132. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty

We have received some analysis of the Indian-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation signed August 9.2 A short memo from Under Secretary Irwin is at Tab A and a CIA analysis at Tab B.3 The following are some of the more important observations that can be made at this point.

Provisions of the Treaty

Most of the 12 articles of the treaty, which will be in effect for an initial period of 20 years, seem to do little more than record formally the existing Indo-Soviet relationship. The preamble and about half of the articles are similar to those of the recently concluded Soviet-Egyptian “friendship” treaty.4

There are, for instance, the usual clauses on lasting friendship and noninterference in each otherʼs internal affairs and virtually the same denunciations of colonialism and racialism as appear in the Soviet-Egyptian treaty. The two sides also agreed to continue expanding their cooperation in economic, scientific, technical and cultural matters, and to consult regularly “on major international problems” affecting both sides.

Unlike the Egyptian treaty, however, there is no clause which commits Moscow to a continuing role in strengthening Indiaʼs “defense capacity.”1 Moreover, the Indian treaty seems a degree less strong in that it calls only for consultation if hostilities threaten while the UAR treaty [Page 362] calls for the two sides to “concert” their positions. Indiaʼs concern about nuclear disarmament gets a nod in one of the articles. Even though it has been seriously undercut by the treaty, Indiaʼs non-alignment is specifically endorsed by the Soviets.

The most important operative clauses (article 9) call for the two sides to refrain from giving assistance to any party taking part in an armed conflict with the other. This is the same article that then goes on to commit each side to consult immediately with a view toward taking effective measures in case either party is attacked or threatened with attack.

This does not add up to the language of a traditional mutual defense or security pact, since there is no specific obligation to assist militarily in case of conflict with a third party. Nevertheless, the impression is left that the Soviets would, if necessary, join in on Indiaʼs side in a conflict involving Pakistan and/or Communist China. At a minimum the operative clauses insure Soviet neutrality toward an Indo-Pakistani conflict and hold out the strong prospect of Soviet assistance or support to India against both Pakistan and the Chinese. Also, in practice, the treaty creates a stronger obligation for India to follow the Soviet policy lead on developments elsewhere in the world.

Soviet Motivations

The idea of a treaty was first broached by the Soviets over two years ago in a clearly anti-Chinese context when the Sino-Soviet border tension was at its height. Talks concerning the treaty apparently continued from March 1969 well into 1970 but by then both sides seem to have lost interest. The Soviets had broken their logjam with the Chinese and the Indians had raised the ante by attempting to include several directly anti-Pakistan measures. The Indians at that time were also engaged in their own hesitant moves to perhaps improve their relationship with the Chinese.

From all indications, the Soviets only recently and hastily took up the treaty again, primarily to meet short term objectives.6 They seem to have thought that the Indians were on the brink of taking some precipitate move, such as formally recognizing “Bangla Desh”, that could have led to an early outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan and perhaps result in Chinese intervention. They seem to have calculated [Page 363] that the treaty will provide both reassurances to India and, at the same time, give them the influence to restrain India. In short, the Soviets seem to have gambled that, by simultaneously strengthening Indiaʼs position and making New Delhi more beholden to Soviet counsel, they can best restrain India and also deter Pakistan from taking steps likely to lead to war.

However, the Soviets must also have seen the treaty as a way of solidifying their position in South Asia at the expense of the US and China. One of Moscowʼs recurrent concerns is the possibility, over the longer term, of a Sino-Indian rapprochement, and the new treaty would seem to put the brakes on Indian receptivity to recent tentative moves by Peking in that direction. As far as the US is concerned, by seeming to spring to Indiaʼs side in her hour of need—while in Indian eyes the US stands aloof or worse—the Soviets have secured a position as Indiaʼs “first friend” from which they will not be easily dislodged. In the wake of new movement in Sino-American relations, the Soviets also probably believed that a formal treaty relationship would constitute a warning to Peking and a setback for US diplomacy.

Indian Motivations

By concluding the treaty, the Indians probably feel that they have bought both time and insurance as they confront the problem of war with Pakistan. Pressure had been mounting rapidly on Mrs. Gandhi to “do something” positive about the East Pakistan and refugee situation and the treaty, which has met with almost universal acclaim in India, has relieved this some. Moreover, the Indians seem to feel that the treaty puts both the Pakistanis and Chinese on notice that India does not stand alone. If Indo-Pak hostilities do break out, the Indians are probably hoping that the treaty will at least serve to limit Chinese intervention and perhaps even bring the Soviets in directly on their side. Finally, the Indians may hope that the treaty will instill in the West Pakistanis a greater sense of urgency to halt the refugee flow and reach a political accommodation in East Pakistan.

