Memorandum by Mr. William H. Bray of the Office of the Coordinator for Foreign Military Assistance Programs to the Coordinator (Berkner)

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On September 2, 1949 Mr. Kennan met with an inter-agency group to consider the effects of a possible curtailment of British military commitments throughout the world. Representatives of the military establishment were present. It is my understanding that the NME will prepare a paper on the military implications to the U.S. of such a possibility. It is also my understanding that a representative of the Treasury Department was the chief proponent of the view that the British will (or should) attempt to shift to the United States part or all of their defense responsibilities throughout the world. The Treasury Department apparently believes that the reduction of British defense burdens will reduce dollar burdens on the United Kingdom and that the Congress is more likely to authorize this Government to assume more in the way of additional defense responsibilities throughout the world than in authorizing additional dollar assistance to the United Kingdom.

My information comes from a member of my staff who was present for a part of this meeting. He did not obtain the full background of the discussion. Therefore his report on the meeting may not be accurate in all particulars. I suggest that you make independent inquiries regarding both the purpose and the scope of the paper to be prepared by NME on this subject.

I am very much concerned about the results of any study to be undertaken by the NME on this subject, particularly if adequate and carefully considered political and economic criteria are not provided by the State Department for guiding NME. In my judgment such factors as those listed below should have been considered before the NME was requested to make a study on this subject. [Page 831]

Mr. H. H. Bell of ED has prepared a study on United Kingdom defense expenditures1 which indicates that the direct dollar costs of British defense efforts are not significant.
The Treasury Department might assert that British defense expenditures in Egypt for example, results in Egypt acquiring sterling which the Egyptian Government requires the United Kingdom to convert into dollars. To the extent that the British do convert sterling into dollars, U.K. defense expenditures abroad do result in a dollar burden on the U.K.
It is true, however, that the areas in which the U.K. has assumed defense responsibilities are also areas which attempt by one means or another to draw down dollars from U.K. dollar reserves. These areas would continue to claim dollars from the U.K. even if the U.K. withdrew its garrison forces entirely. Many of these countries hold large blocked sterling claims arising from the war. The problem is more than a purely military one.
Consideration of the possibility of Britain withdrawing from or curtailing its defense responsibilities outside Western Europe brings into question the whole set of premises on which MAP was formulated. Implicit in that set of premises was the assumption that Britain would continue to shoulder its share of defense responsibilities in certain areas of the Near East (Iraq, Transjordan, Egypt and the Suez Canal approaches) and the Far East (Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong). With these areas guarded, the United States could concentrate its military assistance in Western Europe and in Greece and Turkey.
If Britain should withdraw from the areas which it had previously protected, the proposed military assistance program should be reconsidered and possibly reformulated.
It is for this reason that you should have been consulted in advance of this meeting and that a representative of S/CFA should have been invited to this meeting.
It will probably represent a tremendous financial burden and a grave political liability for the US to undertake directly the defense responsibilities of the British in certain areas of the Near and Far East.
The U.S. would have to garrison these areas with U.S. troops.
The cost to the U.S. of maintaining U.S. garrisons would be much greater than the comparable costs incurred by the United Kingdom.
The U.S. does not have the personnel, the organization, or the experience to discharge the defense responsibilities in such areas and over such societies as, for example, Egypt. It has required generations of experience accumulated by the British civil service to deal with the complex political relations of the Near and Far East. This body of experience cannot be transferred to new hands without risking the possibilities of political upheaval in certain of these areas.
The U.S. does not have the resources to undertake these additional responsibilities while continuing its foreign aid recovery-programs in Western Europe, its programs for economic development in Latin America, the Near East and Africa, and military assistance to Europe and selected countries of the Far East. In my judgment, it would represent a tragic blow to the cause of human welfare, if the U.S. had to forego its programs of political and economic development in selected foreign countries in order to concentrate on defense needs.
The belief that Britain will withdraw from or curtail its defense responsibilities represents either despair regarding the future of the U.K. arising from our failure thus far to find remedies in possible economic and political action to aid Britain or placing undue emphasis upon a British offer, made to secure negotiating advantages, to let the U.S. assume its non-European defense burdens. In my judgment, Britain is not ready to be written off as a minor Power and the U.S. has not exhausted the full possibilities of applying economic assistance to maintain the United Kingdom and the sterling area. The real remedies lie in the fields of economic and political policies and not in the domain of military assistance and the expansion of U.S. military forces abroad. The U.S. cannot help Britain by taking over its military responsibilities and such a take-over would surely result in the rapid reduction of U.S. economic assistance to Britain and Western Europe. The free world would be an all-around loser if we permit this choice of possibilities.

  1. Not printed.