Former president Nixon decided "to risk war" with the Soviet Union and India during India's 1971 invasion of East Pakistan, former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger writes.
Kissinger, in excerpts from his memoirs being published in Time magazine Monday, says he and Nixon were convinced Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was using the civil war in East Pakistan as a cover for destroying West Pakistan to establish Indian dominance over the Asian subcontinent.
East Pakistan, separated by 1,000 miles of India from the dominant West Pakistan, had long been pushing for independence. The East had been under martial law for two years and refugees were streaming into India.
The United States was convinced, Kissinger says, that the East would attain independence (it is now Bangladesh). But India, citing the economic burden of the refugees, launched a Nov. 22 assault on East Pakistan to bring the fighting there to an end and would soon shift its sights to Pakistan.
"The Soviet Union could have restrained India; it chose not to," Kissinger says. The Soviet Union had encouraged India to exploit Pakistan's civil war to show China's impotence, according to Kissinger, who was Nixon's national security affairs adviser at that time.
Although in December 1971 the United States had not yet established formal relations with China, they were well on the way a development that disturbed Soviet leaders.
"Since it was a common concern about Soviet power that had driven Peking and Washington together, a demonstration of U.S. irrelevance would severely strain our precarious new relationship with China," Kissinger wrote.
Kissinger said Nixon's decision to demonstrate that Soviet support was not "inevitably decisive" was difficult to put into effect because the State Department did not share the White House views and the Nixon course was unpopular in Congress and the media.
At a Dec. 3 meeting of national security officials, Kissinger angrily chastised the bureaucracy for its resistance to White House policy.
In transcript leaks to columnist Jack Anderson, Kissinger was quoted as saying the president was unhappy with the bureaucracy's failure to carry out his wishes: "He wants us to tilt toward Pakistan and he believes that every briefing or statement is going the other way."
This statement must be understood in the context that the State Department and others were frustrating explicit presidential decisions, Kissinger writes.
Once Nixon and Kissinger were convinced that East Pakistan was crumbling under Indian assault and that the Soviet Union would step in if China came to Pakistan's aid, it was decided that the United States must make a show of force and send a fleet into the Bay of Bengal.
The decision was made on Dec. 12, 1971.
"It was symptomatic of the internal relationships of the Nixon administration," Kissinger says, that representatives of neither the State Department nor the Defense Department were with Nixon when he made "the first decision to risk war in the triangular Soviet-Chinese-American relationship."
At the same time, Nixon sent Soviet party chief Leonid I. Brezhnev a "hotline" message emphasizing U.S. backing of a United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire and withdrawal. It was the first time Nixon used the hotline link to the Kremlin.
"It conferred a sense of urgency and might speed up Soviet decisions," Kissinger writes.
Kissinger says that moving the fleet into the Bay of Bengal created the "uncertainly needed to force a decision" by the Soviet Union and India.
According to Kissinger, West Pakistan would have been attacked by Dec. 16. But by that date, he writes, the United States had received reports that the Soviet Union was pressing India to back off, following statements by Kissinger that Soviet conduct was "not compatible with the mutual restraint required by genuine coexistence," and that the United States might have to reevaluate its relationship with the Soviets.