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(p. 254) 11. Other Regional Conflicts 

(p. 254) 11. Other Regional Conflicts
(p. 254) 11. Other Regional Conflicts

John W. Young

and John Kent

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A. Latin America: US Intervention in the Dominican Republic

The US and Latin America after the Missile Crisis

Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam may have been encouraged in spring 1965 by events in the Caribbean, where armed intervention by US Marines put a rapid end to a supposed communist menace in the Dominican Republic. This action showed the US concern, after the Cuban missile crisis (Chapter 7, D), to prevent a second Castro-like regime coming to power in the Americas. Arguably, it also reflected a change of priorities from the Eisenhower and Kennedy presidencies, when there were hopes of the US stimulating Latin American economic development. Under Kennedy’s ‘Alliance for Progress’ (see Chapter 6, C), Washington even appeared ready to undermine right-wing dictatorships to bring reformist, liberal governments into power. This was seen in the downfall of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in 1961. The Alliance for Progress represented an alternative to Castro’s left-wing ideas on development and made the Western hemisphere an important ideological battleground in the continuing East–West struggle. Marxist revolutionaries, moderate reformists, and right-wing dictators were fighting a struggle on America’s doorstep, with the key Cold War requirement for Washington remaining the defeat of Marxist doctrine.

On assuming the Presidency, Johnson committed himself to fulfil the Alliance for Progress, just as he was committed to Kennedy’s policies elsewhere, and in his early months at least, he devoted some energy to the task. But the programme had serious internal contradictions. On the one hand, the US wanted to treat the Latin Americans as equals, who were supposed to (p. 255) contribute to the programme a rough equivalent of the $20 billion promised by Kennedy over 10 years. On the other, Latin Americans lacked the wealth, transport infrastructure, and educated population which the West Europeans had been able to offer to the Marshall Plan, and the US was not genuinely ready to treat them as equals. In Congress, the idea of providing unconditional aid was unpopular. Also, whilst Kennedy hoped the Alliance for Progress would lead to more liberal political regimes, Latin America tended to remain dominated by various forms of dictatorship. Among South American countries for example, after 1964, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia were all under military domination; Colombia’s post-1958 democracy was permanently troubled; while only Ecuador, Venezuela (helped by its oil wealth), and Chile seemed to have stable constitutional systems. Military rule did not always equate with pro-American sympathies, as shown by the regime of General Juan Velasco, in Peru between 1968 and 1975; but generally it did. Whatever hopes Kennedy may have had, attempts to replace dictatorships with liberal government always risked the danger of instability and rising radicalism.

The scale of the developmental challenge facing the Alliance for Progress was formidable. Additional problems included bureaucratic inertia in the member countries, the indifference of US business and Johnson’s growing preoccupation with the Vietnam War. Latin Americans complained that the US effectively discriminated against them in its trade policies, through tariffs and export subsidies. ‘Already by 1964 the dollar injections failed to compensate the Latin American countries for the loss of income as a result of deteriorating terms of trade.’1 But the US was frustrated because, whilst claiming equality, Latin Americans seemed to want to rely on US handouts. Whatever the roots of economic underperformance, during the 1960s Latin American growth rates averaged less than 2 per cent and its share of the US market fell, from about a quarter to about a sixth. Johnson increasingly paid less attention to the region, tended to react to events and, when there was a choice to be made, put the need for stability first.

On 18 March 1964, Johnson’s lead policy-maker for the region, Under-Secretary of State Thomas Mann, announced the ‘Mann Doctrine’, effectively stating that the US was interested in the dependability of Latin American regimes, whether democratic or dictatorial. If they were capitalist, safeguarded US investments, desisted from meddling in their neighbour’s affairs, and were anti-communist, Washington would work with them. ‘Mann and Johnson thus dropped two of the Alliance’s original goals, democratization and structural change, to concentrate on economic development and anti-Communism.’2 Later that month, the Johnson administration condoned a military coup against the Brazilian President, Julio Goulart, who favoured land reform and had developed links to the USSR. The US quickly approved economic assistance to the new government of General Castello Branco, who began two decades of military rule in Brazil. There was little questioning of this action in Washington, where ‘the administration frequently referred to the military’s seizure of power as an anti-communist revolution. No one … questioned this odd defence of democracy through the overthrowing of the constitutional president.’3 Also, in 1963–4, the British were pressured not to allow their colony of British Guyana (on the northern coast of South America) to become independent under Cheddi Jagan, the leader of the immigrant Indian community, who was suspected of leftist sympathies.

The Dominican Crisis of 1965

In common with many Central American and Caribbean states, the Dominican Republic found itself dominated by America in the twentieth century. Washington first despatched troops there in 1905 and for twelve years after 1916 the country was occupied by US Marines, who helped lay the foundations for the rule of Rafael Trujillo, a right-wing strongman. After Castro came to power in 1959, the significance of the Dominican Republic to American Cold War interests greatly increased: the Republic was less than 200 miles from Cuba, and even closer to US-controlled Puerto Rico. However, this very fact meant that the Eisenhower administration was cautious about endorsing Trujillo’s dictatorship any longer. The Dominican Republic, with its large proportion of landless labourers working the plantations of a wealthy minority, seemed a potential hotbed of discontent. In 1960 Eisenhower decided that it was better to work for Trujillo’s replacement, rather than risking an upsurge of revolutionary discontent. The CIA established links to Trujillo’s opponents, diplomatic relations were severed in mid-1960 and eventually plans were even laid to assassinate him.

Trujillo was assassinated on 30 May 1961, but by then John Kennedy was President and Washington (p. 256) was not directly involved in the act. Over the following months, the US pressed the Dominican Republic to hold free elections, provided both economic aid and counter-insurgency advice, and made it clear (through naval operations off the coast) that it had the ability to intervene militarily if necessary. Such a display of force helped prevent the Trujillo family from launching a counter-coup and ensured that free elections were eventually held in December 1962. These brought about the victory of Juan Bosch, leader of the Dominican Revolutionary Party, who won 60 per cent of votes. But once in power Bosch showed little of the strength or ability needed to transform the Dominican Republic into a stable democracy. He alienated landowners with his social reforms, he criticized US ‘imperial’ domination and, worse still in American eyes, he seemed ready to tolerate the existence of communist organizations. In response, the US refused him significant economic aid and, in September 1963, condoned his overthrow in a military coup, which led to the presidency being handed to a businessman, Donald Reid Cabral. He was prepared to work closely with the Americans and to plan for elections in late 1965 but was heavily reliant on the military and never won much popularity. Fears that he might cancel the forthcoming elections brought a counter-coup, on 24 April 1965, by supporters of Bosch, who was now living in exile in Puerto Rico.

