193. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

4245. Subject: Crossing the Rubicon: US Military Reorganization in Saudi Arabia. Ref: Jidda 4125 (Notal).2

1. (S-entire text)

2. Summary: The time is ripe to open the question of a new US military relationship with Saudi Arabia. This Mission believes that SAG would not only be receptive to but in fact, would welcome a change in the US Saudi military relationship. As a starting point, this Mission recommends that the Embassy be authorized to approach SAG at appropriate levels to inform it of our willingness to consider a new [Page 635] structure and direction in our security assistance efforts to place them in greater conformance with Saudi needs and desires. End summary.

3. There is a little doubt that the military relationship occupies a central place in US Saudi relations. The large and varied programs run by the Corps of Engineers, US Military Training Mission (USMTM) Saudi National Guard Modernization Program (SANG), the Saudi F–5 program administered by AFLC, the SNEP and the SOCP programs make the US security assistance effort in the Kingdom one of the largest in the world today. If we accept the premise that the security of Saudi Arabia with its vast petroleum reserves is of vital interest to the US, then it is also true that, as a concomitant of that interest, it is necessary to ensure that the military assistance program in Saudi Arabia is operated with as much efficiency and effectiveness as possible.

4. Although our military assistance effort over the past 25 years has achieved considerable progress, this Mission has come to the conclusion that our military assistance program has reached a point where we should review both the type of organization which should superintend and direct US military activities in Saudi Arabia and the direction in which these activities should be focused. Concurrent with this conclusion is the growing perception that SAG would not only be receptive to but, in fact, would welcome a change in the US military relationship.

5. During the Feb visit of Defense Secretary Brown and the subsequent US Saudi security consultations, both Defense Minister Prince Sultan and Foreign Minister Prince Saud made it clear that Saudi Arabia wants a new military relationship with the US.3 No specifics were mentioned, but at least three reasons underline the current Saudi attitude.

6. First, for its part, the Ministry of Defense still wants a military organization which symbolizes the deeply rooted and special nature of US Saudi military ties, but it now appears to want something more than a program which essentially monitors and administers FMS cases. The parameters for this new organization have yet to be determined but some extensive changes and reorientation of effort will be necessary.

7. A second consideration is cost, for it is evident that the Saudis are concerned that they are not getting sufficient value or service for every riyal spent. Pressure in this regard has recently been placed on the Corps of Engineers which has been asked to reduce the ten percent surcharge on construction contracts to eight percent.

8. An additional motivation for change stems from the Saudi experience during the recent conflict between the two Yemens. Saudi inability to intervene effectively, even if desired, on behalf of the YAR on land [Page 636] or in the air is widely recognized throughout both MODA and the SAG. Their self-admitted situation of understrength units, shortages of essential equipment, lack of an effective command and control system, and their inability to plan for their own defense or to conduct combined arms operations has shaken their self-confidence. Rightly or wrongly, MODA officials blame USMTM, as the principal organization which administers the current US military assistance program, for many of the shortcomings in the Saudi Arabian armed forces. They perceive USMTM’s actions as purely FMS administration with too little advice and assistance in the command and control process, training management, and operational planning matters with little or no regard for MODA’s real needs.

9. This contradiction is the outgrowth of a difference which exists between USMTM’s functions as defined in the Feb 1977 US/Saudi agreement on the Military Training Mission and the role of USMTM as required by Public Law 95–92.4 As stated in article 5 of the 1977 agreement, USMTM’s functions include: a) actual participation in training instruction of Saudi armed forces personnel at all levels as a priority mission; b) provision of advisory services in planning, organization, training, armament, logistics, and supply; c) provision of studies and recommendations requested by MODA or initiated by USMTM; and d) management of Saudi FMS cases. Under Public Law 95–92 however, USMTM’s primary function is FMS program management and administration only. Training and advisory assistance must be provided primarily by personnel who are detailed to Saudi Arabia for limited periods of time to perform limited tasks. With the exception of six officers, all members of the US armed forces assigned to the Kingdom to manage the assistance program must be assigned on a fully reimbursable basis.

10. As a result of this discrepancy, USMTM is placed in a quandary, as its application of Public Law 95–92 is at considerable variance with Saudi expectations of USMTM’s functions as outlined in the 1977 agreement. To overcome this contradiction and to create a US security assistance organization which is responsive to Saudi desires, a change in the US law or some US funding to provide for operational, planning, advice, and training assistance will probably be necessary.

11. This Mission does not propose to identify in any great detail proposals for a future US military organization in Saudi Arabia. We [Page 637] suggest, however, that a complete reordering of the current security assistance mosaic, and the creation of one DOD umbrella organization in Saudi Arabia is desirable. It is our view, however, that the establishment of a new US regional command focused on the Arabian Peninsula is probably premature at the present time, although circumstances might warrant its consideration at a future date. Nevertheless, it should be possible to devise a chain of command to Washington which will foster improved dialogue and responsiveness between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

12. Any new US military organization should be structured to carry out activities in three areas. These are: the administration of Saudi FMS cases; the provision of operational planning advice and training assistance for Saudi security programs; and the creation of a joint military program liaison office for handling the middle level staff work, advisory assistance, and coordination with MODA required to implement the US/Saudi military assistance programs in Yemen, Oman, Sudan, Bahrain, Jordan, and other countries. Individual project managers for the Corps, SANG, MODA, and possibly other programs could remain, but they should be under the command/direction of the commander of the umbrella organization. To the extent possible, logistical support for all US activities should be centralized, possibly using the Engineer Logistics Command which supports the Corps as the basis.

13. As a starting point for this new military organization/relationship, this Mission recommends that the Embassy be authorized to approach SAG at appropriate levels to inform it of our willingness to consider a new structure and direction for our security assistance efforts in Saudi Arabia. Provided SAG concurs, we would recommend that a survey team be sent to the Kingdom and, working under the direction of the US Ambassador, determine what the Saudis really want and expect in order to reorient the US security assistance effort to conform with our mutual interests. This team should also look at the relationships between various US programs with a view towards realizing economies by consolidation of similar administrative activities and functions. Once this survey is complete, it should be possible to formulate the basic framework and most efficient chain of command for a new US military organization. The proposal can then be presented by an appropriate high-level US team to the SAG for consideration.

14. This message coordinated with USMTM, COE, PM SANG and USEOPE.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790255–0376. Secret; Niact Immediate. Sent for information to the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, USCINCEUR Vaihingen, Dhahran, USLO Riyadh, CHUSMTM Dhahran, CHUSEOPE Riyadh, DCR Riyadh, DIVENGER Riyadh, PM SANG Riyadh, CDR DARCOM Alexandria VA, and Chief US Army Engineers.
  2. In telegram 4125 from Jidda, May 31, the Embassy provided information concerning the tentative planning for the reorganization of the United States Military Training Mission in Saudi Arabia. Due to the regional and Saudi political sensitivity this reorganization would entail, the Embassy desired to be kept involved in the process. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790246–1026)
  3. See Documents 185 and 186.
  4. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in February 1977 to govern the day-to-day relationship between the Military Training Mission and the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation. P.L. 95–92, the International Security Assistance Act, which Carter signed into law on August 4, 1977, permitted the maintenance of military management teams during FY 1978 in 16 countries.