​The Nixon Administration’s decision to send the U.S.S. Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal

​The Nixon Administration’s decision to send the U.S.S. Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal had long lasting implications for it’s relationships in the South Asian subcontinent and rehashed old rivalries while making new alliances.

After the second World War, America expanded its presence in the world and due to the Cold War, found itself engaged in three missions; to deter the Soviet Union and contain the spread of Communism and to re-establish ties with China by opening up diplomatic relations between the two countries. Accomplishing these goals took a toll on the Asian continent as war broke out in East Pakistan due to Pakistan’s unwillingness to “legitimize” East Pakistan’s elections and grant the autonomy they wished (National Security Archives, March 3. ‘71). The South Asia Crisis unfolding in East Pakistan would challenge the Nixon Administration in the way in which it would involve itself directly as we can see when Nixon sends in the U.S. Enterprise (Task Force 74) in the Bay of Bengal. The Americans also sent in military shipments to the Pakistanis and would have pilots from bases in the region ready to “pounce” on Indian military forces in fighting back against India’s intervention in the East Pakistan conflict. President Nixon chose to send the U.S.S. Enterprise -according to his own reasoning that- “India was operating as a Soviet stooge, supported by Soviet arms from overrunning Pakistan in East Pakistan” (NSAArchive, Note 11).

Background Information
In understanding why the U.S.S. Enterprise was sent to the Bay of Bengal we must understand the motivations of the President’s foreign policy agenda as well as the Asian countries who play a major role in the region. It is remarked that

“ Foreign policy must appear to represent the collective political mind
and culture of a nation. If people do not recognize the principal elements of their national ideology in their leaders’ conduct of foreign policy, then that policy will be more difficult to sustain (Garson, 296).

In this spirit, President Richard Nixon created the Nixon Asian Doctrine which enshrined his vision for “no more Vietnams” and an ambiguous policy position aimed at curbing American intervention and influence in conflicts between different Asian countries (Kimball, 72.) As he remarks informally to in a speech with reporters during his visit in Guam to witness the touchdown of the Apollo 11 space team,

“that as far as problems of internal security are concerned, as far as the problem of military defense, except for the threat of a major power involving nuclear weapons, that the United States is going to encourage and has a right to expect that this problem will be increasingly handled by, and the responsibility for it taken by, the Asian nations themselves” (The American Presidency Project).

Associated with this shift in policy were prospects of opening the United States to relations with China, a policy of detente with the Soviet Union and ambitions for peace in the world (Kimball, 72). The Nixon foreign policy also aligned itself more in line with Pakistan and China, with the former providing an opportunity for rapprochement or opening of relations with China, which could serve Washington’s geopolitical goals (Bass, 148). The reality of power struggles of the Asian continent is as follows and is imperative to understanding why President Nixon sent the U.S.S. Enterprise.

War between China and India broke out in 1962 due to border disputes and Tibet; when British India was partitioned among political, ideological and religious lines by the Radcliffe line, India and Pakistan were created (Mansergh, 2–3). This would cause large spread communal violence, displacement of approximately 18 million people and a contentious relations between both countries as to who has a more “rightful” claim to Kashmir (Mansergh, 8). Since India remains the enemy of China and Pakistan it had been on good terms with the Soviet Union, which would sour its relationship with both the United States and China. In this pivotal moment in history, the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in the Cold War as:

“The Soviet union and the United States did not engage in direct military combat during the Cold War. But the two superpowers continually antagonize each other through political maneuvering, military coalitions,espionage, propaganda, arms buildups, economic aid, proxy wars between other nations” (JFK Library.)

Through regional partnerships such as the Central Treaty Organization and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, the United States mobilized countries in the Middle East (CENTO) and Southeast Asia (SEATO) in response to the threat of communism (Warner, 1099). These treaties would primarily be
involved in recruiting regional allies and influence the response that China and Pakistan would have towards India: “ the appeal of the pact was the potential for receiving support in its struggles against India, in spite of the fact that neither country was located in the area under the organization’s
jurisdiction. Finally, U.S. officials believed Southeast Asia to be a crucial frontier in the fight against communist expansion, so it viewed SEATO as essential to its global Cold War policy of containment (State Department, Milestones). All of this information combined provides a foundational basis for why the U.S.S. Enterprise was dispatched to the Bay of Bengal, during the high of the Bangladesh War for Liberation.