The Americans refused to help the unelected Cabral, who resigned on 25 April, but they had no liking for Bosch either and became deeply concerned about the danger of the Dominican Republic slipping into communism. Over the following days Johnson concluded he should intervene militarily, even though there was little evidence of any real communist menace. With Cabral out of the way, a power struggle immediately developed between the pro-Bosch group and elements in the military. General Elias Wessin, who had led the 1963 coup against Bosch, launched air attacks on the pro-Bosch elements and tried to install such a junta under Colonel Pedro Benoit. On 28 April the balance in the capital was still uncertain and Benoit appealed to the US ambassador, John Martin, for help. In backing this request to Washington, Martin effectively came down in favour of military rule, at least in the short term, rather than the return of an elected president. On 29 April 4,000 US marines landed in the Republic and by early May the number had mushroomed to 23,000. At first, this sudden, large-scale intervention was justified by the need to protect American citizens and restore order, but soon emphasis was being put on the potential communist menace, with the State Department naming fifty-eight communists supposedly at work within the Dominican Republic. On closer analysis this list turned out to contain exiles, certain individuals in prison, and some double-counting, yet US public opinion welcomed the intervention. ‘The US government’s preoccupation with avoiding a “second Cuba” had structured the way American officials looked at the Dominican Republic … Dominican communists were seen as potential agents of extra-continental power, not as weak and fragmented groups of dissidents.’4 In early May, Johnson followed the invasion up with a statement that America would not allow another Castro-style government in the Americas; a statement which became known as the ‘Johnson Doctrine’ (see boxed section). ‘Hence, what began as a civil war ended as an international crisis linked to the US military intervention in Vietnam, US policy against Cuba and, later, to the declared US intention of saving democracy in the Dominican Republic.’5

After the invasion Johnson acted to achieve three things: first, to calm international concern over his action, especially among Latin American states; second, to see that a stable, preferably elected government emerged in the Dominican Republic; and finally to ensure that the government was not led by Bosch. On 6 May he persuaded a meeting of the OAS—an organization he held in such contempt that he accused it of being unable to ‘pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel’6—to set up a peacekeeping force, under US control, in the Republic. The OAS, despite doubts from a few members, secured a formal ceasefire in the capital and in September installed a moderate interim premier, Hector Garcia Godoy, who was acceptable to pro-Bosch elements. Elections were held in May 1966 and won by Joaquin Balaguer, a former Trujillo supporter. Foreign troops withdrew a few months later. US intervention could be defended in retrospect as doing no long-term harm to the Dominican Republic, in that Balaguer was finally defeated by a leftist candidate, Antonio Guzman, in elections in 1978. But it took revived violence and US pressure to force Balaguer to accept the election results, and in many ways Dominican politics were unchanged: in 1986 Balaguer was elected President again, with Bosch in third place. The Dominican intervention showed that the US remained ready to use its economic and military might to defend its ideological and economic interests in the

(p. 257)

The Johnson Doctrine, 2 May 1965

The key element in the Johnson Doctrine was the unequivocal statement that ‘the American nations … will not permit the establishment of another communist government in the Western Hemisphere’. The statement came in a weekend evening television and radio address by the President, in the wake of US intervention in the Dominican Republic, in which he argued that the recent instability there was in danger of being exploited by communist conspirators, trained by Castro’s Cuba. He portrayed the decision to intervene as a testing one, which showed that America would defend itself and its allies.

The idea that the US would act to prevent a second Castroist regime being set up in the Americas was nothing new, but Johnson’s forceful action meant that his successors had to measure their performance against this commitment.

Americas. For Latin American states, who were more interested in long-term problems such as development and trade, and anxious to achieve more equality with their northern neighbour, the intervention confirmed both their relative powerlessness and the limited significance of the Alliance for Progress. ‘The problem’, as one academic writes, ‘was that in dealing with crises of stability, the administration could focus only on the threat of Communist advantage and allowed democracy and development to slip from view’.7

B. South-East Asia: The Malaysia–Indonesia ‘Confrontation’ of 1963–6

Origins of the ‘Konfrontasi’

The Vietnam War was not the only conflict in South-East Asia in the 1960s. Indeed, it was partly because of the potential instability of the region as a whole that the US government feared the so-called ‘domino effect’ which argued that, if South Vietnam were ‘lost’, then communism could expand in neighbouring areas. In Laos, of course, a vicious struggle went on throughout the Vietnam War, with the US using air power in particular to counter the danger of a victory by the communist Pathet Lao; whilst in Cambodia, South Vietnam’s other neighbour, war between the government and the communist Khmer Rouge accelerated after 1969. In Indonesia the regime of Sukarno, who had led the country to independence from the Netherlands, relied on an uneasy alliance between the well-organized Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)—which was especially strong on Java, the most heavily populated island—and the army, whose generals were suspicious of communism and well-disposed to Washington. In the mid-1960s Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines became involved in a dispute, focusing on the island of Borneo, which threatened to spill over into war.

The dispute was triggered by the transformation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo territories of Sarawak and Sabah into the federation of ‘Malaysia’. The idea of a federation involving Malaya had been explored by the British since the 1940s. It appealed to them for a number of reasons. Malaysia would solve the problem of the island-city of Singapore, where leftist and pro-independence feeling was growing among its majority Chinese population. An independent left-wing government might well end the British presence at their most vital naval base east of Suez. If Singapore was incorporated into Malaysia, the pro-Western Malayan leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, would allow Britain to retain the base. Meanwhile, the more conservative Malays would counter any Chinese radicalism in Singapore. For this to be achieved, though, Malays had to be in the majority and that required the incorporation of British colonies in northern Borneo, which in any case lacked the economic and administrative infrastructure needed for independence in their own right. In 1961, local opinion also moved determinedly in favour of a Federation. The Singaporean premier, Lee Kuan Yew, leader of the People’s Action Party (PAP), saw membership of Malaysia as a way to satisfy popular demands for independence from Britain while providing the island with a secure economic future. Tunku Abdul Rahman saw a Federation as a way to increase territory and influence, whilst preserving the position of ethnic Malays in the expanded state. Although there was no love lost between the Tunku and Lee, in August 1961 they agreed on the Malaysia idea and a date was subsequently set for it to come into effect on 31 August 1963.

