9. Paper Prepared by Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff1
A US Strategy for the Region of the Soviet Southern Flank
In response to your requests at the SRG meeting on NSSM 182, the State Department has produced a short paper (immediately [Page 52]following) on what regional strategies might look like if we were to think in terms of the entire area from the Indian subcontinent to the eastern Mediterranean and Horn of Africa. This paper is essentially a think-piece which tries to define possible strategies. Once an approach is defined, the next stage would be to think through in more detail what courses of action one might follow in implementing such strategies. The paper now contains a variety of suggested actions to illustrate the differences between the two suggested strategies, but their purpose at this point is essentially illustrative.
The principal issue is how to define the strategies. This has been difficult and there has not been agreement. This summary will describe the issue. At sub-tabs in the attached State paper you will find alternative formulations—one is State’s, the other is mine.
Following is a summary of the main points in the paper:
I. How the Soviets see the region.
The paper judges that, while both the US and USSR take actions that affect the entire region, the Soviets probably have less of an integrated concept of the region than we do. They tend to see it in two ways: (1) as a part of the Asian rimland stretching from Turkey to Korea which is vital to them both because parts of it lie along Soviet borders and because other parts encircle China; or (2) as a series of individual countries or conflict situations toward which they must develop policy approaches. They have several interests:
—Their general determination to play a global role compels them to want to assure that no important decisions can be taken here, as elsewhere, without Soviet interest being taken into account.
—The paramount Soviet interest here is national security.
—A third objective is the avoidance of any risk of nuclear conflict in this area.
—The Soviets also have an interest in the current pursuit of détente with the West. But while the inter-related concerns of security and détente have had some impact on Soviet actions in the area, this impact has been differentiated by area and activity. Nowhere does the Soviet pursuit of détente seem to have played a major constraining role on efforts to increase Soviet influence.
—The Chinese impact on Soviet policy is not, on balance, a bad one from the US viewpoint. It reinforces the current Soviet leaders’ predilection to be a status quo power, to discourage regional conflicts or even domestic turbulence which might provide Peking with opportunities for anti-Soviet exploitation. Probably above all, Moscow is concerned about the prospects of Sino-US collusion in the area.
Thus, the paper concludes that the Soviets lay claim in the Middle East to at least equal influence with the US and in South Asia probably feel that they are entitled to preeminence. Their success in the final analysis will depend on how well they satisfy the aspirations of the [Page 53]individual countries there. On this, the prospects do not look bright, at least without cooperation rather than competitive rivalry with the West and the US in particular.
II. How the US views the region.
Historically, the US has formulated its policies toward this region on the basis of two perceptions, often held simultaneously, never fully reconciled and sometimes in conflict:
—One perception has been that the Soviet threat is the overriding reality with which we must deal. In this view, conflicts, rivalries and alignments within the region are secondary considerations subordinate to the Soviet factor when it comes to assigning priorities and making policy choices.
—The second perception has been that the separate sets of local conflicts and problems within the region arising largely from indigenous factors constitute the overriding realities with which we must deal. Policies based on this perception have emphasized strengthening our bilateral relationships across the board while seeking to defuse or resolve local conflicts and to keep a foot in both camps in local conflict situations.
The paper points out that a further characteristic of the US view of this region has been a tendency to compartmentalize our approach into sets of largely, though not exclusively, separate subregional policies in South Asia, the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf, the Arab-Israeli area and the Horn of Africa. While we have tended to a compartmentalized view of the region, the leaders and governments in the area often do not see it this way. It is one of the new elements on the scene that there is a complex of cross-regional relationships that suggest that we need to broaden our perception of the region in recognition of that fact that our compartmentalized view does not accord with the perceptions of many of those in the area.
One other major new element in the equation of US-Soviet relations in this region is the presumed Soviet desire to avoid situations that will seriously jeopardize US–USSR bilateral relations and détente in Europe and could foster the coalescence of a US-Chinese community of interests in this region. The priority the Soviets attach to these new considerations and the price they are prepared to pay for them in this region in terms of modifying their traditional policies remain to be seen.
