In a fascinating look back in time, recently released documents on the National Security Archives website show what plans the United States and its key ally in the Middle East at the time, the United Kingdom, had for Iran and other oil producing nations in the region. The Top Secret National Security Council NSC 26 Report dated August 19, 1948, provides us with a plan of action should the Soviet Union make aggressive moves into the Middle East. With the Middle East currently on “high alert”, the information in this posting seemed, to me, to be particularly pertinent.
NSC 26 also known as “Demolition and Abandonment of Oil Facilities and Fields in the Middle East” was collaborative effort by the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State-Army-Navy-Airforce Coordinating Committee or SANACC and the State Department and became part of what was known as the “denial policy”.
Here is the cover letter from the report:
In the Analysis section of the report, it is noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff concluded that, at the time of the analysis, the United States and its allies would not be able to protect Middle Eastern oil against an attack by the USSR and that, to deny the Soviets of Middle East oil reserves, they would have to destroy surface installations including refineries, loading, storage and transportation facilities as well as plugging and abandoning all oil wells. The analysis suggests the following:
1.) surface oil facilities could be effectively destroyed within a few hours
2.) plugging and abandoning wells would require from 30 to 60 days provided that the necessary personnel and equipment was available. While this would render the wells unproducible in the future, the oil and natural gas reserves would remain intact and be available for later production.
NSC 26 Report goes on to note that it will be necessary to stockpile demolition material and plugging equipment in the oil producing areas as well as organizing and training crews and assigning responsibilities for issuing the orders to proceed with both demolition and abandonment. Here is a quote:
“Such plans and preparations would at relatively little cost give the United States the capability under favourable conditions of denying Middle Eastern oil to the enemy and of making more difficult damage or destruction of the oil reserves. This capability need be exercised only as a last resort, after it is determined that there is no reasonable probability of keeping any particular field out of the possession of the enemy.”
The nations included in this plan are as follows:
1.) British-owned refinery and fields in Iran
2.) American-owned refineries and fields in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
3.) Joint US – UK-owned field in Kuwait
4.) Joint US-French owned fields in Iraq and Qatar
It was determined that the U.S. Secretary of State “should exercise general control over abandonment and demolition plans and preparations and should be responsible for issuing the orders to execute such plans.”
Of course, as with any foreign policy action, there are downsides as shown on page 3 of NSC 26:
It was noted that “if it becomes necessary to implement these programs affecting a primary economic resource of a friendly sovereign country, due consideration must be given to minimizing unfavourable political and economic consequences” (my bold) – to the United States, of course!
Here are the conclusions of NSC 26:
As an aside, the U.S. Secretary of State would disclose the denial policy’s existence at his/her discretion. Saudi Arabia was not informed in both 1952 and 1956 since the United States expected a negative reaction.
Given the British responsibility for the foreign relations of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and its involvement in Iran’s oil industry, let’s take a quick look at the minutes of a meeting on Oil Denial that took place on April 30 and May 1, 1951 with the U.S. State Department:
Under Plan NECKPIECE (aka SMARTWEED), the main objectives of the British were as follows:
1.) deny Russia from accessing refined oil products that would allow them to transport their troops from Russia, through Persia (Iran) and Iraq to Egypt
2.) to prevent the Russians from obtaining machinery for export and use in their own country
3.) to prevent the Russians from obtaining aviation fuel and other products for use in their own country and elsewhere
Most ironically, one of the main British oil denial objectives was to “prevent them (the Russians) from ultimately denying the oil fields to the world”.
By 1955, the U.K. Chiefs of Staff/Joint Planning Staff had altered their oil denial plans as we can see here on this document from the minutes of a meeting held on December 13, 1955:
Since the oil companies in the Middle East were hiring an “increasing number of local workers in responsible positions“, it was seen as unlikely that they would co-operate with the United States or the United Kingdom in their plans to destroy oil infrastructure. As such, the “increased Allied nuclear capability would be used to hold the Russians in the Zagros Mountains of northern Iran and attacking their lines of communication with nuclear weapons“. Should that line of defense fail to hold back the “Red hordes”, the Allies could use the following method to deny oil:
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