251. Editorial Note

President Nixon, Attorney General Mitchell, and National Security Assistant Kissinger met in the Old Executive Office Building on the afternoon of December 8, 1971, for an extended discussion of the crisis in South Asia. Kissinger referred to a message that had been received from the Shah of Iran. (See Document 250.) The Shah could not send aircraft to support Pakistan because of the treaty between India and the Soviet Union. “Heʼs proposing that the Jordanians send their planes to Pakistan, because the Pakistanis can fly Jordanian planes. And then he sends his planes to Jordan with Iranian pilots to cover Jordan while they are engaged in Pakistan.” Nixon said: “I think we could get a commitment from Israel on the Jordanians.” Nixon and Kissinger talked at the same time agreeing that it should be possible to negotiate Israeli restraint. Nixon instructed Kissinger to discuss the matter with Prime Minister Golda Meir: “When you talk to her, you tell her, Henry, that this is a goddamn Russian ploy.”

Turning to the situation in East Pakistan, Kissinger warned that “the Indian plan is now clear. They are going to move their forces from East Pakistan to the west. They will then smash the Pakistan land forces and air forces.” He added that India planned to “annex the part of Kashmir that is in Pakistan.” [Azad Kashmir]. Kissinger went on to attribute to the Gandhi government the goal of Balkanizing West Pakistan into units such as Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province. West Pakistan would become a state akin to Afghanistan and East Pakistan would equate with Bhutan. “All of this would have been achieved by Soviet support, Soviet arms, and Indian military force.” Kissinger warned that “the impact of this on many countries threatened by the Soviet Union” would be serious. He pointed in particular [Page 702] to the potential impact upon the Middle East. If the crisis resulted in “the complete dismemberment of Pakistan,” Kissinger worried that China might conclude that the United States was “just too weak” to have prevented the humiliation of an ally. Kissinger felt that the Chinese would then look to other options “to break their encirclement.” “So I think this, unfortunately, has turned into a big watershed.”

Kissinger went on to suggest how Nixon should react in this “tough situation.” “It seems to me that what we have to do now, or what I would recommend, is where we went wrong before is not to try to scare off the Indians.” Nixon asked: “How could we scare them?” Kissinger offered no concrete answer, but he said that if Nixonʼs advisers had understood the situation better they would have proposed a stronger response to Indian actions. He assured Nixon that he had done “exactly what all your advisers recommended.” Nixon said that he had given Prime Minister Gandhi a warning during his dinner in Washington with her: “I told her that any war would be very, very unacceptable.” Kissinger observed that any such warning obviously fell on deaf ears: “She was determined to go.” [Into East Pakistan]

Kissinger continued: “We should have been tougher with the Russians.” Nixon asked: “What could we have done?” Kissinger responded: “We should have told them what we finally told them last Sunday [December 5] that this would mark a watershed in our relationship, that there could be no Middle East negotiations if this thing would grow. We would have to play it tough. And thirdly, we should have cut off economic aid the first or second day, plus all of arms instead of waiting 10 days and diddling around. Nixon observed: “We have done all of that. But I ordered all of that.” Kissinger felt that the United States had responded too slowly in the fast moving situation, a failing he ascribed in part to insufficient concentration of control in the White House.

Nixon asked: “Now what do we do?” Kissinger responded: “We have two choices&. We have got to convince the Indians now, weʼve got to scare them off from an attack on West Pakistan as much as we possibly can. And therefore, weʼve got to get another tough warning to the Russians.” Kissinger noted that in doing so “you are risking the summit. On the other hand, the summit may not be worth a damn if they lose—if they kick you around.” Militarily, Kissinger judged, “we have only one hope now.” “To convince the Indians the thing is going to escalate. And to convince the Russians that they are going to pay an enormous price. It may not work, Mr. President & we canʼt make up 6 years of military imbalance.” Nixon said: “We should never have let it get out of balance.” He attributed the military imbalance on the subcontinent in good part to President Johnson “to his great discredit.” Kissinger faulted the bureaucracy. “You promised Yahya on your first visit to send some arms.” The difficulty, he said, was to get the [Page 703] bureaucracy to fulfill the promise. “We didnʼt know there would be a war in ʼ71, but it took a year to get your promise to Yahya worked out.”