One problem was that both Indonesia and the Philippines had claims on the British territories in Borneo and now decided to press them. ‘Setting up Malaysia, though … a concept long in the minds of the British, could also be seen as a major restructuring (p. 258) of the political map of South-East Asia that affected other states in the area. Over this issue the British were insensitive.’8 Given the country’s close links to the West (with SEATO membership and US military bases), the Philippines was unlikely to press its claim forcibly. More worrying was the mounting criticism of Malaysia from Indonesia, spearheaded by the PKI and coming after years of anti-Western gestures from Sukarno, who had already managed to take over the former Dutch colony of West Irian (the western part of New Guinea) from the Dutch, and who had established close ties to the USSR. Now, he questioned whether the Borneo territories wanted to join the Federation; the alternative was that they should merge with Indonesia. In December 1962 he covertly supported an uprising in one of the territories, Brunei. This was put down by British troops, but the widespread popular support for it, and the fact that Brunei’s Sultan now decided to remain outside Malaysia, encouraged Sukarno to believe that the Federation was unpopular in northern Borneo.

The ‘Konfrontasi’

On 20 January 1963 Indonesia formally rejected the Malaysia proposal and launched what it called a ‘konfrontasi’, or confrontation. At first it was not clear what form this would take, but the British favoured a robust response and looked to their main allies in the region—America, Australia, and New Zealand—for support. These three were not so keen to antagonize Sukarno, however. If he had launched an invasion of Malaysia, they would certainly have opposed it, but the ‘confrontation’ at first mainly took the form of a propaganda campaign, followed in April by localized armed clashes on the Malaysia–Indonesia border. This sometimes involved guerrilla incursions across the border, but fell short of outright war and was accompanied by signs that Sukarno was also ready to talk to the Tunku about a diplomatic settlement. The US, especially, believed it unwise to antagonize the Indonesian leader who, on the one hand, seemed highly popular with his own people because of his outspoken attacks on the West and, on the other hand, despite age and ill-health, was at least able to keep the PKI in check. Indonesia, with about 100 million people, had the third highest population in Asia and the sixth highest in the world. It had substantial oil, rubber, and mineral resources. Its fate was too important for America to alienate it, perhaps driving it into Soviet or Chinese arms, without good reason and the creation of Malaysia was not high on Kennedy’s list of priorities: it was a British-led concept in which the US had little involvement. Singaporeans too ‘began to resent the strains … which merger in Malaysia involved. Indonesian confrontation brought physical violence and damaged trade.’9 By June 1963 even the Tunku seemed ready to compromise when he met Sukarno and the Philippines President, Diosdado Macapagal, in Manila. Here it was not only agreed that the UN Secretary-General should investigate the true state of opinion in northern Borneo, but also that talks should begin on a possible federation between their three countries, the so-called ‘Maphilindo’ project.

Such diplomatic efforts to settle the region’s divisions did not last. The UN Secretary-General, U Thant, soon concluded that the colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak were indeed happy to join Malaysia. (The third colony, Brunei, received self-government under its Sultan and only became fully independent in 1984). Once Malaysia was created, the Indonesians reacted violently. The British embassy in Jakarta was burnt down by a mob on 18 September, diplomatic relations with Malaysia were broken, and the confrontation was intensified, which led Australia and New Zealand to provide more assistance to the British. Again Britain showed surprising firmness in its response, given that it had limited defence resources and an increasingly weak economy. About 50,000 troops were deployed to protect Malaysia, counter-incursions were launched into Indonesia and a diplomatic effort was launched to persuade America that Sukarno was a menace. Lyndon Johnson, the US President after November 1963, at first persisted with a policy of providing aid to Indonesia, emulating Kennedy. However, Johnson and the American Congress were gradually irritated by the unpredictable, neutralist Sukarno and US aid was gradually reduced, being focused on the Indonesian military, partly in order to strengthen them for any struggle with the PKI.

By 1965 all the main parties were in difficulty. The British government was increasingly keen to hold down defence costs. Then, in August 1965 Chinese–Malay tensions, reflected in the enmity between Lee and the Tunku, led to Singapore suddenly declaring itself independent, thus removing a key component from Malaysia. Far from opposing the move, the Tunku encouraged it, mainly because Malays became the dominant ethnic group in Malaysia once Chinese-dominated Singapore was lost. Yet, despite all these (p. 259) problems on the Malaysian side, it was Indonesia which backed away from the confrontation, largely because the Johnson administration decided that Sukarno should be removed. From Washington’s viewpoint, Sukarno seemed increasingly irrational. Not only did he improve relations with communist China, he walked out of the United Nations in protest at the admission of Malaysia, criticized Johnson’s involvement in Vietnam, and spoke ominously about 1965 as a ‘Year of Living Dangerously’. Furthermore, ‘by 1965 it seemed that the PKI was riding high … A situation in which Sukarno had … manipulated Army and PKI alike and had been … the apex of the triangle … seemed to have given way to a situation in which the PKI’s corner of the triangle was rising … and the army’s … slipping down.’10 The CIA was already close to opponents of Sukarno in the army.

