The Ambassador in India ( Henderson ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1952

Ref: Deptel 1316, February 20, 19511

Subject: Report on Conversation with the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, at noon on February 20, 1951 regarding the international situation.

[Page 2119]

Sir: I have the honor to report that I had a conversation with Mr. Nehru, Prime Minister of India, which lasted for approximately an hour. This conversation was arranged at my request in order that I might have an opportunity to obtain some of the Prime Minister’s current views with respect to the international situation before my departure for Ceylon to attend the pending American Foreign Service conference.2

I found the Prime Minister in an excellent humor. In none of my previous conversations had he ever been so friendly or talked with such apparent frankness. He made use of his great personal charm and was evidently anxious to persuade. It is easy to understand how, when the Prime Minister is in such a mood, he is so frequently able to win over so many persons, particularly those without profound convictions based on their own experiences. In fact, as I listened to him I found myself rather regretful that I could not agree with him and say with all honesty that he was quite right and was, in my opinion, pursuing the policy most likely to preserve the peace of the world.

I did not undertake to argue with the Prime Minister, since his remarks were in response to my request that he give me his views with regard to the present international situation and also his ideas as to what would be the best way for coping with this situation. It was impossible for me to guide the conversation, and his brilliant mind wandered at will from one subject to another somewhat regardless of relevance and sequence. Nevertheless he made quite clear the broad outlines of his thinking and of the policies based on his thinking.

I regret that I found no opportunity to ask some of the questions which I hoped to be able to put to the Prime Minister, and was unable to focus our conversation on some of the more concrete problems of South Asia. No mention was made, for instance, of Nepal or any of the differences, including Kashmir, existing between India and Pakistan. Little was said also about the present state of relations between India and the United States.


Loy W. Henderson
[Page 2120]


Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador in India (Henderson)


Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister, received me at my request at noon today in his office in the Parliament Building. Our talk lasted for approximately an hour. His manner throughout was friendly and even cordial. There is set forth below a summary of certain portions of our conversation.

I thanked the Prime Minister for putting aside his other pressing duties in order to let me talk with him. I said that I was planning to leave day after tomorrow for Ceylon in order to attend an American Foreign Service conference at which would be present the Chiefs of our various diplomatic missions and consular offices in South Asia, as well as a distinguished group of American officials from Washington. At this conference we would probably discuss the international situation with particular emphasis on South Asia. The various Ambassadors would be expected to talk about the external and internal policies of the countries in which they were stationed and would exchange views among themselves and with the officials from Washington with regard to various phases of their work. It had seemed to me that it might be useful for me before proceeding to such a conference to have a chat with the Prime Minister of India since any views which he might care to give to me personally and confidentially regarding the international situation might assist me during my talks in Ceylon. I had therefore asked him for the present interview. After I had requested an appointment I had informed the Department of State that I hoped to see the Prime Minister and inquired if there was anything in particular which it would like for me to tell him. Just a few minutes before leaving the Chancery of the Embassy I had received a telegram from the Department suggesting that I bring several matters to the Prime Minister’s attention. I thought it might be well to follow the various suggestions made by the Department before embarking on a more general conversation.

I told the Prime Minister that I had been asked by the Department to inform him that Mr. Acheson particularly appreciated his thoughtfulness in sending his recent personal message3 through Madame Pandit in January. The Secretary would like for him to know that he was always grateful for any suggestions or comments regarding the international situation which the Prime Minister might care to transmit to him either through Madame Pandit or through myself.

[Page 2121]