In a meeting between the two Presidents, it was apparent that they had much to offer one another. President Yahya is described as being “tough, direct and having humor (NSA Archive, October 25, 1971.) In their meeting Yahya also brought up the Chinese and establishing links with the country. In order to open relations with the Chinese, Nixon promised that a) we will make no condominium against China and now we want them to know it whatever it may be put out; b) we will be glad to send Murphy or Dewey to Peking
and to establish links secretly. It is apparent that the U.S. President that convert manpower in China would be an expedient way to create a channel of communication, however he wanted something more discreet
like Secret links even less obvious and visible like Warsaw (NSA Archive, 3) Pakistan has more leverage over U.S. lawmakers due to its considerably excellent relationships with China and Pakistan was the backdoor that Dr. Kissinger used due to long bureaucratic hurdles and a quicker time in getting things done.

In a memorandum concerning the opening of relations Dr. Kissinger writes

“This is to be strictly WH matter.
I want no discussion outside our bldg. Has Hal talked to Hilaly[?]”

Nixon and Kissinger: A formidable team

The descriptions of the governing styles and world views held by Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon were influencers when it came to their approach to creating American foreign policy. As David Rothkopf describes the two men:

“…the partnership between President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger was unique, notmerely because of the eclipse of the State Department — which had happened before, under Roosevelt for example — but because of the total concentration of power in the hands of the President and his National Security Advisor. A recent historian of the National Security Council has provided an excellent description of the two men and their symbiotic relationship (Warner, 1098). In the following words “They were a fascinating pair. In a way, they complimented each other perfectly. Kissinger was the charming and worldly Mr. Outside who provided the grace and intellectual establishment respectability that Nixon lacked, disdained and aspired to. Kissinger was an international citizen. Nixon very much a classic American.Kissinger had a worldview and a facility for adjusting it to meet the times, Nixon had a pragmatism and strategic vision that provided the foundations for their policies. Kissinger would, of course, say that he was not political like Nixon — but the fact is that he was just as political as Nixon, just as calculating, just as relentlessly ambitious; they were two versions of Sammy Glick, one a Quaker from California, the other Jewish from Germany” (Rothkopf, pp. 111–12

The two men who were the key in making decisions about the future of entire continents during their reign. Ambassador Keating represented the United States in India and consul-general Archer K. Blood were primarily involved in reporting on what was unfolding in their respective posts with both repeatedly sendingwarning cables -that would be largely ignored by Kissinger-that would describe the unfolding horrors in East Pakistan under the West Pakistan military assault (Persons, XXXI, FRUS.) Dr. Kissinger had staff who helped him draft memorandums and various other communications. Harold Saunders, Samuel Hoskinson, Jeanne W. Davis, and Col. Richard Kennedy were instrumental in preparing Kissenger for key meetings and also keep abreast of developments that needed prompt attention(South Asia Crisis 1971, E7, FRUS) William P. Rogers served as Secretary of State, Melvin R. Laird was the Secretary of Defense, C. Herbert Rees was the Director of the Office for South Asian Affairs, Bureau for Near East and South Asia in addition to the Agency for International Development. Kenneth B. Keating was Ambassador to India. These men and women have played their essential role in advising and maintaining the governing structures that were necessary and vital to United States operations overseas. In India, Pakistan, and the United States the staff also played major roles in facilitating communication between their countries and spread the flow of information and it has influences in the ultimate decision to send in the U.S. Enterprise against India.