Then, on 30 September 1965, in a confusing episode, which may have been sparked by false rumours of Sukarno’s death, pro-communist elements in the army murdered several leading generals. Anti-communists, led by General Suharto, quickly struck back and predictably won US support. The Americans were determined to prevent any PKI takeover but reluctant to intervene directly in the country, so that aid for Suharto and the army was an ideal solution. The CIA provided covert assistance and helped identify PKI members. In the ruthless purge that now took place, up to 500,000 were killed, including the PKI leader, K. N. Aidit, and many people who were not communists at all. By March 1966 the PKI was effectively destroyed and, although Sukarno retained the presidency, Suharto was now the real power, able to open diplomatic feelers to Malaysia. There was a great irony in this dramatic turn of events from the US perspective. Whilst becoming embroiled in Vietnam, and just when Sukarno seemed completely beyond control, what one historian has called ‘a wholly unexpected … windfall’ came to Johnson’s aid, removing a potential ‘falling domino’. Yet, ‘However favourable to Washington the outcome proved, neither the coup attempt itself nor the army’s prompt response to it were influenced to any significant degree by the United States.’11 The confrontation with Malaysia was finally called off by Indonesia in August 1966 and a year later both countries, together with the Philippines and others, joined together to form the Association of South-East Asian Nations, ASEAN, which helped foster stability and economic growth in the region (see Chapter 22, E). Meanwhile another pro-American strongman, Ferdinand Marcos, had come to power in the Philippines in 1966, and had also improved relations with Malaysia. Thus, whatever the problems faced by the US in Vietnam in the late 1960s, the rest of South-East Asia was, from a Western perspective, stable and secure, allowing Britain to run down its military presence in the region.

C. South Asia: The Indo–Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971

The War of 1965

The separation of India and Pakistan in 1947, after independence from British rule (see Chapter 3, A), left deep animosity as well as complex border and property claims. The worst cause of tension was Kashmir, which was 80 per cent Muslim by population but whose ruler had opted to join India. War in 1948 had ended with the creation of an uneasy ceasefire across Kashmir: the UN initially planned to hold a plebiscite there, but it was never held. The Pakistani government claimed that, in a plebiscite, the Kashmiris would vote to join their fellow Muslims in Pakistan; but the Indian government was reluctant to settle the dispute in this way, partly because India was a multi-religious, non-secular state, even if Hindu-dominated. Over the following decade the Indian leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, pursued a non-aligned policy, while making his country the largest recipient of Soviet aid outside the Eastern bloc itself. ‘Nehru’s intransigence regarding Kashmir, his courtship of China and his … Indian– Soviet friendship—chilled Indian–US relations …’ and prevented these two democracies from working together.12 In contrast Pakistan, although it fell under the military rule of Ayub Khan in 1958, initially aligned itself with the West, being a member of both the Baghdad Pact and SEATO. It provided the US with base facilities, including an intelligence-gathering facility at Peshawar, but never received sufficient diplomatic strength to gain the upper hand in the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistani disillusionment continued to grow in the early 1960s. In May 1960, the U-2 incident (see Chapter 5, B) led Ayub Khan to fear that he had become over-reliant on America—the U-2 spy plane, which so enraged Khrushchev, had flown from a Pakistan airbase—and so he began to improve relations with the USSR and China. Then, the arrival of John F. Kennedy as President in 1961 led the US to court India as a large, (p. 260) liberal-democratic state in Asia which might limit Chinese power. But Kennedy’s approach offended Ayub Khan without having any impact on Nehru’s non-alignment. In December 1961, India’s invasion of the Portuguese enclave of Goa, though it could be defended as an anti-colonial step (and thereby won sympathy in the less developed world), undermined Nehru’s reputation as an enlightened, non-violent leader. It both offended Kennedy and aroused Pakistani fears of Indian aggression. Finally, the sudden, short-lived war between India and China in 1962 upset everyone’s calculations and cemented links between Pakistan and China. What had developed was an increasingly unstable situation that was difficult for Washington to influence. The US, seeing a renewed chance to turn India into an ally against China, now provided Nehru with military aid. The Indians, stunned by the surprise invasion, became less self-confident in their foreign policy, while the Pakistani armed forces were more hopeful about defeating India in war. Yet, the Sino-Indian War also made it more difficult to resolve the Kashmir problem because the Indians now saw Kashmir, which bordered on China, as having a strategic significance.

In early 1965 India still adhered to its non-aligned policy, although Pakistan remained a member of SEATO and CENTO (the Central Treaty Organisation, formed in 1959 after the collapse of the Baghdad Pact). The Indian premier was now Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nehru having died the previous May. India felt beleaguered abroad, with Chinese relations as bad as ever and the US pressing for negotiations on Kashmir which were likely to result in a Kashmiri vote to join Pakistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, had settled its own border disputes with China in 1963 and Ayub Khan even visited Beijing. This upset the Johnson administration which was preoccupied by Cold War considerations and deeply antagonistic to China. Ayub Khan’s obsession was increasingly with Kashmir; he was frustrated at the lack of diplomatic progress and even threatened to leave SEATO. In April 1965, largely in frustration at Ayub’s closeness to China, Johnson abruptly cancelled a visit to Pakistan. Then, because he could hardly meet Shastri without doubling the offence to Ayub, the US President cancelled a planned visit to India as well. This simply underlined the bankruptcy of US attempts to fit Indo-Pakistani affairs into a Cold War mould, and severely reduced American influence in both countries during the critical events that followed. In April 1965, border clashes had already begun in the Rann of Kutch, a marshy area far removed from Kashmir and, since it was under water for half the year, not worth a serious struggle. The British, as leading members of the Commonwealth, of which India and Pakistan were both members, were agreed as arbitrators of this dispute in June (and a border deal was reached in 1968). But the Rann of Kutch episode, however limited in itself, led both sides to mass forces in Kashmir and encouraged the Pakistanis to feel confident about an armed clash.

From April 1965 onwards tension in Kashmir was mounting, as the Pakistanis supported irregular forces in sabotage raids across the ceasefire line. The arrest by the Indians in May, of the local Muslim leader, Sheikh Abdullah, inflamed passions further. Then, at the end of August, full-scale war began, with both sides accusing the other of starting it. In early September the Pakistanis seemed to be having the best of the conflict, with a drive into Indian-ruled territory in southern Kashmir. In fact this soon stalled and Ayub seems to have planned to run the war down. However, around 6 September, the Indians struck back with an offensive towards Lahore, followed up by an attack much further south, on Gadra (not far from the Rann of Kutch), taking the Pakistanis by surprise: ‘the most surprised person was Ayub’ who had ‘assumed that … the Indians would relax’ once the violence died down in Kashmir.13 By the middle of the month the war was deadlocked, with Pakistan’s confidence blunted and the Indians happy to have recovered from early setbacks. China was surprisingly quiescent during the war, and the US and Britain had suspended military supplies to both sides once the war began. This harmed Pakistan most, since India continued to receive Soviet supplies.

