477. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • Tanks for Pakistan

I have looked into two questions you raised after your conversations with President Ayub:

If they are clearly for replacement, why don’t we sell tanks directly to Pakistan, rather than fuss with a complicated deal in which the Europeans sell them to Pakistan with our permission?
Whatever the purchase arrangements, why are we talking about 100 tanks when Ayub wants 200?

There are two stock arguments against a direct U.S. tank sale to Pakistan. First, we have no tanks of the M–47 model Ayub is seeking in Europe. This was the Korean war tank we stopped making in 1954. It has long since disappeared from our active inventory and our MAP shelf.

However, we do have a considerable number of newer M–48 tanks in inventory. This is an improved version of the M–47—no more armor or fire power, but better mechanical performance and electronic equipment. Moreover, Defense estimates a cost of roughly $45,000 per copy for our M–48’s which compares favorably with the estimated $80,000 per copy the Europeans will charge Ayub for reconditioned M–47s. Thus, taking the question of supply alone, it appears that we could offer Ayub better tanks than he is seeking (although not enough better to give the Indians real trouble) for less money than we would have to pay the Europeans for the inferior model—and make ourselves some foreign exchange in the bargain.

But we must also weigh the second argument against direct sale: that it would undermine the policy on arms sales in South Asia we announced last April. That policy is designed to exert maximum restraint on defense spending while at the same time keeping both countries, particularly Pakistan, from being forced to rely solely on the Soviets and the ChiComs as arms suppliers. The centerpiece of our policy is a ban on U.S. sales of new weapon systems to either side and a stated intent to discourage other suppliers from such sales except where clearly for replacement. This gets us out of the arms sales business [Page 937] in South Asia, except for spare parts, without slamming the door on Pakistan’s need to maintain and modernize her largely U.S.-equipped forces.

This policy is partly a reaction to past and present Congressional unhappiness with arms sales to poor countries. (You will recall the flak when U.S. tanks were firing at each other from both sides of the line during the Indo/Pak war in 1965.) It has already saved us a number of requests for planes and other sophisticated weapons from both sides. It has been the framework for substantial pressure—and some success in Pakistan—for reductions in Indo-Pak defense spending. Still it is not an entirely tidy answer. It did not, for example, keep the Paks from buying 150 tanks from the Chinese nor the Indians from buying jets from the Soviets. Indeed, it is sufficiently untidy to cause Bowles to send a strong cable2 recommending an immediate policy reassessment with a view to a ban on all U.S. sales to both sides of all lethal equipment—spare parts and end items. (You will recall instructing us, pursuant to the Bowles cable and a rejoinder from Ben Oehlert,3 to conduct a thorough review of arms sales on the Subcontinent. That review is completed and State has instructed Bowles and Oehlert that we will continue for the present with our present policy.)4

The Congressional side of the problem has worsened considerably with the passage of the Conte amendment to the foreign aid appropriation bill which calls for reductions in foreign aid equal to poor countries’ spending on sophisticated weapons. We haven’t yet determined whether we must consider tanks “sophisticated.” If so, the President must find the tanks deal “vital” to U.S. security and waive the effect of the amendment, or he must cut AID development loans to Pakistan by an amount equal to spending for tanks. If the past slate were clean, it is a moot point whether we would get a better reaction on the Hill to such a waiver if we were making the sale as against the Europeans doing it. But in the light of our announced policy—which would be clearly violated by any direct sale—an offer of U.S. sale would produce a situation almost precisely parallel to the F–5 problem in Latin America. We could probably expect much the same results with Henry Reuss and other liberals in both Houses.

Beyond this, there is the question of credit terms. We have no unused authority to offer Ayub time payments. He can probably do better with the Europeans.

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In short, if we sell these tanks directly, we will violate our own announced policy against selling arms on the Subcontinent; we will thereby open ourselves to requests for other sophisticated weapons—including aircraft—from both sides; and we will do these things in the heat of Congressional displeasure with all sales of sophisticated weapons to poor countries. We will also draw heavy fire from the Indians, with whom we hope to start general defense talks in the next few weeks. Most important, we will burden the aid bill with another heavy albatross to carry in an already tough year. In spite of the advantages, therefore, I would recommend against our offering to make the sale ourselves.

The question of why 100 rather than 200 tanks is a matter of international and Congressional tactics. The original Pak request was for 100, although it was clear that this was the first in a series of actions designed eventually to replace all of the 500 Sherman tanks Ayub mentioned to you. The Paks later raised the request to 200 because their foreign exchange situation loosened a bit so that they thought they could afford more. Our object is to keep the modernization process to a slow and steady pace which doesn’t divert resources from development. On the Congressional side, Luke Battle talked to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in terms of 100 tanks and got grudging approval precisely, in part, because the allowance was smaller than the request. If we wanted to do 200, we would probably have to return to Fulbright & Co. and we could not expect a pleasant reception.

All things considered, I would vote that we keep talking in terms of 100 tanks to be purchased from the Europeans, probably from Italy or Belgium.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Pakistan, Vol. VIII, Memos, 8/67–4/68. Secret.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 472.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 472.
  4. See Document 472.
  5. A marginal note on the memorandum by Jim Jones reads: “I want to talk to him about this,” apparently quoting the President’s response to Rostow’s memorandum.