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350 Noel-Baker to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram D82, LONDON, 6 February 1948, 11.31 p.m.


1. We have hitherto hoped that with conclusion of Italian and other satellite peace treaties international situation generally and relations between the great powers would settle down and an atmosphere would develop which would permit of an agreed settlement of the problem of the Italian Colonies. As things are however our hopes have so far not been realised and we feel bound to consider what solution would best meet requirements of security and communications in Middle East and Mediterranean. We should have preferred first to await reports of Commission of Investigation but in present circumstances and for reasons given later in this telegram we do not feel able to delay preliminary consultations. Following is position as we see it.

2. We are evacuating Palestine and although we hope to retain some strategic facilities in Egypt they will certainly not be as extensive as we should like and in any case prospects there are uncertain. Chiefs of Staff consider that if we are to hold Middle East in time of war as we clearly must it will be essential to have strategic facilities in Cyrenaica including stationing of a large body of troops and location of stores. We have reason to hope that the United States Government will do all they can to assist us in obtaining such facilities.

3. Following are methods which have been considered as securing desired facilities in Cyrenaica:-

(a) To work for immediate independence of Cyrenaica and conclusion thereafter of a treaty with Emir granting us facilities.

(b) A strategic area trusteeship.

(c) An ordinary trusteeship.

(d) Failing agreement on one of those three courses to block any less desirable alternative and remain in occupation.

4. Alternative (b) is rejected because a strategic trusteeship agreement would almost certainly be vetoed by Soviet Union in Security Council. Alternative (d) might well prove impracticable.

5. Alternative (a) would be open to following objections:

(I) Immediate independence would complicate our position in the Sudan.

(II) Emir once independent might be unwilling to grant facilities which we need.

(III) Some preliminary agreement with Emir would therefore presumably be necessary before we proposed independence in Council of Foreign Ministers or United Nations Assembly and such an agreement besides being of doubtful validity would expose us to criticism. Best plan therefore seems to be to work for an ordinary trusteeship with United Kingdom as administering authority.

6. We have considered whether objective should be trusteeship for Cyrenaica alone or for the whole of Libya. Our conclusion is for whole of Libya for following reasons:

(1) We want to take into account so far as possible wishes of inhabitants of these[1] are very strongly in favour of preservation of Libyan unity. This is also being pressed strongly by all the Arab States.

(2) Chiefs of Staff would on the whole prefer facilities in whole of Libya rather than Cyrenaica alone.

(3) All other solutions for Tripolitania are open to objections e.g.

(a) A collective trusteeship would give Russia a foothold in North Africa.

(b) Italian trusteeship would be strongly disliked by all Arabs and might even be resisted by force; it would in any case endanger our good relations with Cyrenaicans who are essential to our use of strategic facilities.

7. If however we are to seek trusteeship for whole of Libya everything possible will need to be done (especially in view of our proposals for a Western Union[2]).

(1) To safeguard interests of Italians in Tripolitania and
(2) To satisfy Italian susceptibilities and aspirations in Africa by other means especially as Italians have received both French and Russian encouragement to hope that they will be given back all Italian colonies under trusteeship.

8. (1) Could be achieved by administrative measures for benefit of Italians.

(2) Could be met by
(a) Proposals outlined below for Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

(b) Associating Italy in African development generally.

Plans to recruit Italians for work in British Colonies and trust territories have already been[3]. Numbers involved are very small at present but should increase as development schemes progress. If Italy receives a territory or territories in East Africa under trusteeship it might be arranged that Italy should take part in some of the technical conferences between African territories which have been planned on Anglo-French initiative for the next two years and in measures of economic co-operation such as those which are to be considered at impending Anglo-French talks relating to West Africa.

9. Our tentative ideas are as follows:-

10. Eritrea has no natural unity. The problem here is moreover complicated because
(a) Ethiopia considers that she has a strong claim to the territory and particularly to Coptic Highlands (including Asmara) and port of Massawa.

(b) Italy also claims whole territory and has equally a special interest in Asmara and Massawa which were developed by the Italians.

11. Italy's claim will no doubt have French and Soviet support and in view of the paramount need for making our Libyan proposals relatively acceptable to the French and Italians we consider that we should be prepared eventually to support Italian claim for trusteeship of a considerable part of Eritrea, including Massawa and Asmara but giving Ethiopia as much as possible of the Coptic Highlands behind Asmara and also Danakil coast with port of Assab as outlet to sea. We should however first try to ascertain ideas of United States and French and Italian Somaliland.

12. We have previously been in favour of a united Somalia comprising Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland and such part of Somali areas in Ethiopia as Ethiopian Government might be prepared to cede but it is now clear that any proposal for United Kingdom trusteeship for a United Somalia would be unlikely to receive international support. Collective trusteeship would probably give Soviet Government a foothold in this part of Africa. Ethiopia moreover would be unlikely to surrender her Somali areas so that full practical advantages of a United Somalia would in any case be unattainable. Ethiopia's own claim to Italian Somaliland seems to have little basis. If any former Italian colony is to be returned to Italy return of Italian Somaliland is open to least objection on general grounds. French and Soviet Governments are likely in any case to press for Italian Somaliland to be returned to Italy under trusteeship and in order to make our policy for Libya acceptable to French and Italians we feel that it would be desirable to be prepared to accept this solution.

13. Four-power Commission is due in Tripolitania early in March. Prospects of our securing our aims in Libya will be improved if local inhabitants express to Commission views which are favourable to United Kingdom Trusteeship but they are unlikely to do so unless they have received some prior indication that such is indeed our policy. We consider therefore that it will be essential to give such an indication to local leaders at earliest possible date and in any case before end of February.

14. It will also be desirable to co-ordinate policy with French Government before making it known in Libya. It will probably also be desirable to explain our ideas for Libya to Italian Government making points in paragraph 8 above. We should aim at keeping United States Government informed at every stage.

15. For reasons given in previous two paragraphs it has become essential to make an immediate approach to French Government for a non-commital exchange of views. We are however anxious to be sure before stage is reached at which any question arises of a commitment that tentative ideas outlined in this telegram, which will naturally remain largely provisional pending outcome of discussions with French and others, commend themselves to the four Commonwealth Governments to whom it is being sent. The ideas will of course be liable to modification in light of developments and of reports by Commission of Investigation and we shall keep the four Governments in touch with progress. In the meantime for reasons given above matter is very urgent and if they have any comments we should appreciate it if we could receive them within a fortnight from today.

[1] Possibly a word or words were omitted here.

[2] On proposals for a Western Union see Document 312, paragraph 2.

[3] A gap in the text here indicates word(s) missing.

[AA : A1838, 85/4/2/6, I]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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