This consolidation of the Indo-Soviet relationship, at the expense of Indiaʼs cherished non-alignment, is indicative of the fact that they think their vital interests are at stake in the present situation. However, the Indians do not seem at all prepared to write off the US. They have been at pains to make clear that the treaty is not directed at the US. Two days before the signing of the treaty, Mrs. Gandhi suddenly informed us that she would be pleased to accept your invitation for an official visit here in November thereby signaling her interest in maintaining a significant relationship with us.

Having made a lurch toward the Soviets it would now be in character for the Indians to begin balancing this off by moving to improve [Page 364] relations with the US and West in general. In fact, if we do not roll over too quickly, the Indians may think of compensating moves towards us. The Indians may also attempt to balance off their relationship with the Soviets by minor gestures toward the Chinese.

The Treaty—On Balance

The treaty seems to reduce the danger that Indo-Pakistani hostilities will break out in the next several weeks, but not necessarily over the longer run.

It is very possible that over the slightly longer run the treaty could be manipulated by Mrs. Gandhiʼs opponents in such a way as to defeat the short-term purposes for which it was signed and make it more difficult for the Soviets both to restrain the Indians and to avoid becoming overinvolved. It is only a short step from (a) Mrs. Gandhiʼs boasting of having secured Soviet support to (b) her opposition, once the euphoria wears off, pressing her to take advantage of that support by taking more direct action against Pakistan. In short, the Soviets may, by inserting themselves into this situation, bring about a situation similar to that of the Middle East in 1967 where contrary to their intentions they contributed to the outbreak of war.

On the other hand, the treaty should have given the Pakistanis pause for reflection if they had, for instance, been thinking of punitive raids against guerrillas in India. Previously they might have hoped that China would fully support Pakistan in a war with India, but they must have somewhat less confidence that China would attack India now that it would mean risking hostilities with the Soviets on their behalf. However, the Pakistanis may have a better idea from the Chinese as to precisely what the latter may do than can be determined from our intelligence.

The Chinese, for their part, will not miss the point that their growing role in South Asia has, at least for the moment, been countered by the Soviets, both by nailing down the Indians and raising the risks of military intervention. Whether or not the treaty would deter the Chinese in a crunch, however, is another matter. At stake would not only be the Chinese and Soviet positions in South Asia, but, perhaps more importantly, in all of Asia. Moreover, neither the Soviets or Chinese are easily bluffed and they could rapidly move toward the brink of a confrontation should India and Pakistan go to war.

We have been considering in the WSAG and SRG the operational implications for US policy of this complicated situation. If we play our cards right, there might be a small opening for us to play a crucial moderating role if the situation does polarize along Soviet-India and China–Pakistan lines. Above all we must avoid being forced to choose between our policy toward the government of 700 million Chinese and over 600 million Indians and Bengalis.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 597, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. IV, 1 Jul–30 Nov 71. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. A stamp on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.
  2. See Document 116.
  3. A 3-page analysis of the treaty, sent by Irwin to the President on August 9, was attached at Tab A; a 9-page analysis prepared in the CIA on August 11 was attached at Tab B; neither printed. It is the CIA assessment of the treaty that Kissinger refers to in his memoirs as a “fatuous estimate.” (White House Years, pp. 866–867)
  4. A Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed in Cairo on May 27 by Presidents Sadat and Podgorny. (New York Times, May 28, 1971)
  5. On August 18 Sonnenfeldt sent a memorandum to Kissinger assessing a report that a secret section of the Indo-Soviet treaty called for the Soviet Union to provide nuclear-capable bombers to India and nuclear weapons under Soviet control. Sonnenfeldt noted that to station nuclear weapons in a non-Communist country, where no Soviet forces were garrisoned, would represent a “dangerous break in Soviet policy,” and he judged that the report was open to serious doubt with regard to the nuclear weapons. He found it more credible that the Soviet Union would agree to provide India with a medium-range bomber to offset Chinaʼs capability to launch air strikes into India. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 597, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. IV, 1 Jul–30 Nov 71)
  6. During their conversation on August 17 Ambassador Dobrynin had assured Kissinger that the Soviet treaty with India had not been negotiated in response to recent events; See Document 124.