Turning to the international situation I said that the United States deeply regretted the recent attack of Mr. Stalin4 on the United Nations. Many of the statements contained in Stalin’s recent declaration were not new. Nevertheless, it was unfortunate that he should choose this moment, when all countries outside of the Soviet orbit were endeavoring to find some road towards peace, to issue pronouncements of so provocative a character. Although Soviet leaders for many years had been emphasizing their belief that the world was divided into two camps it did not seem to serve any useful purpose for Stalin to give emphasis to this bit of Communist dogma just now. It seemed to the United States that if the Soviet Government had any genuine desire for peace, it would abandon its aggressive and disruptive tactics in the United Nations; it would order the Communist parties throughout the world, which looked to it for guidance, to desist from their efforts to overthrow non-Communist governments; it would with a single gesture bring a halt to the present military aggression in which Communist armed forces were engaging in Korea and in Southeast and Central Asia. In fact, the attack by Stalin on the United Nations might well pose the question as to whether or not the Soviet Union was planning to embark on some new aggressive enterprise. It would be recalled that the Nazi Government of Germany had launched a similar attack on the League of Nations as a prelude to its campaign for world conquest. If Stalin were not planning an eventual aggression against the non-Soviet world, why should he have said that war was not inevitable at present. He should have said simply that war was not inevitable. Stalin has it in his power to prevent or to provoke a global war. In his protests that the intentions of the Soviet Union were peaceful, Stalin ignored a number of facts. For instance, he did not mention that it was Soviet opposition to the inspection of atomic energy plants throughout the world which prevented the reaching of an agreement several years ago for the international control of atomic weapons. Although Stalin maintained that the Soviet Union had engaged in demobilization since 1945, he did not attempt, during his recent declaration, to present figures to prove that the number of men under arms in the Soviet Union at the present time was less than the men under arms in 1945. It was difficult to know precisely what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. Nevertheless the full extent of demobilization in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in the non-Soviet countries after World War II was known to anyone who might wish to investigate.

[Page 2122]

Turning to Korea, I said that no nation more than the United States deplored the destruction which had been taking place in that country. The United States realized, however, that if the United Nations should allow aggressors to profit by attacks in Korea the Soviet Union would be encouraged to proceed with aggressive designs throughout Asia, and the death and destruction now affecting thousands in Korea could easily involve millions. The United States was earnestly hoping that some kind of a negotiated settlement could be achieved which would not violate the principle of collective action against aggression on which United States foreign policy was based, nor endanger the independence of the small country which the United Nations has been endeavoring to protect against the wanton attack made upon it. No Government would be happier than that of the United States if the Good Offices Committee now meeting in Lake Success could find a just solution of the Korean problem. If the Good Offices Committee should fail, the United States would be prepared to support such steps as the United Nations might take to prevent the Chinese Communists from obtaining strategic materials. It was difficult to believe that any nation which valued its independence and was opposed to aggression could justify selling commodities which would increase the ability of Communists to kill and maim troops of the United Nations.

I then referred to the problem of Germany. I said that my Government thought that it and other democratic nations were practically being forced to re-arm Western Germany because of the Soviet rearming of Eastern Germany and of the aggressive tactics which the Soviet Government was pursuing in Europe. It seemed to it that the surest way to encourage war was to leave Germany defenseless in the presence of an aggressive power which had already utilized force to obtain control over a number of weak, formerly independent European countries. To leave Western Germany unarmed would be to invite further aggression.

The Prime Minister said that before discussing some of the broader aspects of the international situation he would like to clarify a small matter which one of the statements which I had just made to him brought to his mind. It was his understanding that on a personal basis I had recently approached Sir Girja Bajpai with regard to reports that Indian automobile tires were being sold to Communist China. He did not know whether there was any truth in these reports, but he was having the matter investigated. Tires, particularly truck tires, were in short supply in India; and if he should learn that Indian speculators were buying them up and sending them to China, he would try to put an end to this kind of trade.

[Page 2123]

The Prime Minister said that he had listened carefully to what I had had to say about the Soviet Union, the situation in Europe, and the situation in the Far East. There was truth in much that I had said. Nevertheless, it seemed to him that the situation was so grave that we must not permit ourselves to rest content with the mere presentation of facts or the submission of evidence regarding the aggressiveness of the Soviet Union or other Communist countries. It seemed to him necessary to analyze the situation in its entirety and to find ways and means of preventing the outbreak of a new world war.

It was his understanding that the United States was of the opinion that the Soviet Union had aggressive intentions both in Europe and Asia; that it also thought that Communism had taken advantage of the internal situations in some countries and the exposed internation position of others in order steadily to expand by infiltration, by threats, or by open force; that the United States conceived that in its own interest as well as in that of world peace it must take every appropriate measure to put a stop to Soviet aggressiveness and to the spread of Communism; that the United States considered Soviet aggressiveness and Communist expansionism were intimately connected and to an extent interwoven; that the United States was looking to the system of collective security, as represented by the United Nations, for assistance in the carrying out of its present policies.

I said that his analysis seemed to me to be in general correct. I would like to point out, however, that the United States was not undertaking to prevent any nation which desired to be Communist from becoming Communist. It thought that every nation was entitled to have the form of government which its people wanted. What it objected to was the practice of International Communism of forcing, by terror, threat and violence, free nations to submit to its yoke. The United States believed, I thought, that unless the free nations made it clear that they would collectively and resolutely oppose aggression, Communist or otherwise, committed by either a great or small state, the Soviet Union as the directing center of International Communism would continue to carry on its aggressive policies with a world war as the inevitable result.

