126. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Diego Garcia

You will recall our discussion at lunch on October 25 of further upgrading of the facilities at Diego Garcia.2 As part of DoD’s FY 81 [Page 414] budget and FY 81–85 FYDP, at some level of priority there will be a program/budget item for funds for such an upgrade to increase our capability to respond rapidly to an emergency in the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean region. It was specifically added in response to my request to my staff for suggested initiatives to improve our Rapid Deployment Forces.

The funding profile (in millions of FYDP dollars) that I envisage is along these lines:

FY 81 FY 82 FY 83 FY 84 FY 85 Total
10 40 40 10 0 100

The primary purpose of the recommended construction would be to increase the airlift and sealift throughput capability of the island. The specific projects include adding to the existing aircraft fuel storage capacity and ramp space, building a pier capable of supporting roll-on/roll-off ships, constructing a taxiway parallel to the runway and improving the airfield’s refueling facilities.

The Diego Garcia initiative is especially important because the USMC maritime prepositioning program will require moving Pacific-based Marines and their tactical aircraft long distances to link up with the equipment on RO/RO ships. Early in a crisis, we might find countries in the region equivocating about granting staging rights. The ability to use Diego Garcia for tankers and some transiting tactical aircraft would then be essential for a speedy U.S. response.

We are obligated under the terms of the USUK Diego Garcia Agreement signed in 19763 to consult with the British on any changes we desire to make to the capabilities and use of the base. Since the nature of the improvements listed above are consistent with the island’s generally recognized purpose, the UK probably would not object.

Other foreign policy consequences of the changes are predictable. The radical Islamic states and the non-aligned countries such as India, Sri Lanka and some of the small island nations, are likely to react negatively. Countries looking for visible signs of U.S. commitment and presence in the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf region would react favorably. Diego Garcia is far enough from the Gulf for such an upgrade not to cause embarrassment to our friends there. The U.S. position in the Indian Ocean talks with the Soviets is in such a state of flux that modest further changes to Diego Garcia probably do not matter.

[Page 415]

We must also anticipate Congressional reaction. While a few senators have voiced objections in the past to any further expansion on Diego Garcia, it is unclear what the reaction of the Congress as a whole would be. Before the FY 81 budget is released we should consult with the appropriate Congressional leaders about whatever it contains on Diego Garcia. We should also consult with the UK in accordance with our agreement.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 24, Indian Ocean: 10–12/79. Secret. Brzezinski added the following notation for Sick: “GS, revision for V–B–B? ZB.”
  2. At the Vance-Brown-Brzezinski luncheon on October 25, the principals decided that a tentative go-ahead for upgrading would be given; the Department of Defense was tasked with preparing a package to review. (Memorandum from Robert Gates to Jake Stewart, October 25; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 68, Middle East: Security: 9–12/79)
  3. The U.S.–U.K. Diego Garcia Agreement was signed in London on February 25, 1976. (Telegram 2945 from London, February 25, 1976; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760070–1152) Also see footnote 6, Document 26.