On the Indian side, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India. Her staff composed of Jagjivan Ram who was given the position of Indian Defense Minister from June 1970. Sarwan Singh served as the Indian
Minister of Defense until 1970; thereafter he was the Minister of External Affairs. In Pakistan, there was Yahya Khan, General Agha Muhammad, Chief Martial Law Administrator, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan. Qazi Zahirul,Qaiyum, a member of the Pakistan National Assembly, Awami League representative. Lieutenant General Tikka Khan. In East Pakistan, there was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was President of the Awami League; Prime Minister and Minister of Defense from January 1972, Abdus Samad; Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.

West and East Pakistan
The glaring differences between the East and West Pakistan as G.W. Choudhary expertly notes is ‘First,while in West Pakistan, politics are still controlled and dominated by the big landlords, in East Pakistan the Zamindars — the landlords — have lost their hold. Instead, the professional middle class politicians — the lawyers, journalists, teachers, and businessmen — predominate politically in the province. Secondly, the masses in the region are more politically conscious than in West Pakistan and economic issues are important. No government or political party in East Pakistan is likely to remain in power unless the pressing economic needs of the province are tackled properly. Much of the political unrest since 1947–48 is mainly a manifestation of the prevailing economic situation (301.) In the beginning days of the two Pakistans it is also visible that the two provinces had difficulties in linguistic and cultural matters as Choudhary further notes that “In early 1948 the first political movement started in East Pakistan based upon the demand that Bengali be made one of the state languages. While this
demand was justified since Bengali is the cherished language of forty million people in Pakistan it was probably unwise to launch such a campaign when the very existence of Pakistan was threatened by the influx of millions of Muslim refugees from India (299.) When it comes down to it, the conflict begins when in Pakistan’s General Assembly elections in 1970 — the first ever in Pakistan’s history in fact- witnessed the massive victory of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League party (East Pakistan) with an impressive victory of 167 out of 169 seats (NSA Archive, The Tilt). AL received the majority in the election, thus making them the dominant party. This stirred up sentiments against the Eastern board of the Province given a multitude of factors that impeded the East Pakistanis from equal participation in civic life (NSA Archive: The Tilt). Threatened by the mere idea that the East Pakistanis could dictate to the West on the running of the country, General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, held off holding the sessions and did not provide a timeline for when the the government can form and begin ruling(NSA Archive: The Tilt). He held it off indefinitely which stirred up much anger and resentment ethnic East Pakistanis took to the streets to express their outrage and discontent at the West Pakistanis. Martial Law Administration was swiftly set up by General Tikka Khan and no one was spared violence (NSA Archive, The Tilt). Women, students, intellectuals, Hindus and Muslims are among the many groups of people targeted by Pakistani Martial Law enforcers. Rahman contends that the death toll from this crackdown was 3 million people. Given the extent of the violence of the Pakistani army, many Bengalis fled into neighboring India and freedom fighters like the Mukti Bahini posed a much larger problem to India due to their role in using India as a launching pad for their offensive which in turn would cause India to become embroiled in the conflict between the both sides of Pakistan. Cables sent out by representatives Ambassador Kenneth Keating in New Delhi and Consul-General Archer K. Blood in East Pakistan would be instrumental in bringing to light the bloodshed taking place in their respective regions and their outrage that the U.S. government in Washington was failing to take action.

Archer Blood reports from Dacca for example :

1) Here in Dacca we are mute and horrified witnesses to a reign of terror by the Pak military. Evidence continues to mount that the MLA authorities have a list of Awami League supporters whom they are systematically eliminating by seeking them out in their homes and shooting them down. 2)Moreover, with the support of the Pakistani military, Non-Bengali Muslims are systematically attacking poor people’s quarters and Murdering Bengalis and Hindus. Streets of Dacca are aflood with Hindus and others seeking to get out of Dacca. Many Bengalis have sought refuge in homes of Americans, most of whom are extending shelter (NSA Archives, 3/28/1971).