The Prime Minister entered into a lengthy discourse regarding the meaning and probable outcome of a new world war. He did not believe that the United States and the other Western powers would be defeated. On the other hand he did not believe that the United States and the Western powers could completely conquer the Soviet Union and China. They might defeat the Soviet and Chinese armies and raze Soviet and Chinese cities and industrial centers but they could not saturate Russia and China with troops. There could, in his opinion, [Page 2124] be no complete victory over the Soviet Union and China unless both countries were occupied throughout by troops of the victors. Obviously there were no armies among the Western powers sufficiently large to make a complete conquest of Russia and China. Chinese and Russian forces could exist for many years in the vast spaces which could not be occupied or policed by their enemies. A new world war, therefore, was likely to continue indefinitely and there would be no absolute victor except hunger, pain and human suffering which would lead to some kind of indigenous Communism in case International Communism should collapse. This situation must be apparent to intelligent leaders both in the Western world and in the Communist world. Since the Western leaders would not like to become involved in a venture which would mean the end of their civilization and the Communist leaders would not like to see their countries ravaged and their own organization wrecked, it seemed logical that the responsible leaders in neither world really wanted a war. The immediate task was to convince each world that the other did not really desire a war and, while endeavoring to find some basis for establishing a modus vivendi between the two worlds, to take care that some development or other should not ignite the war which neither side desired.

The Prime Minister said that mutual suspicions might in themselves lead to a world war. If, for instance, the Western world was convinced that the Communist world was preparing aggression and should proceed to arm itself to the teeth to oppose this aggression, the Communist world on its part might decide that it would be better to fight now than to wait until it should be attacked by the fully armed West. Furthermore, limited frictions and disputes which might appear at first to be of an isolated character might develop into a full world war conflagration.

The Government of India, realizing these dangers had been doing its best to convince each of the two worlds that the other was not preparing to attack it. The policy of India in this respect was illustrated by the position it had taken with regard to China. The Government of India did not believe that the People’s Government of China had aggressive intentions against any country in Asia. It thought, however, that Peiping was determined to assume full control by force, if necessary, of all the territories which it considered to be a part of China, including Formosa and Tibet. He himself did not for a moment believe that Communist China had invaded Korea because it had aggressive designs against that country. It had intervened in Korea, in his opinion, because it was convinced that the United States was intending to use Korea as a base for the subsequent invasion of China itself. It was his belief that there could be no final solution of the Korean question which did not have the approval of Communist China. He also thought that it would be possible to obtain the [Page 2125] consent of Communist China to “relatively fair” solution for Korea if that solution would be in the framework of an overall Far Eastern settlement.

I asked the Prime Minister what he meant by an overall Far Eastern settlement. What, in his opinion, should a Far Eastern settlement be and what kind of a settlement did he think would satisfy Communist China? The Prime Minister said that, in his opinion, Communist China wanted and should have Formosa; it should be admitted into the United Nations; and it should be treated as an equal by the other great Powers and its view taken into consideration whenever important international questions involving the Far East would arise. He assumed that Communist China would want Hong Kong eventually, but he did not believe that this problem would arise in the foreseeable future.

The Prime Minister emphasized the importance of Formosa. That island was of no value to the United States except as a military base for possible operations against China. I said that there was also a negative aspect of the Formosan problem. If Formosa should fall under the domination of International Communism, it could serve as a base against Japan or the Philippines. The Prime Minister said that it might be possible to work out an arrangement whereby Communist China would undertake that if it was permitted to take Formosa it would establish no bases on the island. Of course, Communist China might not live up to such an agreement after it had once obtained possession of Formosa; nevertheless, risks were involved in every international agreement.

I said:

“Let us assume that the United States would recognize Communist China and support its entry into the United Nations; that it would agree to the occupation of Formosa by Communist China. Would such concessions in themselves represent a Far Eastern settlement? Would not Communist China take the position that until a solution satisfactory to it of the Japanese problem had been achieved there could be no Far Eastern settlement? Furthermore, would not Communist China insist that the only solution to the Japanese problem would be for the United States to withdraw completely from Japan and to leave an unarmed Japan to face an armed Russia and China? If the United States would not consent to this kind of arrangement, is there any possibility of a settlement just now of the Far Eastern problem? Would India like to see Japan placed in such an exposed position?”