Pakistan argued that (in contrast to its own actions in disputed Kashmir) India had launched an attack across an internationally recognized border, an argument that seems to have won some sympathy in Britain, which issued a statement critical of India’s conduct. For this reason the British were not seen as a potential arbitrator in the conflict, as they had been in the case of the Rann of Kutch. Instead, when a UN-sponsored ceasefire took effect on 22 September, it was the USSR that took the lead in trying to broker an Indo-Pakistani settlement. American policy still seemed in disarray. ‘Indians were outraged at the equation, implicit in the embargo of American weaponry to both sides, of their actions with those of Pakistan … In Pakistan … Ayub … lost no opportunity to … blame … Pakistan’s frustrations on Washington.’14 Soviet Premier Andrei (p. 261) Kosygin brokered a settlement between Ayub and Shastri, at a conference in Tashkent in January 1966. However, this did little other than restore the status quo and Indo-Pakistani diplomatic relations. The vexed question of Kashmir was unresolved and Soviet influence made no great advance. But if America could be pleased with the reestablishment of peace its influence was no longer decisive. Pakistan was still nominally tied to the West but on good terms with the Chinese, while the danger posed by close Indo-Soviet relations remained. Regional alliances in the context of the Cold War had proved to be a destabilizing factor, rather than a source of Western strength. The lesson that the conflict between two blocs could no longer be the defining priority of international relations was there to be learned.

The War of 1971

Shastri collapsed and died at the end of the Tashkent conference, to be succeeded by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi. She maintained her father’s non-aligned policy, accepting the revival of US military aid in 1967 while criticizing Johnson over Vietnam. In Pakistan Ayub was succeeded by another general, Yahya Khan, in 1969, a year after terminating the US lease on its Peshawar base. Pakistan’s rulers were happy to see America recommence its military aid programme in 1970 but also determined to hang on to the Chinese alliance. This had harmed Pakistan’s standing in Washington’s eyes while Lyndon Johnson was in office, but the situation changed after Richard Nixon became President. Nixon never got on personally with Indira Gandhi. Furthermore, in great secrecy, he and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, came to rely on Pakistan as a line of contact for their ‘Opening to China’ (see Chapter 12, A). It was from Pakistan that Kissinger made his all-important visit to China in July 1971. By then tension in South Asia was rising once more, not over Kashmir, but about a very different problem, the growing rift between the two halves of Pakistan, West and East.

In 1947 Pakistan had been formed from two Muslim-populated regions: Eastern Bengal and the so-called ‘North-West Frontier’, which were about a thousand miles apart. The East had the bulk of the population but was poorer and, because it was low-lying and subject to heavy monsoons, prone to floods. West Pakistan included the capital city, Islamabad, which dominated the armed forces and which had its own language, Urdu, accepted as the ‘official’ one. This caused increasing resentment in East Pakistan, compounded by the fact that ‘Pakistani’ foreign policy often seemed designed to defend specifically Western interests, based on the West Pakistan’s proximity to the USSR and China, and on its close interest in the Kashmir problem. East Pakistan was almost surrounded by Indian territory and virtually indefensible from an attack. In 1970, after more than a decade of military rule, Yahya Khan was planning a return to parliamentary government, hoping this would preserve national cohesion. However, severe cyclones and floods in November killed about 200,000 in Bengal and helped create a situation whereby, in elections the following month, most East Pakistanis voted for the Awami League of Mujibur Rahmann, known simply as Mujib, whose aim was to secure an autonomous ‘Bangladesh’. Meanwhile, West Pakistan overwhelmingly voted in favour of Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, which favoured a more centralized government. This outcome threatened to tear the country apart, especially since the Awami League (thanks to the East’s larger population) won a parliamentary majority, leading Bhutto to boycott the National Assembly in March 1971. This ‘created an explosive situation and a point of no return’.15 As a result Yahya Khan decided to suspend the meeting of Parliament, to introduce martial law in East Pakistan—backed by 40,000 troops—and imprisoned Mujib without charge.

Far from solving Pakistan’s problems, Yahya’s tough actions worsened them. Mujib now demanded full independence; up to ten million East Pakistanis fled abroad to neighbouring India, putting the latter’s food and aid resources under great strain; and Indira Gandhi was under increasing pressure to help ‘Bangladesh’ achieve independence. In April 1971 Indian-trained ‘Mukti Bahini’ resistance fighters began an armed campaign against the Pakistani army in East Pakistan. Western opinion tended to side with the Bangladeshis, who were seen as being subjected to military oppression, having already suffered a terrible natural disaster. The Indians also continued to have Eastern bloc support. Indeed, on 9 August the USSR moved to consolidate its ties to India when Andrei Gromyko signed a 24-year friendship treaty in New Delhi. This mainly involved technical assistance but also provided for consultations should one of them be attacked. Nixon and Kissinger were surprised by this step and, in contrast to most Western opinion, became convinced that they must back West Pakistan, while encouraging Yahya to (p. 262) show moderation. The concessions Yahya made, however, such as opening talks with Awami moderates, proved too little, too late. Meanwhile, ‘Indira Gandhi’s goals became more precise … to win recognition for Bangladesh nationalism … [and] to make it clear that the continuing threats to Indian security posed by the crisis in Pakistan gave New Delhi the right to resolve the situation by any means it deemed effective.’16 In November 1971, border incidents intensified with a massing of forces on the Indo-Pakistani border in both East and West.

