48. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • SRG on Indian Ocean—A Complement to Your Briefing Book

The papers that Wayne Smith has prepared for your SRG meeting on the Indian Ocean concentrate on possible U.S. naval responses to the Soviet naval buildup there.2 This is appropriate because NSSM 1043 specifically defined that as the scope of the study.

What I would like to add is a complementary political dimension which might affect our timing and expectations in implementing some of the naval options proposed in the NSSM 104 papers. In the last talking point which Wayne proposes for your use at the meeting, it is suggested that State prepare a political strategy paper to pre-empt the reactions of Indians and others. I would like to elaborate on this suggestion.

My point is this:

  • —If we deal with the Soviet naval buildup in the Indian Ocean purely in terms of a U.S. and allied naval response, we are relying entirely on a naval response to deter or match the Soviet buildup. This could produce steady escalation.
  • —It may be possible along with a modest naval response to develop a political strategy which would help limit further Soviet buildup without moving to a costly increase in the U.S. naval presence which would in turn provoke a sharp Soviet increase.
  • —From all indications the Soviets are exploiting a target of opportunity and may not be willing to jeopardize their political relations with key littoral states for the sake of simply advancing their rather low priority naval interests. This means that we might be able to inhibit the Soviets by raising the political costs of their naval involvement in the Indian Ocean.

Such a political strategy would build mainly on the expressed desire of the littoral states to limit or exclude foreign forces from the Indian Ocean. Its purpose would be to decrease any political benefits the USSR might hope to gain from increasing its naval presence. It would be consistent with a general U.S. interest in not sharply increasing its naval presence there.

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A number of the littoral states have long expressed concern over the prospect of foreign naval forces in the region and especially, as they see it, shifting great power rivalry into the Indian Ocean. This feeling is strong especially in South Asia and has been reiterated recently. The resolution adopted by the Conference of Non-aligned States at Lusaka in September4 and the recent report of a possible initiative by Ceylon at the 1971 Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference highlight the possibility of efforts by local states to limit, or even to exclude, foreign forces from the area. The strong possibility of growing local agitation against foreign forces suggests that we consider a course of action which might:

heighten local resistance to Soviet naval activity, hampering the maintenance of Soviet forces in the area and tending to neutralize at least partially the political effect of those that do operate there; and
reduce or divert pressures against any U.S. forces or installations there.

In general terms, such a course of action would involve identifying ourselves with the concerns of the Indian Ocean states regarding foreign forces. There is a considerable range of specific steps which could be taken from the most general expression of understanding for the concerns to the presentation of quite precise formulations for limitation of forces.

A more general statement, at least as an initial step, would have most of the advantages of a more specific and elaborated measure and few of the disadvantages. The U.S. could state, perhaps in response to an Indian initiative, that it appreciated the concerns of the Indian Ocean states and stood ready to cooperate in limiting foreign military presence.

If the Soviets did not respond affirmatively, as is likely, we would not be bound to exercise more restraint than they have shown. Our good intentions would have been demonstrated, however, and we could, if we wished, leave it that we continued to be prepared to limit forces if all outside powers were similarly willing.

If the USSR should agree to consider some form of mutual restraint, we could propose a formulation that curbed a sharp increase in Soviet activity without seriously inhibiting modest U.S. activity at about present levels or slightly more.

The main disadvantages in this approach would be:

  • —if any such move bound us to a “nuclear-free” provision and
  • —if we now saw a clear need to station ballistic missile submarines in the Indian Ocean.

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Recommendation: That this political option be considered as a possible complement to a modest U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean—a presence such as described by a slightly reinforced Option B in your SRG papers.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files) Box H–176, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 104. Secret.
  2. Document 45.
  3. Document 42.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 46.