The Prime Minister said that he had given some thought to this matter. He must admit that there could be no general Far Eastern settlement without the solution of the Japanese problem. In his opinion, it would be a mistake to re-arm Japan. If the United States should undertake to restore Japan’s military power, both the Soviet Union and Communist China would be convinced that Japan was [Page 2126] being prepared as a base for operations against them. The re-arming of Japan would be likely to provoke war rather than to contribute to a peaceful atmosphere. He himself thought that the best solution would be for the United Nations to guarantee Japan against aggression.

In response to several questions which I put to him, the Prime Minister admitted that it might be advisable to permit Japan to have sufficient arms to defend itself until the United Nations would have time to come to its assistance in case it should be the victim of aggression. Since neither Russia nor Communist China desired war, they would not, in his opinion, attack Japan if the latter was protected by a United Nations guarantee.

I pointed out that the Charter of the United Nations was in itself a guarantee against aggression. This guarantee, however, had not proved effective in preventing Korea from being invaded. Unfortunately too many nations took rather lightly the obligations which they had assumed when they signed the Charter. International Communism must have been aware of this fact when it invaded Korea. Unless the members of the United Nations should be prepared to make more sacrifices than they had been willing to make in the past to maintain the system of collective security, the guarantee of the United Nations would not be sufficient protection for an unarmed Japan.

The Prime Minister repeated that he was convinced that Russia and China would not risk a world war by deliberately upsetting a Far Eastern settlement calling for an unarmed, neutralized Japan.

With respect to Germany, the Prime Minister said his feelings about the rearmament of Western Germany were similar to those which he had just expressed regarding the rearming of Japan. He thought it was an extremely dangerous thing for the Western Powers to furnish Western Germany with arms. Such action might well frighten Germany’s neighbors to the East and kindle a world war. It seemed to him much wiser for the Western Powers not to arm Western Germany but to use the threat of arming Western Germany as an argument for prevailing upon the Russians to disarm Eastern Germany. Germany could be an unarmed area lying between the Communist and Western worlds. Each world would know that if it attacked Germany there would be a world war. That knowledge would serve as a deterrent.

I did not consider it advisable to turn my talk with the Prime Minister into an argument. As the hour set aside for our interview was drawing to a close I merely thanked him for his frankness in setting forth his views and said that it seemed to me that the basic divergencies between the foreign policies of India and those of the United States stemmed from differences in analyses of the motives of International Communism. India apparently was sincerely convinced [Page 2127] that International Communism had no aggressive intentions and that its motives were primarily defensive. The United States, however, after a considerable amount of experience with the Soviet Union and its associates, was convinced that International Communism was inherently aggressive and that the only reason it was not engaging in undisguised aggression in various part of the world was because it feared that if it did so it would find itself embroiled in a world war with most of the free nations lined up against it. In our opinion, the present policies of the Soviet Union and its associates were directed to disrupting the unity of the free world and to weakening the determination of the free world to resist aggression. If these policies should be successful, International Communism might feel that it would not be too dangerous for it to endeavor to realize some of its aggressive designs.

At this point in our conversation, Sir Girja Bajpai, Secretary-General, Ministry of External Affairs, entered the room with some documents for the Prime Minister to sign. My interview with the Prime Minister, therefore, terminated. The three of us, however discussed for a time the progress of the bill in the United States Congress providing for foodgrain for India. I explained some of the procedures involved. For the first time the Prime Minister talked with me about the Indian need for foodgrain. His questions indicated that he had an active interest in the matter and would like to see the proposed legislation enacted. He did not, however, express any hopes on the subject or any appreciation of the efforts on India’s behalf of the United States Government.

  1. Telegram 1316 to New Delhi, sent February 19, contained suggested topics for Ambassador Henderson’s anticipated talk with Prime Minister Nehru (611.91/2–1751).
  2. The South Asian Regional Conference of United States Diplomatic and Consular Officers, held at Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon, February 26 through March 3, 1951. For documentation on the conference, see pp. 1650 ff.
  3. Presumably, reference is to Prime Minister Nehru’s message dealing with the Korean situation; telegram 1171, January 27, to New Delhi, is scheduled for publication in volume vii.
  4. Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union. Reference is to Stalin’s interview of February 16 with a correspondent of the Soviet paper Pravda, the text of which is in Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1950–1951, p. 11303.