Nixon turned to the question of whether to encourage a transfer of planes to Pakistan. Kissinger and Nixon agreed that the issue posed a risk. Kissinger said: “I think weʼre in trouble.” He went on to say: “If we did this, we could give a note to the Chinese and say if you are ever going to move, this is the time.” Nixon agreed: “All right, thatʼs what weʼll do.” Mitchell observed: “All they have to do is put their forces on the border.” Kissinger noted the danger of a corresponding move by the Soviet Union to support India and said: “I must warn you, Mr. President, if our bluff is called, weʼll be in trouble.”

Nixon said they had to “cold-bloodedly make the decision.” Kissinger added: “Weʼve got to make it within 36 hours.” Nixon said that he did not want another meeting: “No more goddamn meetings to decide this.” Kissinger noted that he had a WSAG meeting scheduled for the next day. He said that after the meeting he would present the choices confronting the administration to Nixon. Nixon said that one of his choices was to do relatively little to intervene further in the crisis, which he noted was “basically the State line.” “If we let it go,” he observed to Kissinger, “your fear is that it will certainly screw up the South Asian area&. Your greater fear, however, is that it may get & the Chinese stirred up so that they do something else&. … And it will encourage the Russians to do the same thing someplace else.” Kissinger concurred and pointed to the possible implications of the crisis for the Middle East. Nixon said: “I am for doing anything &” The tape is difficult to understand at this point but the essence of his remarks is that he favored an interventionist approach. Kissinger worried that the United States did not have the requisite “punch to make it [an intervention] effective.” Nixon agreed: “We canʼt do this without the Chinese helping us.” He added: “As I look at this thing, the Chinese have got to move to that damn border. The Indians have got to get a little scared.” He instructed Kissinger to get a message to that effect to the Chinese.

Beyond making an approach to China, Nixon puzzled over “what really we can do to affect the outcome.” Kissinger suggested that one thing that could be done would be to encourage Jordan to transfer planes to Pakistan. Another would be to move the carrier force into the Bay of Bengal. After considerable discussion, Nixon noted that another form of pressure on India would be to brand India publicly as an aggressor. He also asked: “What about Indian aid? Is there anything more that we can do there?” He observed that in putting economic pressure on India: “I was for doing it more openly&. The whole line was well letʼs do it but not say anything. Well weʼve done that and it hasnʼt worked.” Kissinger observed that the Department of the Treasury under Secretary Connally had moved quickly to put economic pressure on India, but he felt that the Department of State, reflecting Secretary [Page 704] Rogersʼ instincts, had been slow to implement instructions to do so. “So we didnʼt give the Indians the real shock effect when & at first the Indians were not claiming they were invading.”

Summarizing the decisions they were considering, Kissinger said: “We should get a note to the Chinese, we should move the carrier to the Bay of Bengal.” Nixon interjected: “I agree.” Nixon continued: “With regard to an announcement, with regard to the aid thing, I mean just cut it off. All aid to India period.” Kissinger observed that “it is practically all cut off now.” Nixon suggested that another step would be to announce that economic assistance to India would not be included in the next budget. On the question of planes for Pakistan, Kissinger said that the United States, which could oppose the transfer of equipment supplied by the United States, should allow Jordan to send planes to Pakistan and similarly allow Iran to send planes to Jordan to ensure the security of Jordan in the absence of a significant portion of its air force. Nixon agreed. Kissinger also pointed to the importance of getting a “stemwinder of a note to the Russians.” Nixon observed about such a note: “I donʼt know what we can say that you have not already said.” Kissinger said that the note would be in reply to the Soviet note received on December 6 “and I think we should just say nothing until weʼve done something, because weʼve got nothing left to say.” Kissinger felt that the next steps should come after Nixon had made his “final decision” on the transfer of planes and on the introduction of a carrier force into the Bay of Bengal. He said: “I think if we do anything we should do it all together.”

Nixon instructed Kissinger again to discuss a coordinated move with China. He told him to go to New York and say he had a message from the President for Premier Chou En-lai. Kissinger said that he was more optimistic than he had been earlier that China would respond positively to a suggestion regarding a coordinated move. “They know,” he said, “that this is a dress rehearsal of what could happen to them.” Nixon picked up on that theme: “What I would like to do in a note to the Chinese is to state exactly that, that I consider this to be a dress rehearsal and I think their move toward the border would restrain India.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Mitchell, and Kissinger, December 8, 1971, 4:20–5:01 p.m., Old Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 307–27) The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. A transcript of this conversation is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 165.