As in 1965, both sides blamed each other for the outbreak of war, with the Indians accused of launching an invasion of East Pakistan and the Pakistanis accused of beginning large-scale hostilities with an attack in Kashmir and Western India. Whoever was most to blame, India always had the upper hand in the East. The Soviets, who continued to supply India with arms, vetoed a potentially embarrassing UN resolution in favour of a mutual withdrawal on 4 December. India recognized Bangladeshi independence two days later and by 10 December it was clear that Pakistan’s forces in the East were overwhelmed. As in 1965, Chinese support for Pakistan was mainly verbal. Indeed, it was the US which did most to press India to end the war. In the so-called ‘tilt’ towards Pakistan, and despite public criticism in America, the White House now made fully apparent its support for Yahya Khan. A US naval task force was despatched towards the Bay of Bengal and, on 12 December, for the first time in the Nixon administration, the ‘hot line’ to Moscow was used to press for a ceasefire. Nixon and Kissinger wished to demonstrate to China that they could be relied upon in a crisis; and they were determined that India should not follow up its victory in the East, by defeating Pakistan in Kashmir as well, potentially putting the country’s existence under threat. On 16–17 December a ceasefire took hold on the borders of both West and East Pakistan. This ended fears of a full-scale war over Kashmir, for which neither side was properly prepared, given their concentration on the war in the East. There were now 70,000 Pakistani prisoners of war and diplomatic efforts now focused on their release, while the Bangladeshi state won international recognition, even if Chinese opposition kept it out of the UN until 1974.

Bangladesh was unable to establish a stable democracy, despite the high hopes of 1971. Mujibur became its first President but was killed during a military coup in 1975 after which long periods of military rule were interspersed with attempts to return to democratic government. In Pakistan, the 1971 defeat undermined the position of the military and led Yahya Khan to hand power to the popular Ali Bhutto, but the latter was overthrown by General Zia ul-Haq in 1977. After Zia’s death in an air crash in 1988, there was an uneasy return to civilian government for several years, with the premiership twice falling to Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir. Yet the army again seized power in 1999 under General Pervez Musharraf, who held power for nine years, before another uneasy return to civilian rule. Meanwhile, India survived as a democracy, despite considerable internal religious–ethnic divisions, the rise of Hindu militancy, and the assassinations of both Indira Gandhi (by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984) and her son, Rajiv (in 1991 by a Tamil group), who had also become Prime Minister. Despite periodic attempts at a rapprochement, Indo-Pakistani tension continued, focused on Kashmir. There were border clashes in 1985–6 and, from 1989 onwards, India faced intermittent unrest within Kashmir from Muslim groups. In mid-1999, Pakistan-backed incursions into Indian-controlled Kashmir were accompanied by further internal unrest. By that time the dangers were heightened by the fact that, in 1998, both countries tested nuclear weapons in quick succession. In December 2001, Kashmiri militants were blamed for a deadly attack on the Indian Parliament and there were renewed fears of war in mid-2002, following Pakistani tests of nuclear-capable missiles. Over the following years, attempts to improve relations were set back by sudden outbreaks of violence, the worst being an attack by Pakistan-based terrorists on the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008, which killed 174 people. Although it had not sparked outright war for a generation, the Kashmir problem remained one of the world’s potentially most destructive flashpoints.

D. The Middle East: The Arab–Israeli Six Day War

The Middle East in the mid-1960s

In the early 1960s Arab–Israeli enmities had been overshadowed by conflicts in the Arab world and there was limited superpower concern over the region. Israel, which had proved its military superiority in the wars of 1948 and 1956 (Chapters 3, C and 8, C), was the dominant regional power. Despite intermittent (p. 263) Palestinian guerrilla attacks and border clashes with Syria, a nuclear weapons programme was underway and the state seemed secure. The Arabs, on the other hand, appeared increasingly divided. The union of Egypt and Syria into the United Arab Republic had broken down, after less than four years, in September 1961. Iraq had fallen under radical leadership in 1958 but the government faced challenges from the Iraqi communists and supporters of Nasser’s brand of Arab nationalism. In 1963, the secular, leftist-but-nationalist Ba’ath Party took power there; but deep-seated Iraqi–Egyptian rivalry for Arab leadership prevented the two countries working together. The final split between the Syrian and Iraqi sections of the party did not occur until 1966, but different factions in both countries meant that the Ba’ath provided no basis for the creation of Iraqi–Syrian unity. Arab radicals of all factions despised the conservative regimes in Jordan and Saudi Arabia although they failed to undermine them: Jordan survived an attempt by Nasserites to overthrow King Hussein in early 1963; and internal differences among the Saudi royal family were resolved in 1964 when Feisal became King.

When Kennedy became President, the US tried to improve relations with Nasser as a step to building links with radical elements in the Arab world and thereby reducing the opportunities for the Soviets to gain more influence. However, America’s links to Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia put strict limits on such a policy. Moreover, in the 1960s both superpowers increasingly armed their respective clients in the Arab–Israeli conflict. In 1962 Kennedy agreed to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Israel, in the mistaken hope that a more effective defence would no longer require them to develop nuclear weapons. In 1965 Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson decided to supply the Israelis with advanced offensive weapons for the first time. With the Soviets supplying Egypt and Syria well before the 1967 war, ‘the Middle East had already been … integrated into the existing bipolar world order’,17 raising the danger that any local conflict would assume much wider significance.

By the mid-1960s tensions in the region had grown considerably. Most serious was the civil war in Yemen which broke out in September 1962, after radicals under Colonel Abdullah Sallal overthrew the traditionalist government of the Imam, Mohammed Al-Baar. Egypt backed the former, Saudi Arabia the latter. When Egyptian planes attacked the Saudis in 1963 Kennedy was forced to choose between the conservative or radical elements in the Arab world. Despite an attempt by Nasser and Feisal to compose their differences in 1965, neither side would give way and the East–West split was largely replicated in the Middle East. The Western position was weakened in 1966 when Britain announced that, within two years, it would be pulling out of the neighbouring South Arabian Federation, which included the wealthy trading port of Aden. The British were being pressed to withdraw by nationalist groups in Aden, who carried out a terrorist campaign supported by Nasser and Sallal. Indeed, despite the fact that he had already been committed to a costly, deadlocked war for five years without result, Nasser’s hopes of achieving victory once the British left, led him to commit 70,000 troops to the Yemen conflict by 1967.

