237. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1


  • The President
  • The Secretary of State
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard
  • The Director of Central Intelligence
  • Acting Chairman—JCS, Westmoreland
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Brigadier General A.M. Haig, Jr.

Note: The first ten minutes of the meeting was before microphones and cameras as a facet of the ABC film entitled, “A Day in the Life of the President.”

The President: We will start out todayʼs meeting by having Director Helms provide us with an intelligence assessment and General Westmoreland provide us with a military appraisal. We will then proceed to discuss the decisions which will face us, to include economic and military assistance. Before doing so, however, we will commence by asking the Secretary of State to give us an appraisal of where we are within the UN forum on the South Asia forum. Secretary Connally has been in Rome and has not been close to events of recent days. I would also like the Secretary of State to touch upon the issue of recent Congressional criticism which alleges that we have not done enough to achieve political accommodation.

Secretary Rogers: It is clear that the causes of the conflict in South Asia are not a U.S. responsibility. The solution to the long-standing political problems rests with the people in the area. There has been long-standing deep hostility. The U.S. for its part must concentrate on bringing about a peaceful settlement to the current dilemma. But certainly a final settlement cannot be imposed externally. Before the outbreak of [Page 670] hostilities the President directed that we undertake a period of intense diplomacy. The U.S. provided more humanitarian assistance than the rest of the world put together. And we have requested from the Congress another $250 million in humanitarian aid. While the efforts we have taken to achieve a political settlement have failed, nevertheless all that could possibly have been done was done. We have prevented the movement of arms to either country. Certainly the U.S. cannot be blamed for the deterioration of the situation. It did all that could be done. Only the people of the area can solve the problem. It is essential that the U.S. stay out of the conflict and concentrate its efforts on achieving a peaceful settlement. The President recently issued a call for United Nations consideration of the problem. Eleven nations favored a U.S. prepared resolution which provided for ceasefire and mutual withdrawal. The Soviet Union and Poland rejected it. Then smaller nations prepared a further resolution which provided for ceasefire and withdrawal and it also succumbed to a Soviet veto. There was a clear UN majority in favor of that kind of a resolution but because the Soviets have remained intransigent the U.S. is now supporting General Assembly consideration of the issue under the Uniting for Peace resolution.2 It is essential that any resolution provide both for ceasefire and mutual withdrawal. Thus in summary we have done all that was possible. We have provided humanitarian aid. We have urged political efforts.

The President asked Secretary Connally to comment.

Secretary Connally: I assume that we have been dealing intensely with both Governments.

The President: Thatʼs correct.

(Note: At this point the filming was ended.)

The President: I have written and spoken personally to Madam Gandhi and I have written President Yahya. Yahya has been very forthcoming and I so informed Madam Gandhi during her visit here. I noted that Yahya was willing to pull back his forces from the border if he could receive some favorable response from the Indian side. Madam Gandhi showed no interest in the proposal. I also informed Madam Gandhi that President Yahya had told us that he was willing to meet with certain Bangla Desh leaders but efforts failed.

Secretary Connally asked if Pakistan had not offered to accept UN observers along the border.

Secretary Rogers confirmed that this was so but that the Indians refused. He added that President Yahya had been most forthcoming. [Page 671] Nevertheless it was clear that the U.S. is entering a phase where sniping is the popular thing. The U.S. cannot be blamed since the roots of the problem are local. Many times in the past the U.S. has become overly involved in such local problems.

The President noted that the issue was similar in Nigeria where the U.S. tried to help at that time but did not have sufficient influence to effect the outcome.3 In this instance the U.S. has provided over $10 billion in assistance to India. Despite this it has had no influence with the Indian Government. On the other hand the U.S. has limited its assistance to the Pakistan Government. And in hindsight it may be the very fact of cutting off military assistance to Pakistan which encouraged the Indians to attack since the military balance was badly out of kilter. It is clear that the U.S. has got to maintain leverage if it expects to influence the actions of foreign powers. Looking at the India/ Pakistan situation the U.S. has had certain problems. It is obvious that the Indians were not looking for ways to stay out of conflict but rather to get into one. Now we see in the west Pakistanis attacking Indians. Charging the Pakistanis with this action is like accusing Finland of attacking the Soviet Union. Pakistan would have been insane to want war since it is at such a strategic disadvantage. And yet we see the Soviets providing unlimited assistance to the Government of India. There is bound to be a public relations problem. Whenever there is trouble abroad some infer that it is the United Statesʼ fault. Local hatreds have prevented a peaceful solution. The situation could be compared to that in the Middle East except there the U.S. has more stroke. Here we have none. We were forced to reduce what stroke was left.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard: Had we maintained the military balance the cause of peace might have been better served.

The President: This is the same as in the Middle East. The President noted that he had mentioned this earlier in the morning to Senator Mansfield. If the balance shifts war results. In this sense U.S. policies failed in South Asia.

Dr. Kissinger stated that the failure was the result of our policies over the past seven years.

The President noted that the alienation with Pakistan started when the U.S. broke its word to President Ayub.

Secretary Rogers said that the conflict was obviously the result of a carefully worked out plan designed by the Indians some time ago.