III. Toward a Regional Strategy.
Since there is disagreement on how alternative strategies might be formulated, you will find one formulation in the attached State paper under the sub-tab marked “State Strategy” and a second possible formulation which I have written under the sub-tab marked “Alternative Strategy.”[Page 54]
In brief, the State Department paper poses the two strategies in this way:
—Strategy 1. “We can base our policies on the view that, to protect our interests in the region, we need to move more actively to counter the Soviets where we believe those interests threatened. While continuing to seek improvements in our bilateral relationships in the region and the elimination of sources of local tension, we would not let such considerations stand in the way of actions we deemed necessary to carry out the main thrust of this strategy.”
—Strategy 2. “We can base our policies on the view that our interests will best be served and Soviet influence checked and reduced by concentrating on the resolution of local conflicts and the improvement of our bilateral relationships where they are unsatisfactory in the region. This strategy would be based essentially on the premise that (1) local conflicts, in which the Soviets align themselves with one side, have been a principal vehicle for the expansion of Soviet influence, and (2) once the pressures of those conflicts are relieved, the forces of nationalism and fear of Soviet domination will operate to limit Soviet inroads.”
The shortcoming of these formulations is that they are not real alternatives. One says we should counter the Soviets and the other says we should counter the Soviets by reducing local tensions. It seems to me (Saunders) that one can assume that we will be working to increase our influence relative to the Soviets and that the issue is how to do it. Therefore, I have tried two different formulations and put them under the State paper as an alternative ending to the paper. My formulations would go as follows:
—Strategy 1. We could base our policies on the view that it is, above all, important for the US to be identified as much as possible with those nations in the area historically friendly toward us and with the power to dominate their respective neighborhoods. This approach would be a sort of neo-containment strategy. By providing strong support to current points of strength across a wider area now that the USSR has leap-frogged CENTO, we would try to close the Soviets’ option of extending their influence through the military adventures of proxies in the area. This approach would give the US a capacity through these friends to encourage their use of force in support of other friendly governments without necessarily involving ourselves militarily. It would also provide for the assertion of influence in non-military ways since those countries that would be identified as points of strength are also nations of considerable economic weight.
—Strategy 2. We could base our policies on the view that, while building a strong relationship with the military powers in the area, we would concentrate on encouraging the widest possible network of associated states friendly to us. Many of these relationships are already being cultivated by the leaders in the area—Shah-Hussein, Shah-Bhutto, Shah-Faisal, Hussein-Faisal, Jordan-Oman, Iran-Oman, Pakistan-Iran-Saudi Arabia-Abu Dhabi-Jordan, Saudi Arabia-Egypt, Israel in unique ways with Iran, Jordan, Turkey and even Lebanon.
The assumption of this strategy of promoting regional associations is that it would provide the most durable means of enabling the nations [Page 55]of the region to absorb any Soviet thrust. In promoting these associations, we would recognize that sometimes this might require us to give the major regional powers something less than total and unquestioning support. We would also have to recognize that this strategy would require more careful and continuous attention to policy in this region than the first strategy above.
These may not provide the most desirable formulations of possible US strategies, but they do seem closer to what is going on in the area and what we have to work with there.
I would recommend that we and State take another crack at these formulations after hearing your views. It would help to know what issues concern you in relation to your dealings with the Soviets and Chinese on global issues.
Summary: Saunders prepared a paper analyzing a Department of State study on U.S. Strategy in the Middle East.
Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 71, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Senior Review Group, March 1972–July 1973. Secret. This paper was attached as Tab A to the July 19 Saunders memorandum to Kissinger published as Document 8. Attached is the signed analytical summary from Saunders critiquing the paper. The points in this summary are reproduced in the July 19 briefing memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger published as Document 8.↩