Ambassador Keating from his post in Delhi, India laments that the Pakistanis are using American made weapons to terrorize an entire region and implores Washington to intervene in the Genocide “I am deeply shocked at the massacre by Pakistani military in East Pakistan, appalled at the possibility that that these atrocities are being committed by American equipment and greatly concerned at United States vulnerability to damaging allegations of association with the reigns of military terror.” He goes on to suggest the actions that the U.S. Government should take in that 1) they should promptly, publicly and prominently deplore this brutality; 2) Should privately lay it on the line with the Government of Pakistan; and 3) suspension of military aid pursuant to the 1967 Restrictive Policy (NSA Archives, Selective Genocide)

Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Agha Hilaly
The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Agha Hilaly justified (in keeping in line with his government’s views on this) that “great tragedy has befallen on Pakistan and the army had to kill people in order to keep the country together (NSA Archive. Telegram. 13). Hilaly goes on to suggest
that balanced media coverage and reliance on Pakistani press releases for reporting would improve the way that Pakistan is viewed in this conflict. With the expulsion of foreign press in East Pakistan, most of the world’s media were reliant on Indian media reports to gain clarity on the situation unfolding (NSA Archive, Telegram 13) This meeting with American officials demonstrates that the U.S. not only does not want to get involved -though the American public and Congress are viewing this situation with much more critical views- and that they are enabling Pakistan, primarily through arms imports and allowing the Pakistanis to say “it’s just collateral damage until the restoration of peace.”

Crisis in India
To provide context of the extent of the humanitarian toll India faced and the challenges of navigating the different countries’ own geopolitical motivation reporters had been sent into the camps that refugees were
squalered in. The horrors facing the population of East Pakistan came light in the reporting of Sydney Schanberg. As a reporter for the New York Times, his task was to report the harrowing experience of refugees with nothing but the clothes on their back living in terrible conditions. He reports “the unclean
sounds of the cholera epidemic:

“coughing, vomiting, groaning and weeping.” An emaciated seventy-year-old man had just died. His son and granddaughter sat sobbing beside the body, as flies gathered. When a young mother died of cholera, her baby continued to nurse until a doctor pulled the infant away. The husband of that dead woman, a rice farmer, cried to Schanberg that the family had fled Pakistani soldiers who burned down their house” (Bass, 131).

It is also noted that the Indian government had become simply overstretched and could not keep up with the demand of essential services for the massive influx of refugees coming across its borders, in seemingly endless streams (Bass, 131). The deliberate targeting of the Hindu minority population and the sex crimes committed against the women were too horrifying to even describe (Bass, 131). To reach India,

“the Bengalis’ endured a terrifying and grueling trek, hiking through the thick jungles in the deluges of the
monsoons. One reputable indian government official himself, a Bengali, relied on his local sources toremind Haksar what the refugees were fleeing: with the encouragement from the Pakistani army, volunteers deliberately killed the Hindu men. He wrote darkly that it wasn’t hard to imagine what happened to the
women”(Bass, 131).

Policy Options for the Americans
The options considered to deal with this crisis are accented in Henry Kissinger memorandum to President Nixon on April 28th 1971, that Dr. Kissinger writes of the U.S. role and significance that “The U.S. remains and important factor from outside the area : a) we still have influence in East Pakistan and
remain important to India b) U.S. economic support — multiplied by U.S. leadership in the world bank consortium of donors — remains critical to West Pakistan. Neither Moscow or Peking can duplicate this
assistance C) our military supply while relatively small, and unlikely to affect the outcome of fighting, is an important symbolic element in our posture (NSA Archive, Secret. 2) He proposes in the first option that in
terms of food assistance, the US does it’s part in sending shipments of food rations but will take no responsibility in the distribution of it. In the second option, militarily all shipments but ammunition is to be sent out and then finally, there is the policy of debt relief and go on with the development aid program as long as the money can be accounted for by the West Pakistanis and not toward the war effort. As the Pakistani Army rolled into Dacca and started their crackdown on the East Pakistanis, Dr. Kissinger in his memorandum told President Nixon in regards to the Americans stranded amidst the war that

“There are at present some 850 Americans, including 250 U.S. officials and dependents, inEast Pakistan. Stateʼs plan is to make no immediate move to evacuate these people since they could be in greater danger on the streets and we have no information yet as to the situation at the airports. Our consulate, however, is seeking the protection of the local authorities, and evacuation plans — worked out earlier in the present crisis — are being reviewed for both East and West Pakistan. Military aircraft from Southeast Asia could be made available on short notice for the purpose of evacuation (State Department, 10, Mem. to the President.) It’s also the case that the United States is aware that while Pakistanis have superior military might, they will not be able to hold out for too long due to the geographical isolation and the threat of India coming into intervene.

