9. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Jones) to Secretary of Defense Brown 1



  • Review of US Strategy Related to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf (U)

1. (C) Reference your memorandum, 17 March 1978, “Review of US Strategy to Safeguard Availability of Oil from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf,” which requested a review of US and Soviet strategies for the region.2

2. (S) The Appendix contains the review,3 an advance draft copy of which was provided to the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International [Page 25] Security Affairs), in preparation for the Camp David Summit.4 The review concludes that:

a. The Soviet Union has well-defined interests and specific objectives, an opportunistic but congruent strategy, and the capability to pursue that strategy. Additionally, it is increasing its military capability and, given the opportunity, may opt for more overt military measures to further its interests. Section II of the review and the supporting annexes provide a detailed analysis of Soviet interests, objectives, and strategy.

b. The major US interests in the region are:

  • (1) To assure continuous access to petroleum resources.
  • (2) To assure the survival of Israel as an independent state in a stable relationship with contiguous Arab states.
  • (3) To prevent an inimical power or combination of powers from establishing hegemony.

c. Existing US strategy should be expanded to provide adequate guidelines to insure that national interests are protected and advanced.

d. There are two major obstacles to the realization of US interests in the area: the turmoil produced by the Arab-Israeli conflict and the diametrically opposed strategic aims of the Soviet Union.

  • (1) Arab animosity toward Israel creates conditions leading to economic reprisals and possibly denial of oil to the West. It threatens Israel’s security and provides an opportunity for Soviet penetration into regional states. While the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly endorse the administration’s efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, additional measures to enhance the security of all parties to the dispute could improve stability and accelerate progress toward a settlement.
  • (2) Resolution of the Arab-Israeli problem, while of immense value to the United States, would still leave the Soviet Union actively and purposefully working against US interests in the region. In this decade, the Soviets have become increasingly confident of their ability to forcefully promote their interests in the area. It appears they are striving to gain ultimate control over critical raw materials, particularly oil; enhance their southern flank security by neutralizing Iran and Turkey; foster a more friendly government in Afghanistan; and generally strengthen the Soviet position at the expense of the West. The Soviets are adept opportunists and have reason to hope for significant gains in the Horn of Africa and in southern Africa. These gains, if realized, will impact so profoundly on key Middle East and Persian Gulf states that, without compensating measures by the West and the United States, in particular, these states may be forced to accommodate the Soviets to the jeopardy of the West and, [Page 26] particularly, the North Atlantic Alliance.

3. (S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff consider the development and implementation of a comprehensive US strategy for the region a matter of utmost urgency. They recommend that the following objectives serve as the basis for that strategy:

  • a. A full or partial Middle East peace settlement enhanced by guarantees (which, if necessary, could include a presence of US military forces) and a determined effort to discourage reliance on the Warsaw Pact as the principal arms supplier to key countries in the area.
  • b. A revitalized CENTO Alliance with a more active planning and leadership role by the United States. In particular, the current impasse within CENTO over the issue of political guidance needs to be resolved before CENTO can proceed with military planning. In addition, the United States should minimize the restrictions on arms transfers to CENTO nations and take steps to coordinate NATO and CENTO plans.
  • c. A firm and public commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and Iran. This commitment should provide sufficient flexibility to take whatever future steps are necessary to fulfill US obligations. It could also precede and facilitate an increase in the current levels of Western military sales to the region, the development of a base infrastructure, and, ultimately, an expansion of the US military presence in the region, if necessary.

4. (S) A public declaration of policy embracing the above objectives could serve to counter or deter Soviet military presence in the region and enhance regional stability. A supporting military strategy would include these basic elements:

  • a. Countering of Soviet military presence in the region.
  • b. Assisting in the development of local base infrastructures which are adequate to support the introduction of significant US military forces to the region.
  • c. Maintaining a limited military presence which is sufficient to provide evidence of US interest in the region, enhance stability, and facilitate the introduction of surge forces if and when necessary.
  • d. Seeking to prevent (and be understood as seeking to prevent) any major conquests by a regional power or powers.

Details of the recommended strategy are contained in Section III, with supporting US and allied military initiatives in Annex A.5

5. (S) The Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly recommend that the attached report be formally considered by the NSC and used as the basis for [Page 27] a strategy for the next decade, the implementation of which conveys to the USSR as well as US friends and allies the importance the United States attaches to stability and security of the region.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

David C. Jones
General, USAF
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Defense/Security, Ermarth, Box 4, Middle East/Persian Gulf: 9–12/78. Secret.
  2. In the March 17 memorandum to the Joint Chiefs, Brown noted: “The President and I have stated that the Middle East and Persian Gulf cannot be separated from our security and that of NATO and our allies in Asia; and that the United States intends to safeguard the production of oil and its transportation to consumer nations without interference by hostile powers.” To that end, and due to recent Soviet moves in the Horn of Africa with the goal of gaining access to the Gulf region, Brown continued: “I believe it appropriate for us to review Soviet and U.S. strategy, plans, force structure and deployments as they relate to these important U.S. and allied interests.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–81–0202, Box 60, Middle East 092 1978)
  3. Attached but not printed is the 48-page review. In addition to identifying the major U.S. interests in the region, summarized here, the review details Soviet and American strategy, as well as Soviet capabilities, in the region. In part, the review concludes that “in light of US interests and the threats to those interests, it is considered that a coherent strategy for the Persian Gulf/Middle East region is now a matter of urgency.”
  4. The Camp David summit between President Carter and Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin took place September 5–17.
  5. Attached but not printed at Annex A is the “Recommended US and Allied Military Initiatives in the Middle East/Persian Gulf Region.”