91. Memorandum From Paul B. Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Study for Somalia


  • Memorandum to you from Dave McGiffert, same subject, dated 4 October 1978 (attached at TAB 1 with related documentation)2

Dave McGiffert reports that their effort (which has been coordinated with AID) to do a feasibility study of possible economic development projects in Somalia which could be carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with Saudi financing has come up against the fact that serious estimates of what could be done at what cost can be made only if a survey team of 12 people is sent to Somalia to spend a month looking into these projects on the ground.

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Before we do this McGiffert proposes that we sound out the Saudis to see whether they are really serious about wanting to finance this effort. The proposal originated, as you may recall, with Congressman Leggett (D, Calif),3 who has decided not to run again and who is reportedly interested in going into international management consulting, helping foreign governments develop arrangements like the one proposed for Somalia.

The work the DOD has done on this question to date stems from the PRC meeting of 31 July 1978 (Summary and Conclusions attached at TAB 2, see last paragraph).4 McGiffert’s memorandum has not been formally coordinated with State. I have sent a copy to State and asked for their reaction. Within the NSC Staff, the memorandum has been reviewed by Quandt/Sick and Les Denend. Quandt/Sick have no comment but Les Denend (comment attached, TAB 3)5 takes a very negative view of the entire undertaking, maintaining that sending a 12-man survey team can convey a stronger signal than the military survey team to consider arms supply which was discussed last summer6 and indefinitely deferred by the PRC on 31 July.

Informally, the position I have got from State is that they feel unenthusiastic about going to the Saudis now or sending a survey team out to Somalia, as McGiffert proposes. They would like to defer the whole business while finding other gestures to show the Somalis we are still interested in them—e.g. sending Bill Harrop and the commander of the Navy’s Indian Ocean Task Force to be present at Somali Revolution Day celebrations on 21 October; and perhaps accelerating our regular AID program.

Internally in Somalia, Siad’s position is gradually weakening as dissatisfaction with him grows among all non-Marehan (Siad’s tribe) tribesmen. He has antagonized other tribes by trials and executions of the April coup plotters and this process is not yet at an end. Somalis abroad, as well as at home, seem, according to fragmentary intelligence reporting, to be engaging in more active discussion of alternatives to Siad. There is no evidence of serious Soviet involvement in this ferment or indication that any coalition of elements likely to seize power from Siad would be pro-Soviet. Recently, there has even been talk among a few Somali dissidents of the desirability of holding free elections and returning to some form of democratic system.

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There remains little justification for U.S. action to bolster Siad, for as time passes, it becomes more and more evident that his demise (though it may well be some distance away) could not easily be represented as a blow to U.S. interests and a successor government might well be more genuinely pro-Western. It might, perhaps, be more willing to enter eventually into a process of working out a modus vivendi with Ethiopia. The case for sending out an engineer survey team is, therefore, not one that carries itself along on its own merits. Since the Saudis were lukewarm toward Leggett’s proposal when he made it and have not raised it with us since, there is some reason to doubt that they are eager to underwrite it.

So what do we do? I suggest we give ourselves time to look at this whole business carefully (we have lost nothing during the entire past year by not rushing to do anything about Somalia!) and take only two steps now:

a. Get State’s formal reactions to McGiffert’s memo.

b. Then, if appropriate, ask our embassy in Jeddah what they think of asking the Saudis—sounding the Saudis out only informally as a first step.7

Meanwhile, you might want to talk informally about this to Dave Newsom.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files 1977–1981, Box 70, PRC 068 7/31/78, Somalia [1]. Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 90.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 89.
  4. See Document 89 and footnote 1 thereto.
  5. Not attached.
  6. See Documents 27 and 28.
  7. Aaron initialed the Agree option. In telegram 5166 from Jidda, July 14, 1979, the Embassy reported on the technical proposals to the Saudis. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790322–0365)