In addition a study prepared in the response to National Security Memorandum 133, in Washington on July 19, 1971 ​he outlined constructive strategies for the United States government in South Asia as this crisis unfolds:
Present Strategy
Within the overall context of our efforts to pursue constructive bilateral relations with India and Pakistan and in the face of the crisis which has arisen in East Pakistan since March 25 which threatens the peace and stability of South Asia our policy has had three major ingredients:

1.Restraint: Because of the possibility that the situation in East Pakistan and eastern India could escalate dangerously we have counseled restraint on both sides.
2.International Relief:: Because of the enormous human problems which have been created in the area we have supported inter-national efforts to provide humanitarian relief assistance to the refugees from East Pakistan in India and to the peoples of Fast Pakistan who have been affected by civil strife.
3. Political Accommodation: We have emphasized that normalcy can be restored in East Pakistan only within the context of a peaceful political accommodation. Such an accommodation is also important in order to create conditions for the return of the refugees in India.

These policy options presented to Dr. Kissinger ensure that the President also can receive expert opinion on the policy go-ahead.

The United States remains silent

While Keating and Blood may have frantically conveying the horrors of the Pakistani “selective genocide,” back in Washington there was little done to correct the matter or hold Pakistan accountable. The official
position on this massacre was that the Americans would stay out of Pakistan’s internal affairs (NSAArchive, Telegram.11) Assistant Secretary Cisco addressed Pakistani concerns about the interpretation of events unfolding in East Pakistan in western countries and answered questions about Hillary’s dislike of the term ‘massacres’ in talking about West Pakistani military action. He also noted that U.S. emotions were running high in the regions of conflict, therefore there would an expectation of emotionally charged words
and rhetoric (NSA Archive, Telegram. 11).

India and Pakistan devolve into War
Both India and Pakistan broke out into war due to the problems in East Pakistan. The Soviets had signed a friendship treaty with the USSR and therefore was influential in India’s conflict with Pakistan. The Friendship Treaty was the “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation.” Comprising twelve Articles and binding for twenty years, the treaty provides for regular consultation on major international problems affecting the interests of the two nations and closer cooperation in the economic, political, cultural and technological fields. The operative clauses on defence prohibit both countries from participating in any military alliance directed against the other party and require them to prevent the use of their territory for the commission of any act which might inflict military damage on the other party. Each party further “undertakes to abstain from providing any assistance to any third party that engages in armed conflict with the other party. In the event
of either party being subjected to an attack or a threat thereof, the high contracting parties shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remove such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security of their countries (Mustafa, 64.)

This treaty was meant to be the Soviet’s buffer against Chinese influence and served as a sort of “insurance” for India that in armed conflict, it would not be left alone in fighting it’s battles. Mrs. Gandhi had been urging the international community to take stock of the human rights situation in Pakistan to no avail. Onset of the dispute between East Pakistan and Pakistan was the recognition given by PM Gandhi towards the East Pakistan liberation fighters. Swarn Singh, who was the Indian Foreign Minister of India said that they would leave two Pakistans to “figure it out” and India would stay out of their conflict (Vol.E7,No 138). However, the next day he iterated that had Pakistani military not intervened in EP, that it replaced the need for autonomy with complete succession. Singh, in his meetings with American government officials had iterated that the refugees flooding India from EP, were causing
problems in the internal affairs of India and therefore there needed to be a political solution to the issues in Pakistan before they could resume their normal lives. In a meeting with Nixon,

“Singh:​ [unclear] Then it appears that they’re pushing them more and more into the point of, the position of the point of no return. And it appears [unclear]. They must. We have an opposition quite clearly; it’s developed between the central authority ofPakistan

Singh:​ On this matter we leave it up to the Pakistanis and the leaders of the Awami League to decide about
their future in any manner they like. We will not press one or the other solution, or [unclear] to it. We are interested in
observing the neutrality in [unclear] considering the situation.

