27. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Brown to
President Carter 1

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  • US Military Presence in the Middle East/Persian Gulf (U)

(S) Three SCC/PRC meetings have been held to review US policy toward the Middle East/Persian Gulf in light of the fall of the Shah, Soviet activities in Afghanistan, the Horn and South Yemen, and our increasing dependence on imported oil.2 With respect to regional security issues, the consensus of the meetings was that the US should strengthen its defense ties with the moderate Persian Gulf states, continue to assist them in improving their self-defense capabilities, improve US military surge capabilities, and moderately increase peacetime US military presence in the region. This memorandum outlines specific initiatives which I propose to take within DoD if you approve these general conclusions.

Defense Ties with Regional States

(S) To establish closer defense ties with the moderate Persian Gulf states as a means to improve their self-defense capabilities and to reduce the political strains caused by the US role in the Egyptian-Israeli peace process and by our economic differences, DoD, in coordination with the State Department, will continue efforts already underway to establish regular bilateral security consultations with selected Persian Gulf states, to be responsive to the requests of the moderate Arab states for arms and equipment where it makes sense to do so, and to improve the readiness of local forces by, for example, participating in exercises with them.

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US Military Presence

(S) To provide a moderate increase in US peacetime military presence in the region, I plan to: (1) expand the permanent US naval presence (now three ships) by two or three surface combatants; (2) increase the number of routine naval deployments to the region from three to four per year including, normally, two carrier battle groups (in the past there have been either one or two such carrier groups deployed each year) and a Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF); and (3) deploy, if politically feasible, at least one TACAIR squadron to the region each year to participate in training and combined exercises with local states. Before a MAGTF is deployed to the vicinity of the Arabian Peninsula, political consultations would be held as appropriate. Of course, additional short-notice deployments may be required to deal with unforseeable events in the region.

(S) The JCS have prepared an illustrative deployment schedule with notional forces covering the CY 1980–82 period which is attached as Appendix A.3 Initially, most of the naval forces will be drawn from CINCPAC, but we are exploring ways to provide part of the necessary assets from USCINCEUR and CINCLANT as well. Undoubtedly, such deployments will have some impact on our Mediterranean and Asian commitments as well as on fleet readiness. The extent of this impact will become clearer when we develop specific (as opposed to illustrative) schedules, including composition of each naval deployment. With judicious scheduling we should be able to honor the bulk of our peacetime commitments in Europe and Asia.

(S) For the longer term, we in DoD will be studying the feasibility of moving toward near-continuous or continuous naval presence with major combatants in the Indian Ocean using more than two carrier deployments per year. As part of this study, we will be formulating options that would give the US the capability to sustain significant combat forces (carriers, MAGTFs, TACAIR) in the region for prolonged periods. We will also shortly be sending you other ideas with respect to presence enhancement that might involve less diversion of existing naval assets.

US Surge Capabilities

(S) I have in mind the following measures to upgrade our surge capabilities: attempting to prearrange necessary clearances from states en route to the region to permit the US access and overflight rights in a Middle East/Persian Gulf contingency; concluding agreements with states in the region which would provide us access to airfields and [Page 104] ports in a crisis; exercising these access and overflight rights on a routine basis in peacetime; upgrading the defenses and capabilities of local facilities so that the flow of men and supplies can be expedited; reviewing US strategic and theater lift capabilities to determine whether the US can adequately deploy and support a significant combat force in a Middle East/Persian Gulf contingency; refining our contingency planning for the region, considering expansion of the facilities at Diego Garcia, exploring the need and opportunities for pre-positioning equipment and supplies in the region; and improving operational capabilities through increased liaison and exercises with local states.


(S) I recommend you agree to the general conclusions outlined above. In that case, I would issue policy guidance within DoD to implement these conclusions as indicated.

(S) I also recommend that the increase in US military presence be handled in a low key manner. In particular, we should avoid a declaratory policy and other actions which lock us into a particular deployment pattern. Additionally, I recommend that the Administration brief key members of Congress on a confidential basis concerning the increase in US presence and the full range of initiatives which will be implemented to improve US surge capabilities and regional self-defense forces.

(S) Finally, I recommend that we continue to enlist the cooperation of our allies to protect our mutual interests in the region. In this respect, we have already begun a low key process of encouraging support, and participation where possible, by our NATO allies in efforts to improve regional security.

(S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff agree with these recommendations.

Harold Brown
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Defense/Security, Ermarth, Box 3, [Indian Ocean]: 2–8/79. Secret. Bartholomew sent a copy of Brown’s memorandum to Vance under a July 19 briefing memorandum, noting that Vance, Brown and Brzezinski planned to discuss it at their scheduled July 20 luncheon. Bartholomew noted: “This memo accurately reflects the PRC decisions and we agree with its overall thrust. However, we need an early State/DOD assessment of the diplomatic implications and military support requirements essential to some of Harold’s recommendations (e.g., MIDEASTFOR increases, land-based tactical air deployments, and marine air-ground task force). The results of that assessment should be reflected in Harold’s memo before it goes forward.” (Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 1, Vance/Brown/Brzezinski Lunches, 7–9/79) Vance and Brown did set forth plans for implementing the increased presence outlined in Brown’s memorandum; see Document 30.
  2. See Documents 23 and 26.
  3. Appendix A is attached but not printed.