Other disputes in the region had an Arab–Israeli significance, especially the Jordan waters dispute, a long-standing argument over how to exploit the River Jordan. It had flared up again because an Israeli plan to divert water, for industrial and irrigation purposes was completed in 1964. In January that year Arab leaders gathered together in Cairo, at Nasser’s invitation, agreed on their own plan which would bypass the Israeli construction. Now that the loss of water was deemed to threaten the existence of the Arab nation, they declared that they would together plan the forces that would ultimately lead to the destruction of the state of Israel. Work on the scheme in Syria then led in 1965 and 1966 to Israeli attacks to prevent its completion. This was one of the major points of dispute between the two countries alongside guerrilla attacks within Israel.

The first Arab summit in 1964 was also important for promoting the creation of a political body to head the Palestinians, some of whom were still living within Israel, but many of whom were scattered in refugee camps, particularly in the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip and the Jordanian-controlled West Bank of the River Jordan. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was an Egyptian-backed umbrella organization, resulting from a meeting of 422 delegates in 1964 that resolved to liberate the Palestinian homeland and destroy the Jewish state. Initially led by Ahmed Shukeiri, the PLO, soon suffered from internal conflict, often linked to criticism of its ties with Egypt. Radical Palestinian groups engaged in guerrilla attacks, such as the Palestine Liberation Front, resented the determination of the Egyptian and Jordanian governments to prevent such raids taking place from their (p. 264) territory. (After the Six Day War their leaders would come together under the PLO umbrella and with the Vengeance Youth formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine which was led by George Habash.) At the end of 1964, another group, led by Yasser Arafat, which had contacts with the Palestine Liberation Front, left the PLO and began commando raids against Israel. Known as Al Fatah and formed in the late 1950s, it established a militia al-Asifa (the Storm) whose members received training in Syria. Many of these raids and those of other radical groups were launched from Jordan and their realistic aim was to provoke conflict between Israel and other Arab governments. They were followed by tough Israeli reprisals, culminating in November 1966 when the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) attacked the West Bank towns of Samu, Jimba, and Khirbet Karkay south of Hebron causing 72 casualties. Although the reactions to this may be seen as the start of the road to war, the real problem was the deterioration in Israeli–Syrian relations, where the situation worsened with the seizure of power in February 1966 by a more radical Ba’ath group in Damascus. As the Israeli Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, later wrote: ‘I regarded this Syrian terrorism as an early stage of malignancy. It could not be left alone.’18

The Six Day War

By 1966 the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours increasingly reflected the superpower rivalry for influence in the Middle East. Syria and Egypt were stockpiling arms from the USSR, encouraged by the US government’s firm support for Israel. Khrushchev had visited Cairo in 1964, making Nasser a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, and his successors maintained their support. In the US, Kennedy’s shift to Saudi Arabia in the conflict with Egypt over the Yemen was followed by Johnson severing all aid to Egypt in 1966, giving up on Kennedy’s attempts to improve US–Arab relations. In August 1966 Syrian and Israeli air and ground forces fought a fierce battle in the Galilee area, which contributed to the new regime drawing closer to Egypt and signing a defence pact in November 1966 that was followed by the Israeli attack on Jordan. In turn, Al Fatah raids into Israel were stepped up and the escalating cycle of violence continued into the following year. On 7 April 1967 there was a major border incident in which the Israeli air force attacked Syrian positions on the Golan Heights, shooting down several Soviet-supplied MiGs. In mid-May the Israelis threatened to strike at Damascus. While such statements were not supported by any evidence of troop build-ups, and a UN investigation found no evidence to substantiate these fears, Nasser received information from Soviet intelligence that around 12 Israeli brigades were concentrating on the Syrian border. The events in May mark the time when interpretations became diametrically opposed (see boxed section for radically different interpretations of the war).

The Syrians were blamed by Israeli leaders for mounting a number of terrorist raids on the country. But at least one Jewish historian has argued that ‘Israel’s strategy of escalation on the Syrian front was probably the single most important factor in dragging the Middle East to war … despite the conventional wisdom … that singles out Syrian aggression as the principal cause.’19 The Syrian government, unstable and nervous, continued to fear an attack. Nasser, anxious to be seen to back Syria and reluctant to lose face, mobilized his army on 14 May; and the Soviets, keen not to lose their allies, seemed prepared to support them. One major feature of superpower involvement in the Middle East during the Cold War was ‘the difficulty that the superpowers encountered in controlling the behaviour of their clients. The local powers invariably had their own agenda and they employed various tactics … to mobilize their superpower ally behind this.’20 In 1967, the USSR and US ended up backing their local clients even though there was little desire, in either Moscow or Washington, for an East–West confrontation.

Whenever concerns about Israel grew in the Arab world, Nasser had to consider his reputation as the leading Arab nationalist. The very fact that he had failed to triumph in the Yemen increased the pressure in May 1967 for him to be seen to be supporting Syria. Nasser had two armoured divisions and 300 front-line aircraft, which was what the Israelis feared, and he was generally better equipped than in 1956. On the other hand, there was no logical reason for him to go to war when he had 70,000 men committed to the Yemen quagmire. Yet given the military balance there was a distinct advantage to be had by the side that struck first.

On the 16 May, Nasser declared a state of emergency and asked the UN to withdraw the force which it had installed in Sinai after the 1956 war. Secretary-General U Thant was criticized for agreeing to the withdrawal and pulling UN troops out over the next

(p. 265)

The Pro-Arab and Pro-Israeli Explanations of the Six Day War

The Israeli Version

Israelis point to the first Arab summit in January 1964 and say this strengthened the terrorists who were launching attacks on Israel. The first formal statement of the Arab states’ intention to bring about the destruction of Israel was made in a joint statement at the summit and confirmed by the first Palestinian National Council in early 1964. Guerrilla attacks on Israel, conducted from Syria, emphasized the insecurity of Israeli farmers around the Sea of Galilee. Moreover, with a more radical Ba’athist government in Damascus from February 1966, the support and training given to Palestinian groups operating from Jordan increased. In August 1966, after a fierce skirmish when Israeli forces were attacked around the Sea of Galilee, growing Arab hostility led to Syrian threats to strike targets within Israel. Israel was under siege and its retaliatory raids were failing to provide a deterrent. Its insecurity was heightened in November 1966 by the Egyptian–Syrian mutual defence pact. In April 1967, when the Syrians began shelling Israeli settlements the Israeli air force was called into action and clashed with its Syrian counterpart. It began to look as if Israel was about to face a major military challenge. On 13 May the Soviets falsely claimed that Israeli troops were amassing on the Syrian frontier. When Nasser insisted on the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces from Sinai on 16 May, fears of a major attack appeared to be confirmed. Nasser was keen to respond to the Soviet information designed to lead to Cairo joining with Damascus in a combined assault on Israel. His determination to crush the Israelis was further demonstrated by his blockade of the Straits of Tiran on 23 May after the UN forces had left, which made an Israeli response unavoidable—hence the surprise Israeli attack on Egyptian and Syrian airfields.