Dr. Kissinger noted that some had inferred that the Indians were practicing restraint but it was obvious now that they moved as early [Page 672] as they were able to. The rains were over; the passes from China were closed with snow; the Bangla Desh had now been trained and the Indians had moved their own forces. All was completed as Prime Minister Gandhi travelled abroad.

The President: The Indians had long wanted to hurt Pakistan. Their interests involved Kashmir more than East Pakistan. It is now time for the U.S. to reconsider very carefully the military assistance problem. It is a myth to assume that the elimination of military assistance will eliminate war. This is nonsense. The issue depends on the local conditions. In this instance the balance should have been retained. During the Eisenhower Administration the U.S. helped to maintain Pakistanʼs strength but later when the Pakistanis started to play with the Chinese we cut off our contacts with them.

Director Helms: We have a report [less than 1 line of source text not declassified]4 which covers Madam Gandhiʼs strategy as delivered to her Cabinet at 11:00 p.m. on December 3, 1971. The Indians planned to move in the west but to primarily adopt a defensive posture and to prevent the Pakistanis from cutting off Kashmir. The Indians had no initial objective in West Pakistan but seek a quick victory in East Pakistan which would enable them to transfer their forces to the north. India assumes that the Chinese will remain quiescent and hope to achieve the collapse of East Pakistan in one week to ten days. The objectives in the west are to destroy Pakistanʼs armor and in the east to totally liberate the area.

[The typewritten transcript ends here. What follows is a summary based on Haigʼs handwritten notes; see footnote 1 above.]

[Helms completed his briefing by noting that Indiaʼs recognition of Bangladesh provided a justification for intervention in East Pakistan. He used a map to illustrate the progress of Indian and Mukti Bahini forces in East Pakistan and indicated that major efforts were being made to secure the roads and railroads leading into East Pakistan from China. Pressure on the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan was increasing from all sides, but there had not been a significant breakthrough. Nonetheless, Helms felt that 10 days was a conservative estimate of how long it would be before the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan would be forced to surrender. Pakistanʼs response was anticipated to be an assault upon Indiaʼs positions in Kashmir. The conflict in the west was still in the opening stages with India fighting a holding action.

[Page 673]

[The remainder of the discussion focused upon attempting to define an effective U.S. response to the situation outlined by Helms. Led by President Nixon and Kissinger, the tenor of the discussion dealt heavily with how to point up and lay before the bar of international opinion what Secretary Connally referred to as Indiaʼs culpability in the crisis. There was extensive discussion of how best to take advantage of the forum of the United Nations, where the issue was at the point of shifting from the Security Council to the General Assembly, which was not constrained by the threat of a Soviet veto. The United Nations had a peacemaking role to play, but Nixon expressed skepticism that an effective peacemaker could be found in light of the contending positions taken by the Soviet Union and China in support of India and Pakistan, respectively. Kissinger used the Presidentʼs observation to expound upon the geopolitical implications of the crisis. Soviet support for India was intended not only to embarrass China but also the United States, which had its own security commitments to Pakistan. Kissinger observed that China would be watching closely to see what friendship with the United States really meant. Beyond that Kissinger was concerned that Soviet policy in this South Asian crisis might prove to be a dry run for subsequent troubles in the Middle East. This was not, Kissinger concluded, just any war; it had broad significance. Secretary Rogers conceded that India was the aggressor in the conflict and that the war had long-range implications, but he questioned whether the United States should become deeply involved in attempting to influence what he saw as a lost cause in East Pakistan. Connally disagreed, and the President emphasized that he intended to help West Pakistan. While continuing economic assistance to Pakistan, the United States could cut off all developmental assistance to India and limit assistance to India to aid for the refugees to be provided in goods instead of money. Speaking generally of economic assistance, Nixon said that it was important to end the concept of assistance without strings. The United States should help, he felt, only if its interests were served. With regard to military assistance, Nixon observed that if third countries wanted to help Pakistan he saw no reason to stop them. Nixon was prepared to work through the United Nations as long as there was some prospect that world opinion might influence the crisis, but if UN efforts proved ineffective, the United States would have to step forward. It could not roll over.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 999, Haig Chronological File, Haig Memcons To Be Done [1 of 4]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Presidentʼs office in the Executive Office Building. The time of the meeting is from the Presidentʼs Daily Diary, as is the fact that Secretary of the Treasury Connally was also included among the participants. (Ibid., White House Central Files) Handwritten notes on the meeting were taken by Haig, who subsequently expanded the notes in the course of dictating the minutes for transcription although he did not complete them. The typewritten transcript runs through the first half of the meeting. Thereafter, the available record of the meeting is Haigʼs handwritten notes, which are cryptic and difficult to decipher. The typewritten transcript and the handwritten notes are in the same file. A brief summary of the substance of the discussion from Haigʼs handwritten notes follows the typewritten transcript.
  2. UN doc. A/RES/377(A) (V) of November 3, 1950.
  3. Reference is to the Biafran conflict of 1967–1970.
  4. A copy of this report was sent by the CIA to the White House on December 4 in telegram TDCS 314/12858–71. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 571, Indo-Pak War, South Asia, 12/1/71–12/4/71)