30. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and Secretary of Defense Brown to President Carter1


  • U.S. Military Presence in the Middle East and Indian Ocean

Harold Brown’s memorandum of July 11 outlined the proposed increase in U.S. military presence in the Indian Ocean area.2 This memorandum sets forth our plans for implementing the increased presence. We expect that these plans, when carefully executed, will enhance respect for U.S. interests and will reassure our Middle Eastern friends.

Matter-of-fact presentation and low-key implementation of our plans will elicit private, though probably not public, acceptance on the part of the most moderate states in the region. We can improve the chances for positive reaction by providing opportunities for joint exercises and training with U.S. forces. We expect a more favorable reaction from our Asian and NATO allies so long as our force commitments to their regions are not significantly reduced. We should anticipate criticism from the USSR, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, the other radical Arab and African states, and some moderates such as India.

Naval deployments will be the least controversial aspect of the proposed increases. In general, the “over-the-horizon” nature of naval forces is welcomed by our friends in the region. Four rather than three major deployments will require some increases in U.S. Navy use of local facilities for port calls and fuel and for access for maritime patrol and logistic aircraft.

Adding two surface combatants to MidEastForce can be accomplished without causing undue concern to Bahrain and other regional states by assigning the additional ships to Commander Middle East Force for command and control purposes only, by focusing the activities outside the Persian Gulf, and by not formally increasing our MidEastForce strength or increasing our day-to-day presence in the Gulf. MidEastForce has, in fact been augmented off and on since last November, without evidence of concern by friendly states.

The increased support requirements for our expanded activities may encounter resistance from some littoral states or demands for [Page 111] quid pro quo in the form of assistance. In general, however, these problems should be manageable.

While more sensitive, the TacAir deployments should be favorably received if they are clearly tied to joint training exercises with regional states. In any event, these deployments will require previous consultations and approval of host nations. There is precedent for such deployments as the U.S. sent F–15s and AWACs on separate occasions to Saudi Arabia in early 1979.3

More controversial will be the Marine deployments. These have the potential for adverse publicity by those who wish us ill or fear American intervention. We will have to approach this issue very carefully, with regard to both timing and the countries involved. We would suggest to them Marine exercises within the context of joint exercises. The most likely initial amphibious exercise could be with Australia, or alternatively, with Saudi Arabia if it were willing.

In order to avoid negative reactions, it is important that we consult with appropriate moderate states and our NATO and East Asian allies, in conjunction with any announcement of increases in U.S. naval presence. We should also carefully lay the groundwork with key members of Congress.

We should not seek endorsement of proposed naval increases from our regional friends. This is a U.S. decision. It should be explained as a logical step to strengthen the position of U.S. and moderate forces in the region, and as an indication of American concern for the security of our friends.

We will not proceed with consultations until after the NAM Summit in September.4 Since our decisions are likely to leak publicly once consultations take place with Congress or abroad, we would exacerbate expected NAM criticism of our Indian Ocean military policy. Our friends in the region would then be forced to acquiesce in resolutions specifically condemning our decisions.

Procedures for Implementation of Policy

After the NAM, we intend to proceed along the following plan of action:

1. Inform key members of Congress of our plans.

2. Concurrently inform key countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan) of our plans, as well as our NATO and East Asian allies.

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3. If deemed appropriate, make a low-key public announcement of U.S. plans. No announcement should be made of possible tactical air or Marine deployments, nor should the additional surface combatants be officially termed a part of MidEastForce.

4. As necessary, undertake consultations with friends in the area regarding support requirements and joint exercises.

  • Cyrus R. Vance
    Secretary of State
  • Harold Brown
    Secretary of Defense
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–82–0205, Box 15, Middle East. Secret. The memorandum is on Department of State stationery.
  2. See Document 27.
  3. See Document 271.
  4. Reference is to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit scheduled to take place in Havana, Cuba, September 3–9.