252. Editorial Note

President Nixon and Henry Kissinger concluded their discussion of the crisis on the Indian subcontinent on December 8, 1971, with a telephone conversation that began at 8:03 p.m. They began by discussing the summit scheduled for Moscow in May in light of the crisis. Their view was that the Soviet failure to restrain India imperiled the summit. Nixon said: “Maybe we really have to put it to the Russians and say that we feel that under the circumstances we have to cancel the summit&. Weʼve got to look at it down the road.” “The things that weʼve got to consider are these: one, the cost of letting this go down the drain & and then doing the other things. And then on the other hand, weʼve got to figure that if we play this out, the fact [is] that we may not be around after the election.” He concluded: “Itʼs a tough goddamned decision and yet on the other hand being around after the election, if everything is down the drain, [it] doesnʼt make any difference.” Kissingerʼs assessment was that if the United States were to “play it out toughly” it would get compensation somewhere and Nixon would be able to go to Moscow with his head up. But, he said, “if you just let it go down the drain, the Moscow summit may not be worth having.” Nixon found it hard to believe that progress in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union on issues such as strategic arms limitations was being jeopardized by Soviet policy toward South Asia. He said: “Under the circumstances & we have to choose as to what we can do here.” The major problem, Kissinger said, was to maintain Soviet respect for the United States. “If they are going to play it into an absolute showdown, then the summit wasnʼt worth having anyway.”

Nixon and Kissinger went on to discuss what they could do to allow the Soviet leaders to save face, to give them “a way out” of the crisis. Nixon recognized that the United States could not suggest to the Soviet Union that the situation in South Asia should revert to the status quo ante. But, he added, “we can say get the hell out of West Pakistan.”

Kissinger also pointed to the threat to West Pakistan: “At this stage, we have to prevent an Indian attack on West Pakistan.” Nixon agreed. Kissinger continued: “We have to maintain the position of withdrawal from all of Pakistan.” He concluded that if the United States held firm in its approach to India and the Soviet Union, the administration would achieve its overall goals, even if it failed to prevent India from dismembering Pakistan: “If they maintain their respect for us even if you lose, we still will come out all right.” For Kissinger, it was a question of preserving credibility and honor. By introducing United States military power into the equation, in the form of a carrier and other units from the Seventh Fleet, the United States was seeking to prevent “a Soviet stooge, supported by Soviet arms” from overrunning an ally.

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Nixon returned to his conviction that China could exercise a decisive restraining influence on India. “The Chinese thing I still think is a card in the hole there.” “I tell you a movement of even some Chinese toward that border could scare those goddamn Indians to death.” Kissinger agreed and said: “As soon as we have made the decision here, we can then talk to the Chinese.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, December 8, 1971, 8:03–8:12 p.m., White House Telephone, Conversation No. 16–64) The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. A transcript is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 166. Another record of this conversation is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 370, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File.