116. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Irwin to President Nixon 1


  • Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation

In New Delhi on August 9, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko and Indian Foreign Minister Swaran Singh signed a twenty-year Treaty of [Page 314] Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.2 The Treaty is a dramatic demonstration of the closeness of current Indo-Soviet relations. It is an important Soviet initiative to gain greater influence over the course of events in South Asia.

The essence of the Treaty is its provision that in the event of attack or the threat of attack there will be immediate mutual consultations. Each side also undertakes to refrain from giving assistance to any third party taking part in armed conflict with the other party. These clauses not only assure Soviet neutrality in the event of hostilities in South Asia but also the prospect of Soviet assistance and support in the event of war.

The Indian decision to depart from its formal posture of non-alliance, the disclaimer of Soviet respect for Indiaʼs policy of nonalignment as stated in the Treaty notwithstanding, reflects Indiaʼs perceptions of changing international power realities, notably the détente in Sino-American relations. In addition, recent U.S. policies toward Pakistan have reinforced the Indian view that it could not count on

U.S. support for Indian interests in the area or on U.S. assistance in the event of hostilities.

From the Soviet point of view the rising level of tension in South Asia and the prospect that India might extend formal diplomatic recognition to the Government of Bangla Desh, thereby precipitating hostilities, seem to have prompted the Soviet offer of a Treaty at this time. The gains from the Treaty for the Soviets are formal Indian assurances that it will not enter any hostile alliance system, permit the establishment of foreign bases in India or allow the use of India for purposes militarily harmful to the USSR.

It remains to be seen whether the impact of the Treaty will be a moderating one, although that was probably the Soviet intent. This assurance of Soviet support has probably also diminished pressures on the Indian Government and restored a degree of self-confidence and restraint. On the other hand, the Treaty in itself provides no basis for [Page 315] the resolution of the fundamental issues at stake in the East Pakistan situation and may therefore offer only a temporary breathing space. Indeed it is possible that by implicitly giving India a deterrent against Pakistani and/or Chinese attack, it may encourage the Indians to step up their covert activities in East Pakistan with less fear that these activities will escalate into war.

While the Treaty represents no substantial change in Indo-Soviet relations, it reinforces the increasing closeness of view between the Indians and the Soviets which has developed in recent years. It reflects a Soviet recognition of the preeminence of its interests in India and Indiaʼs recognition of the geo-political necessity of close relations with Moscow. The Treaty does not, however, imply any change in Indiaʼs desire for close relations with the United States. The Indian Foreign Secretary called in our Acting DCM shortly after the signing of the Treaty to reassure him that it was not directly against the United States. In addition on August 7, two days before the signing of the Treaty, Prime Minister Gandhiʼs office informed us that she would be pleased to accept an invitation for an official visit to Washington this November, thereby clearly demonstrating her interest in maintaining a significant relationship with us.

John N. Irwin II
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 21 INDIA–USSR. Confidential. Drafted by Quainton; cleared by Schneider, Van Hollen, Igor N. Belousovitch (INR/RSE); and in draft by Laingen, Douglas M. Cochran, Chief of the South Asia Division (INR/RNA), and Wayne S. Smith (EUR/SOV).
  2. The text of the treaty was transmitted to the Department on August 9 in telegram 12695 from New Delhi. (Ibid.) For text, see Vneshnyaya politica Sovetskogo Soyuza, 1971 (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 1972), pp. 93–96. The Embassy in Moscow analyzed the treaty and concluded that it represented a move by the Soviet Union to consolidate its position in India by accepting increased involvement in an explosive situation on the subcontinent. (Telegram 5788 from Moscow, August 10; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 21 INDIA–USSR) Kissinger uses similar imagery in assessing the impact of the treaty in his memoirs. In his view the treaty removed an important restraint on India in its confrontation with Pakistan by ensuring continuing Soviet military supplies and by factoring in the Soviet Union to offset a possible intervention in the conflict by China. “With the treaty, Moscow threw a lighted match into a powder keg.” (White House Years, p. 867)