Playing at War


Gary J Bass in Open the Magazine (via Omar Ali):

Kissinger now [in 1971 during the India-Pakistan war] proposed three dangerous initiatives. The United States would illegally allow Iran and Jordan to send squadrons of US aircraft to Pakistan, secretly ask China to mass its troops on the Indian border, and deploy a US aircraft carrier group to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. He urged Nixon to stun India with all three moves simultaneously.

Kissinger knew that the American public would be shocked by this gunboat diplomacy. “I’m sure all hell will break loose here,” he said. Still, Nixon quickly agreed to all three steps: “let’s do the carrier thing. Let’s get assurances to the Jordanians. Let’s send a message to the Chinese. Let’s send a message to the Russians. And I would tell the people in the State Department not a goddamn thing they don’t need to know.”

Nixon and Kissinger’s most perilous covert gambit was the overture to Mao’s China— already on poisonous terms with India. Kissinger believed that Zhou Enlai was somewhat unhinged when it came to India, and the deployment of Chinese soldiers could easily have sparked border clashes. Such a movement of Chinese troops would have made an effective threat precisely because of the danger of escalation out of control. At worst, this could have ignited a wider war. That, in turn, risked expanding into a nuclear superpower confrontation. If China was moving troops to help Pakistan, India would surely want the Soviet Union to do likewise. According to the CIA’s mole in Delhi, Indira Gandhi claimed that the Soviet Union had promised to counterbalance any Chinese military actions against India. Just two years before, China had set off hydrogen bombs in its western desert to threaten the Soviet Union. Would the Soviets dare to confront the Chinese? And if the Soviets got dragged in, how could the Americans stay out?

Back on November 23, Kissinger had enticingly suggested to a Chinese delegation in New York that India’s northern border might be vulnerable. Now, on December 6, Nixon told Kissinger that he “strongly” wanted to tell China that some troop movements toward India’s border could be very important.

More here.