256. Editorial Note
President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger met at 12:44 p.m. on December 9, 1971, in the Oval Office of the White House for another discussion of the crisis in South Asia. Kissinger began by repeating his warning of the dangers of allowing India to dismember Pakistan. Kissinger felt that the impact of the dismemberment of a United States ally would “be severe in Iran, in Indonesia, and in the Middle East.” He concluded “there is no good deal possible any more at this stage. And if the Russians want to press it to a brutal conclusion, weʼre going to lose.” He saw possibilities, however, in the “conciliatory” letter from Brezhnev (Document 253). The Soviets wanted a Middle East settlement, a European security conference, trade with the United States, and a summit meeting. Kissinger added that they were also concerned about pushing the United States and China closer together. “So we are not without assets.”
Kissinger felt that the United States was in a position to “warn the Russians and the Indians that if this continues we could leak out or in some way make clear that Kennedy made a commitment to Pakistan against aggression from India.” “Secondly,” he added, “we should move that helicopter ship & and some escort into the Bay of Bengal” ostensibly to evacuate U.S. citizens. He was not, at this point, recommending introduction of the carrier. “From the Chinese angle, I would like to move the carrier. From the public opinion angle, what the press and television would do to us if an American carrier showed up there.” Nixon asked: “Canʼt the carrier be there for the purpose of evacuation?” Kissinger responded: “But against whom are we going to use the planes? Are we going to shoot our way in?” Nixon asked what good it would do to move a helicopter ship into the area. Kissinger said it would be “a token that something else will come afterward.” He also recommended letting “the Jordanians move some of their planes. And Iʼd get the Indian Ambassador in and demand assurances that India doesnʼt want to annex territory.”[Page 722]
Kissinger again highlighted what he saw as the differing approaches to the crisis adopted by the Department of State and the White House. The Department, he said, “would propose a cease-fire in the west in return for in effect our recognition of Bangladesh.” Kissinger argued that such an approach would constitute “a total collapse” and “it would hurt us with the Chinese.” Nixon, however, felt it was necessary to take account of the “realities” of the situation. “The partition of Pakistan is a fact” he said. “You see those people welcoming the Indian troops when they come in.” “Why then,” he asked, “are we going through all of this agony?” Kissinger replied: “We are going through this agony to prevent the West Pakistan army from being destroyed. And secondly, to retain our Chinese arm. And thirdly, to prevent a complete collapse of the worldʼs psychological balance of power, which will be produced if a combination of the Soviet Union and the Soviet armed client state can tackle a not insignificant country without anybody doing anything.”
Kissinger felt that if the United States would “put enough chips into the pot” it could persuade the Soviets “for their own reasons, for the other considerations, to call a halt to it.” “What are we going to ask the Russians to do,” Nixon asked. “Cease-fire, negotiation, and subsequent withdrawal,” Kissinger responded. “But,” he added, “weʼd have to clear it with Yahya first.” “Cease-fire and negotiation on what basis,” Nixon wanted to know. “Between the Awami League and Islamabad,” Kissinger said, “on the basis of the December 1970 election,” and “within the framework of a united Pakistan.” Withdrawal, he anticipated, would occur after the negotiations.
The time to effect such an agreement was clearly limited. Kissinger said that Pakistanʼs army would run out of ammunition and oil within 2 weeks. In response to Nixonʼs question about what the United States could do to influence the outcome, Kissinger replied: “I would keep open the possibility that weʼll pour arms into Pakistan.” If the Soviet Union could ship arms to India, Kissinger did not see why the United States could not supply arms to Pakistan. “I donʼt understand the theory of non-involvement,” he said. “I donʼt see where we will be as a country. I have to tell you honestly I consider this our Rhineland.” He warned: “If the Russians come out of it totally cocky, we may have a Middle East war in the spring.”
Nixon was concerned about the implications of taking a hard line. “We have to know what we are jeopardizing,” he said. Kissinger responded: “You are jeopardizing your relationship with the Soviets, but that is also your card, your willingness to jeopardize it.” Not to play that card, Kissinger suggested, would be to concede the Soviet Union a dangerous victory. Nixon observed that opponents of his policy toward South Asia were also concerned about jeopardizing United States relations with India. Kissinger said: “You could argue that it will help [Page 723] us in the long-term with the Indians.” Nixon replied: “I donʼt give a damn about the Indians.”
Reverting to the question of introducing U.S. Naval forces into the area, Kissinger said he had discussed the matter with Connally and Connally had favored using a helicopter ship rather than a carrier. Connally felt that using a carrier would be interpreted by the American public as a threat to intervene militarily. It was a tough decision, Kissinger said, “I go back and forth on it myself.” He noted that there were some 200 U.S. citizens in East Pakistan. Nixon said: “Goddamn it, Iʼve got a responsibility to protect American lives. Iʼm going to do it.” The tape is difficult to understand at this point, but Nixon apparently said he was prepared to use the carrier force to protect U.S. citizens in East Pakistan. “Nobody will believe it,” Kissinger warned. “The Indians will scream weʼre threatening them.” “Why are we doing it anyway,” Nixon asked. “Arenʼt we going in for the purpose of strength?”
Kissinger shifted ground in the face of Nixonʼs apparent determination to use the carrier: “Iʼd move the carrier so that we can tell the Chinese tomorrow to move their forces to the frontier.” He advised that a decision to move the carrier group into the Bay of Bengal meant that “weʼd have to do a lot of things, and weʼd have to do them toughly.” “I understand,” Nixon agreed. Kissinger continued: “Weʼd have to get the Indian Ambassador called in and demand assurances against annexation. Weʼd have to leak at that moment that secret understanding to protect the Indians [Pakistanis] against aggression.” Nixon responded: “I understand,” and he authorized Kissinger “to get the whole thing together.”
Nixon asked how the transfer of planes from Jordan to Pakistan could be facilitated. Kissinger said: “The way we would do that is & to tell the King to move his planes and inform us that he has done it & and then we would tell State to shut up. We would have to tell him it is illegal, but if he does it weʼll keep things under control.” “All right,” Nixon said, “thatʼs the way we play that.”
Some discussion followed concerning a meeting scheduled later that day with senior administration officials involved in managing the crisis. Kissinger recommended that Nixon express himself firmly with them regarding the policy line he wanted them to follow. Nixon wondered if he should tell them about his decision to use the carrier. Kissinger said: “If youʼve decided to do this game plan, I think it is more important to see the Russian today because his cable would go back.” (See Document 257.) He added that the others could be informed later.
Turning to the political impact of using the carrier, Kissinger noted that it would take 6 days to move the carrier from Southeast Asia to [Page 724] the Bay of Bengal by which time Congress would be out of session. He said he would talk to Admiral Moorer “to see whether we can keep the carrier back of the Bay of Bengal.” Nixon asked: “Then can we move the other helicopter thing in?” Kissinger said yes.
Nixon reviewed the other decisions reached during the discussion: to encourage the transfer of Jordanian planes to Pakistan, to notify the Chinese of about what they had decided to do, to leak the Kennedy commitment to protect Pakistan, and to ask India for assurances that there would be no annexations as a result of the crisis. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, December 9, 1971, 12:44–1:27 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 633–11) 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 168.