and 2) enhance the chances that the Soviets, whom we may wish to approach at some point, could play a similar helpful behind-the-scene role. The following are courses of action which we believe we can usefully take now which would have a deterrent effect, boost YAR morale, and strengthen the latter’s capabilities should such an attack occur:

a) Mustering Arab Support for the YAR: We are urging the YAR to make its concerns of a PDRY attack also known to the Arab League. We believe the YAR can elicit support against PDRY from most other members of the Arab League. That organization played an important role in arranging a ceasefire and mutual withdrawal of forces following last October’s border conflict between YAR and PDRY. President Iryani told our Chargé he is in fact approaching both the League and certain Arab governments directly.

b) Approaching the Saudis to Provide Emergency Aid: We are instructing our Embassy in Jidda to urge the Saudis to begin immediately to transfer to the YAR at least a token quantity of the items most urgently needed, especially vehicles and machine guns. We are also pressing the Saudis to begin training of the YAR Army in the use of 106mm recoilless rifles and to loan Saudi helicopters and crews to the YAR. In return, we are offering: 1) to send, if needed, a team to help the Saudis develop a 106mm recoilless rifle training capability, 2) to provide replacements on a reimbursable basis for U.S.-made equipment transferred to the YAR, 3) to airlift as many available items as possible to Saudi Arabia to facilitate rapid replacement, and 4) to absorb a portion of the expense of any airlift of replacements. In approaching the Saudis, we are putting this effort in the larger context of our mutual interest in working together for stability in the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf region as suggested to you by Prince Sultan when he visited Washington last year.

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c) Approaching the Jordanians: Depending on the Saudi response to meeting urgent YAR military requirements, we would consider subsequently a possible approach to Jordan if necessary to determine how it might assist. Jordan could be asked to provide 106mm recoilless rifles and train YAR troops in their use. This action would, of course, be coordinated with the Saudis.

d) [1 paragraph (7 lines) not declassified]

Other Possible Actions:

There are three other actions which, while held in abeyance for the present, we will want to keep in mind depending on how the situation develops:

a) Posting a U.S. Destroyer in the Area: One of our destroyers attached to the Middle East Force could be instructed to remain unobtrusively in the area. The vessel could be available to make a visit to the port of Hodeida at some appropriate time, if the YAR wished, in order to show U.S. interest and support for the YAR. Alternatively, if developments warranted, the vessel could be instructed to make periodic passes through the Straits as a show of U.S. concern for continued freedom of transit.

b) Approaching the Soviets: Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin might be asked to come in to discuss our concerns at growing tension in Southern Arabia. We would say that while we are not certain of PDRY intentions, we believe that any PDRY attack against the YAR would not be either in our or in the USSR’s interests. We would ask the Soviets to urge restraint on the PDRY, since confrontation in South Arabia could cause problems in our relations. We would also emphasize that U.S. relations with the YAR are based on that country’s need for economic and technical assistance from all sides and its desire to develop peacefully. In response to the anticipated Soviet complaint that the U.S. should restrain the Saudis, we would state that we have and will continue to urge the Saudis to focus their efforts on aiding YAR economic development and avoid encouraging various South Yemeni tribal dissidents to move against the PDRY regime. We would add that we could not expect the Saudis to stand idly by if there were a clear use or threat of force against the YAR.

Since such an approach to the Soviets would introduce a major power dimension and tend to escalate the level of concern, we would hold off on this action until it was clear that intra-Arab efforts were not sufficient to cool the situation and there was more conclusive evidence of a planned PDRY attack.

c) Providing Economic Assistance to the YAR: We are currently initiating a modest AID program in the YAR and have obligated $1.6 million in technical assistance funds for FY 73. We are exploring ways in which [Page 651] this program might be supplemented with additional assistance in FY 74. This would support our strategy of using our contribution as seed money for more generous aid by the YAR’s wealthier neighbors (Saudi Arabia has now committed nearly $60 million in budget support and project aid to the YAR since 1970).

In light of evidence that the situation on the PDRY/YAR border has begun to cool somewhat, we do not now believe there is need for a WSAG meeting, as tentatively suggested in the earlier memorandum to Mr. Kissinger.

Elliot L. Richardson
William P. Rogers
  1. Summary: Richardson and Rogers informed Nixon of an urgent YAR request for military assistance to resist a potential PDRY invasion, placed the request within the context of regional security, and recommended a further limited course of action in response to the Yemeni request.

    Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD Files: FRC 330–78–0002, Saudi Arabia 092 (15 November 1973). Secret. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Eagleburger forwarded this memorandum to the Secretary of Defense for signature on April 25, and in the covering memorandum indicated that he, Sisco, Rush, and Clements had discussed these contingency plans for future action in a potential YARPDRY conflict at a meeting on April 5. (Ibid.) For further developments, see Documents 200 and 201.