Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume, which is part of a subseries of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter, covers U.S. policy toward South Asia from 1977 until 1980. For background and context, the editor suggests reviewing Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, South Asia, 1969–1972; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–8, South Asia, 1973–1976; and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XI, South Asia Crisis, 1971. Readers interested in U.S. security policy during Carter’s Presidency should consult Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume IV, National Security Policy. In particular, it is recommended that readers review Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XII, Afghanistan, which includes documentation on a major facet of U.S.-Pakistan relations during this period. In addition, Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XVIII, Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula, which includes coverage of U.S. policy regarding the Indian Ocean, complements this volume’s chapter on U.S.-India relations.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIX

During the first three years of Carter’s Presidency, U.S. relations with South Asia were shaped by three factors: tensions over nuclear proliferation, the rivalry between India and Pakistan, and the Carter administration’s preference for developing closer ties with democratically-elected governments. Consequently, U.S.-India relations improved while relations with Pakistan withered. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late December 1979, and with it the ending of détente, caused a major shift in U.S. relations with South Asia. Recalling U.S. policymaking at the height of the Cold War, Carter sought closer relations with Pakistan in order to thwart what his administration feared to be a new era of Soviet expansion. Carter found a willing (if conflicted) partner in Pakistani President Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq to oppose the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as the policy priorities that had shaped U.S. relations with South Asia before 1980 were largely abandoned: Carter’s efforts to enlist support against the Soviet Union eclipsed the administration’s fear of nuclear proliferation; U.S. sponsorship of India-Pakistan rapprochement suffered from the attempt to send Pakistan large-scale military aid; and U.S.-India relations, which had thrived under Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai, soured when [Page VIII] newly-reelected Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did not condemn the Soviet invasion.

The editor divided the volume into six chapters: a chapter dedicated to each country covered—Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—with an additional chapter devoted to issues related the region as a whole. Because South Asian countries were relatively isolated from one another—a situation due to regional tensions arising from the aftermath of the 1971 crisis and India’s 1974 nuclear test—the Carter administration’s bilateral relations with the subcontinent’s countries were related, but not intertwined.

For the first half of the Carter administration, U.S.-India relations benefited from the uniquely cordial relationship between Carter and Desai. Shortly after coming to power, Desai and Carter began their remarkable exchange of letters. As the exchange grew in frequency, so did the length and the warmth of the letters. The rapport between the two leaders contrasted sharply with the difficult relationships that Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford had with Prime Minister Gandhi. While the correspondence between Carter and Desai presents a unique intimacy between the leaders of the world’s largest democracies, U.S.-India relations at the working level were beset by difficult negotiations over nuclear proliferation issues. Thus the contrast between the two major threads in the volume’s chapter on India—high-level rapport versus tough working-level negotiations—is reflected in the two main types of documents presented: letters between Carter and Desai on the one hand, and memoranda of conversation between Department of State officials and the Indian representatives in Washington, as well as cabled records of conversation between Ambassador Robert Goheen and his counterparts in New Delhi, on the other.

Tensions over nuclear issues were a constant source of friction in U.S.-India relations during the Carter administration. Fueled by the byproduct of civilian nuclear power plants, India’s first nuclear test in May 1974 provoked popular alarm and congressional distrust of India’s civil nuclear power plants. Subsequent legislation and the administration’s new non-proliferation policy threatened the existing U.S. agreement to supply uranium to Indian nuclear power plants. The Department of State and the National Security Council were the key agencies involved in the non-proliferation negotiations. In particular, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Assistant Secretaries Harold Saunders and Thomas Pickering, and Deputy Under Secretary Joseph Nye led the Department’s negotiating team with significant involvement from National Security Council Staff members Thomas Thornton and Gerald Oplinger.

Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, U.S.-Pakistan relations revolved almost exclusively around nuclear proliferation issues, and, [Page IX] unlike U.S.-India relations, without the ameliorating effect of a personal rapport between the countries’ leaders. Documentation on the impasse over Pakistan’s nuclear program details the administration’s growing concern that Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later General Zia-ul-Haq used Pakistan’s civil nuclear power plants as a cover to design and build nuclear weapons. The editor selected documents that reflect significant interest in the issue from the highest levels in the White House and at the Department of State. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Christopher, Saunders, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Newsom negotiated frequently with their Pakistani counterparts. Carter often issued policy decisions through his marginalia, but only met with high-level Pakistani officials late in his administration.

General Zia’s suspension of the constitution and assumption of power in July 1977, as well as the protracted battle over ousted Prime Minister Bhutto’s fate, exacerbated the tense standoff over Pakistan’s nuclear program. Because Carter did not want to give his imprimatur to the imposition of martial law or to Bhutto’s arrest by establishing close relations with Zia, there was little correspondence between Carter and Zia. The suspension of democracy in Pakistan, suspicion of its nuclear program, as well as fears of an arms race in South Asia, prompted both a sharp contraction of U.S. military sales to Pakistan and a U.S.-led international effort to halt Pakistan’s acquisition of advanced weaponry, as well as nuclear technology. Consequently, the Department of Defense played no significant role in policymaking toward Pakistan. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however, the management of relations with Pakistan shifted from the Department of State to the White House, and, to a smaller degree, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. The documentation reflects this shift. After 1979, memoranda of conversation and letters between Washington and Islamabad reveal Carter’s personal interest in U.S.-Pakistan relations, while Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Zbigniew Brzezinski took charge of the U.S. efforts to support Pakistan militarily.

Reflecting the administration’s attention devoted to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, the chapters that cover these countries are considerably smaller than those for India and Pakistan. The documentation consists mostly of Embassy reporting and policy formulation at the Assistant Secretary and Country Director level. Promotion of democratic governance and the administration of P.L.–480 food aid represent the most significant policy initiatives toward these countries. However, Bangladeshi membership in the United Nations Security Council during the Iranian hostage crisis brought Bangladesh in conflict with the White House and the Department of State, thus occasioning documentation of high-level meetings and policy decisions.

[Page X]

Like all recent Foreign Relations volumes, the emphasis of this volume is on policy formulation, rather than implementation of policy or day-to-day diplomacy. The National Security Council and the Department of State are the key players in the policymaking process; the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency played more limited roles.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Ceri McCarron, Brittany Parris, David Stanhope, and James Yancy. Thanks are also due to Nancy Smith, Director of the Presidential Materials Staff at the National Archives and Records Administration, and to the Central Intelligence Agency for arranging access to the Carter Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project. The History Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency were accommodating in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Sandy Meagher was helpful in providing access to Department of Defense materials. The editor also thanks the staff at the National Archives and Records Administration facility in College Park, Maryland, for their valuable assistance

John Collinge began the research for this volume. The editor conducted additional research, selected the documentation, and edited the volume under the supervision of Kathleen Rasmussen, Chief of the Global Issues and General Division, and Adam Howard, then General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. The volume was reviewed by Kathleen Rasmussen and Stephen Randolph, then The Historian. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Stephanie Eckroth performed the technical and copy editing under the supervision of Mandy Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Seth A. Rotramel, Ph.D.