29. Memorandum From Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Unified Middle East Command (U)


You asked for comments on Bill Odom’s memo.2 A couple of words of background are required. At the present time, the Middle East south of Suez and the Indian Ocean is the “backyard” of both CINCEUR and CINCPAC. For years, they have been trying to work out some kind of reasonable command structure for the area without any significant success. Middle East Force, the only permanent U.S. military presence in the region, as well as the attache/military assistance programs, have always been under CINCEUR. CINCPAC has been playing a much more important role since 1974 when we began the policy of periodic task force deployments into the region at a time when the Suez Canal was closed and the Sixth Fleet had no ready access to the region. At the present time, we have the anomalous situation where Middle East Force CINCEUR is responsible only for the Persian Gulf/Red Sea and adjacent land area; while all the rest of the Indian Ocean is technically the responsibility of the Pacific Command. Thus, when MIDEASTFOR ships sail out of the Gulf (which they do routinely) they are technically in CINCPAC’s territory, and when Seventh Fleet units operate off the Arabian Peninsula they report back to Honolulu, although MIDEASTFOR has a “liaison” responsibility. (S)

Harold Brown is well aware of this issue and tasked the JCS on June 22 to do an evaluation. A preliminary report has been completed within the JCS which identifies seven possible options. Although this report has been briefed to the Chairman, it has still not been reported [Page 108] out of the JCS. (I have a copy of the original slide presentation on this report if you want additional details. It is in Pentagonese and requires a translator.) Any significant alteration of the present arrangement would involve a battle for turf among the Services and the existing Unified and Specified Commands. My understanding is that there is little enthusiasm within the JCS for a potentially bruising territorial fight and they would prefer simply to leave things as they are for the moment. The impetus for change will almost certainly have to come from outside the JCS, either from SecDef or the NSC. (S)

Security Relationship with Saudi Arabia

One of the most important elements of any new Middle East Command would be the military relationship with Saudi Arabia and the nations of the Arabian Peninsula. As you know, Major General Dick Lawrence has recently returned from a three-month mission to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula to examine this issue.3 Based on his findings, he is convinced that a thorough reorganization of the U.S. military relationship is required. As a result of his conversations, he believes that the Saudi top leadership is aware that their primary problems are not lack of hardware but shortcomings in management, planning, coordination, and command and control. Our present effort in Saudi Arabia is oriented almost exclusively toward hardware and is constrained from providing management advice and assistance. (S)

Lawrence believes that it is now time to restructure our military relationship with Saudi Arabia to take account of the two aspects of our effort—i.e. FMS and advisory/planning assistance. He would propose giving the organization a new name and a new charter with greater regional orientation, with cognizance over all U.S. military in the country. He believes this can be done within existing manpower ceilings. Lawrence has briefed his proposal widely in DOD and State (and to this office). There is a great deal of support for the idea, but it will require a push from above to get things moving. (S)

In my view, this is the place to begin restructuring our Middle East security efforts. The Arabian Peninsula is the heart of our security concern, and we should get our house in order there before proceeding to restructure the next layer of command. In that Dick Lawrence has already briefed specific recommendations to State and Defense, changes along these lines would be more easily and quickly adapted than those for a Mideast command. I will be sending you a memo in the next few days proposing a strategy for dealing with this issue.4 (S)

[Page 109]

Regional Politics

The regional reaction to the establishment of a Middle East Command would depend very heavily on which of the seven JCS options we chose to pursue. If we merely establish a subordinate command attached to EUCOM or PACCOM, or if we add this responsibility to REDCOM or create a Washington paper command, I suspect that the reaction in the region would be muted. This would amount to nothing more than a bureaucratic restructuring of our present organization, with the same assets except for a few headquarters personnel thousands of miles away, it should not be unmanageable on the political level. I dare say that very few in the Middle East understand our present command relationship. (S)

If, however, we undertook to establish a unified command in the region, or if we made it clear that this was our ultimate intention, this would be seen as the long-anticipated “Fifth Fleet” and would arouse intense concern. That should be undertaken only after the most careful study and advance preparation. (S)

At this point, I would be content to leave the question of a major command restructuring where it is in the Department of Defense, while we direct our attention to the subsidiary problem of getting our security relationship with Saudi Arabia in order.5 (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 68, Middle East: Security: 7–8/79. Secret. Outside the System. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.”
  2. Reference is to a July 24 memorandum that Odom sent to Brzezinski. Odom wrote: “As you make progress in establishing the policy of an increasing U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, there is a major ‘next step’ which should be considered: a change in the DOD’s Unified Command Plan to create a unified command for the Persian Gulf region.” Brzezinski forwarded the memorandum to Gary Sick with a handwritten notation in the margin that reads: “GS, your comments on the politics of this in the region? ZB.” (Ibid.) Notations on Odom’s memorandum indicate that Aaron also read and commented on it.
  3. See Document 197.
  4. Not further identified and not found.
  5. Brzezinski drew a vertical line in the left-hand margin next to this final paragraph with a line connecting to his notation in the lower margin that reads: “ok for time-being ZB.”