President Nixon’s order to send in Task Force 74 (U.S.S. Enterprise)
Given the information we have about regional partnerships, Pakistan-US alliance and Indian frustration at the inaction of “Pakistani’s problems” flooding their border with no end in sight, we arrive at a critical juncture of American foreign policy. The U.S.S. Enterprise (Task Force 74)was sent in with the intention of “warning” India about what its intervention would cost. Under the guise of evacuating stranded Americans,President Nixon -goaded on by Dr. Kissinger- sent in this aircraft carrier to intimidate the Indian army against taking action in East Pakistan.

Indian Ambassador Jha “..said there was a report from New Delhi that United States Government had plans or intentions to establish a beachhead in some part of Bangladesh for the evacuation of U.S. personnel or to facilitate transfer of Pakistani personnel to West Pakistan. Any such attempt would be a serious matter and would endanger long term U.S.- India relations (NationalSecurity Archive, Telegram 13).

In discussions between President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger,

“Kissinger : Well that’s what I’m working on. [unclear] we’ll take an aircraft carrier from Vietnam into the Bay of Bengal for the evacuation of American civilians that are in the area. We don’t say they’re there to — it would be a mistake. We just say we’re moving them in, in order to evacuate American civilians. That shouldn’t[unclear].
Nixon : We certainly used that as a pretext, a pretext in the Jordan crisis.
Kissinger : That’s right. Now all — I’m sure all hell will break loose here, but they will pay US off on success.
Nixon : That’s right.
Kissinger : I mean after all [unclear] —
Nixon : Would you, John, move the aircraft carrier? I’d do it immediately. I wouldn’t wait 24 hours.
Mitchell: The goddamn Indians have [unclear].
Kissinger : We’ve had arrangements made to get airplanes into Dacca.
Mitchell: The only way we can get the [unclear] is by helicopter.
Nixon : The aircraft carrier is easy. Now what else?
Kissinger : Well the aircraft carrier, according to the Indians, would have to be delivered here because Keating will have a heart attack —

Using the pretense of evacuating Keating and American consul staff, would fall on deaf ears as India views this as a transgression into their terrority and threats to intimidate them out of fighting in East Pakistan. President Nixon would instruct Dr. Kissenger to go ahead with directing Chinese land forces towards India while the aircraft carrier along with nine other ships and a nuclear submarine surrounded India in the Bay of Bengal. This would ensure that India becomes overwhelmed in fighting a three front war and would “overwhelm” it into surrender. Under this plan India would be fighting on the Eastern and Western fronts of Pakistan, towards the north in Assam and with engage in combat on the high seas (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972,Document 165). When Indians got wind of the plan to send the USS Enterprise, it actually hastened their involvement in EP and made them determined to seal the political fate of East Pakistan before the ships could reach anywhere near India. What could prove to be interesting however is how quickly the Soviets mobilized for India,

“Indeed, a Soviet naval task force from Vladivostok consisting of a cruiser, a destroyer and two attack submarines under the command of Adm. Vladimir Kruglyakov intercepted Task Force 74 in the makings of a deadly Cold War standoff. Kruglyakov gave a rousing account in a T.V. interview of “encircling” the task force, surfacing his submarines in front of the Enterprise, opening the missile tubes and “blocking” the American ships (Sebastian Roblin, We Go To War).

The USS Enterprise was sent in to deter Indian involvement in East Pakistan. The Cold War in Asia resulted in tremendous loss of life and the resolution of yet another bitter conflict between the Indians and the Pakistanis. Through this incident it can be seen that the President can have room for grevious error in foreign policy creation. India and Pakistan remain bitter enemies and Bangladesh has taken steps has taken steps to bring to justice, those that have committed atrocious human rights violations in the war of 1971.




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Navjot Pal Kaur

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