292. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy0


  • Air Defense for India

In our meeting on April 25,1 you suggested a final review of this question after I returned from the subcontinent. I have undertaken such a review and submit the following recommendations.


The United States should commit itself, by executive agreement, to consult with the Government of India, in the event of a Chinese Communist [Page 580]attack on India, regarding the possible use of United States military air forces to strengthen India’s air defenses. We would expect the United Kingdom-Commonwealth to assume a similar obligation.
The United States and the United Kingdom-Commonwealth should be prepared in the event of such a Chinese Communist attack to deploy three squadrons of air defense aircraft for use in the air defense of the Delhi and Calcutta areas.
The United States and the United Kingdom should in support of the squadrons proceed promptly with the installation of permanent radar and communications facilities. In the interim, they should station mobile radars and communications and navigational aids as required in the Calcutta and Delhi areas.
The United States and the United Kingdom-Commonwealth should be prepared to conduct intermittent peacetime air defense exercises in India using the forces earmarked for deployment there at times when it is most practicable to do so and when these exercises would least conflict with other interests.


1. Our Reasons for Proposing this Course of Action.

Some action needed now—India considers its military security against China is largely dependent upon Western support. It has, therefore, been receptive to developing close military ties with the West. The absence of further overt Chicom belligerency, Western reluctance to proceed with military assistance on the scale desired by India, and continued pressure for a Kashmir settlement, have caused the Indians to cool off somewhat from their position of last November. This trend will continue unless we exploit the present situation energetically by giving India some concrete indication of our backing. We must not lose sight of the long-term geopolitical significance of India as the only non-communist country in Asia capable of becoming a counterpoise to Communist China. To make all military assistance contingent on Kashmir in coming months is to risk losing out on the main chance.
Inexpensive—The proposed arrangement is essentially a holding operation. It should indicate our support to the Indians and develop our ties with the Indian military. But it doesn’t provide what the Indians really want, a modern air force of their own. Thus, it is unlikely either to antagonize the Pakistanis or reduce our net leverage on Kashmir. Financially it is far less costly than providing the Indians with a comparable capability of their own.
Timely—It will significantly increase India’s air defense capability during the critical period immediately ahead, when India’s own armed forces are still weak.
Strong deterrent—During the same critical period, knowledge of this commitment will provide an even greater deterrent to Chinese Communist aggression than a comparable Indian Air Force buildup; the Chinese will think twice before risking direct engagement with the United States/United Kingdom air squadrons.
Flexible—The proposed arrangement permits graduated responses to various levels of Chinese Communist aggression. We shall not be committed to engage in specific military action. Nor will we be precluded from action against targets of our choice from bases outside India. Prior to making this type of response, we would probably have to provide a measure of air defense for India in any event.
Immediate strengthening of India’s border defenses—The arrangement will make it easier for the Indians to commit their own air force in any second round for tactical support and interdiction.

2. Possible Disadvantages

a. Indians might reject proposal—but even if they did our offer would serve the important purpose of demonstrating our willingness to stand behind them in the event of another attack. Last November and December Nehru twice asked for an arrangement along the lines of our proposal. But since then, the Indians have shifted their emphasis to building up their own air force. They may, therefore, interpret our offer as a device to defer their acquisition of comparable capability of their own. Our willingness to begin the installation of permanent radars will reduce this Indian reaction.

b. Repercussions within India—The key here is Nehru. If he decides that our proposal is necessary for India’s defense and can be reconciled with nonalignment, public opinion will follow his lead, except for the extreme left. But if Nehru rejects our offers, the controversy between rightist and leftist elements over India’s evolving relationship with the West is likely to intensify. The fact that the proposed arrangement does not involve a firm mutual defense commitment will help.

c. Repercussions in Pakistan—We shall, of course, have to explain to Ayub what we plan to do before we approach the Indians officially on air defense. Ayub and others recognize that this is a major step available to us in strengthening India against Communist China that does not significantly affect the military balance within the subcontinent. They see such an arrangement as being in lieu of a comparable build-up of the Indian Air Force. Nevertheless, some Pakistanis will react emotionally.

d. Repercussions in Asian neutralist states—The Chinese Communists will use the proposed arrangement in their efforts to discredit India in these states by portraying it as a vassal of the United States. These states, however, are likely to be less affected by Chinese Communist rhetoric than by the demonstration inherent in our proposal of Western willingness [Page 582]to commit its power toward the containment of Chinese Communist expansionism.

3. British Reluctance

We expect the British to hold back. They are worried about the consequences of a direct confrontation between the RAF and Chinese Communist bombers over India—including Chinese reprisals against Hong Kong. They are also worried about repercussions of an air defense proposal for India in Pakistan. And, in any event, they think we should hold off pending some progress on Kashmir.

We think we have good arguments to counter these British reservations. If the Chinese attack India again, the consequences are likely to be far-reaching in any event, and the air defense arrangement will probably decrease the likelihood of such an attack. The air defense arrangement is less costly in terms of Pakistani repercussions than almost anything else we might do for India of military significance. And we can argue at length that if we do nothing at all for India in the near future, our capacity to push the Indians into a reasonable posture on Kashmir may actually diminish.

Next Steps

1. United States Approach to the British

We should make every effort to bring the British to a political decision to move ahead with us. We should try to secure their agreement to provide two RAF squadrons while we contribute one from the USAF. We should also try to persuade the British to work out at least token contributions from Canada and Australia, recognizing that the joint air defense team found that neither of these countries had the resources to provide a major contribution.

2. United States/United Kingdom/Commonwealth Approach to the Indians

Once we have persuaded the British, with or without Canada and Australia, to join us, we should make a joint approach to the Government of India. The tone of this approach would be that we are responding to an Indian request after a careful technical review which indicates that the proposed arrangement provides the only feasible method of providing a significant increase in India’s air defense capability in a timely enough manner to be effective during the current critical period. We would indicate that we did not consider the proposed arrangement a permanent substitute for an effective Indian force. We would not, however, discuss how long we expected the arrangement to continue in specific terms, nor would we commit ourselves to providing India with supersonic interceptors of its own at some future date.

[Page 583]

3. Technical Discussions

Having reached agreement in principle, the governments concerned would work out the necessary details, including status of forces, facilities, and arrangements for the ground environment. The resulting understandings would be formalized, as necessary. Meanwhile, technical representatives of the respective air forces would consult and lay the groundwork for rotational exercises.

4. Rotational Exercises

These would involve intermittent peacetime deployment to India by designated USAF and RAF squadrons for air defense exercises with the Indian Air Force. The United States element of the joint air defense team found such exercises essential to ensure effective deployment for combat operations during a militarily acceptable period after the outbreak of hostilities.

Dean Rusk2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1-4 INDIA. Secret. Drafted in SOA on May 4 by Carleton S. Coon and cleared by Grant, Cameron, L, BNA, SOV, FE/EA, NR, and G/PM. An enclosure, a 3-page assessment of the legal implications of the recommendations, prepared by Department of State Legal Adviser Abram Chayes, is not printed.
  2. See Documents 283 and 285.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk signed the original.