The Arab Version

The Arab view of the war’s origins is very different. It says that after 1965, having received offensive arms, the Israelis were determined both to crush Arab resistance to the illegal occupation of Palestine and to ensure that further expansion of the state of Israel took place. With these goals in mind they sought the right moment to seize an opportunity to justify an attack on their Arab neighbours. Their military superiority would be total if an air strike was made in a surprise assault on Arab airfields, which would enable them to exploit the absence of 70,000 Egyptian troops in the Yemen. In 1964 the Israelis were enabled to justify attacks on their neighbours in retaliation against Palestinian freedom fighters, which were far in excess of retaliatory raids and enabled Israeli Defence Forces to undertake operations in preparation for the more serious conflict that was being planned. The Israelis also began to attempt provocative settlements in the Demilitarized Zone bordering Syria. Clashes with Syria became more serious in 1966 as air and ground forces on both sides became involved. In particular, the Israelis tried to prevent Syrians accessing the waters of Lake Galilee from its northern shore, and attacked Arab workers trying to complete works that would regain the vital water of the River Jordan now being used for Israeli irrigation projects. Significant military battles were fought in August 1966 and April 1967. On the latter occasion six Syrian MiGs were shot down by Israeli fighters. Barely a month later, General Rabin announced that it was about time Israeli forces marched on Damascus. When the Soviets confirmed that Israeli troops were amassing on the Syrian border on 12 May, Nasser believed the danger to Syria was so acute that something had to be done to try and deter further Israeli aggression. In an effort to deter the Israelis by aiding the Syrians, which he could barely afford to do with his commitments in the Yemen, Nasser asked for the UN forces to be partially withdrawn, thus exposing part of Israel to attack from Egypt. When the UN insisted that all of its forces or none would have to be withdrawn Nasser reluctantly agreed to the former and then decided to try and regain the Arab position in the Straits of Tiran by closing them to Israel on 23 May. Had the Israelis also been keen to avoid war they would have accepted the troops on the Israeli side of the border. The Arab world now tried to mobilize to deter an Israeli attack on Syria but more hawks came into the government in Tel Aviv. The Arab efforts were therefore in vain and the Israelis launched an unprovoked attack on 5 June.

week. They might, it was argued, have deterred a war if they had remained or if they had been positioned in Israel. But he felt he had no choice: opinion in the UN was divided on the Arab–Israeli issue, the troops were on Egyptian sovereign territory (Israel had refused to have them on its side of the border), and Nasser could easily have used force to remove them. The reality was that neither side was now prepared to have an effective peacekeeping force in place. The UN withdrawal gave Egypt control of the Straits of Tiran, on which Israel relied for access to the Red Sea (since Egypt would not allow Israeli ships through the Suez Canal) and around 23 May, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, provoking international concern. In 1957, in order to secure Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai following the recent war, America had promised to support

(p. 266)

Sithu U Thant (1909–74)

Originally trained as a schoolmaster, U Thant worked for the Burmese government, after the country won independence from Britain in 1948. In 1952 he was a member of Burma’s delegation to the United Nations and, in 1957, became the country’s permanent ambassador to the organization. When Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in an air crash in September 1961, whilst trying to end the Katangan secession in the Congo, U Thant was chosen as successor. Initially appointed only to serve out the remainder of Hammarskjöld’s term of office, U Thant went on to serve as Secretary-General from 3 November 1961 to 31 December 1971, longer than any other twentieth-century incumbent. He was the first representative from the developing world to hold the position and brought to it a self-disciplined and calm, yet realistic approach to international affairs, showing good judgement in a number of difficult situations.

Although the Cold War inevitably restricted the UN’s ability to shape world affairs, U Thant was deeply involved in several crises during his Secretary-Generalship. In the Congo he worked to maintain the country’s unity, secured the final withdrawal of the former colonial power, Belgium, and provided economic aid which prevented a humanitarian disaster so that, when UN forces left in June 1964, the Congo operation could be counted one of their great successes. Meanwhile, during the Cuban missile crisis, he also played a positive, but low-key role in trying to hold down tension. He despatched a peacekeeping force to Cyprus in the summer of 1964, after fighting between the Greek and Turkish communities, and he helped secure a ceasefire in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, flying to the crisis zone in person. But he could do no more than anyone else to bring peace to Vietnam, despite a number of initiatives, and he was heavily criticized in the West in May 1967 for pulling out the UN peacekeeping force in the Sinai desert. Whilst the critics argued that he thereby removed a barrier to conflict, supporters argued that he effectively had no choice, given that UN forces were on Egyptian soil. Whatever the justification for U Thant’s action, he lost standing with the US and Britain, both Security Council members, and played a subsidiary role in world affairs until the end of his term.

Israel’s right to send its own ships through the Straits in future. Now the Americans, who had insufficient forces near the Red Sea, told the Israelis to take no action while they attempted to form an international naval force to fulfil the undertaking, but the scheme came to nothing. The closure of the Straits of Tiran, restoring the 1956 status quo ante the Israeli attack on Egypt, marked the crucial watershed between war and peace.

On 27 May the Israeli government, a coalition led by the distinctly unwarlike Levi Eshkol, voted 9–9 over whether to launch a pre-emptive strike. On 30 May, a dramatic turn of events stemming from King Hussein of Jordan’s visit to Cairo produced a reconciliation between him and Nasser, which even placed the Jordanian army under Egyptian command in the event of war.21 This step, taken out of fear, produced a classic illustration of the security dilemma in that it produced more fear in the adversary. Israeli contacts with the US government suddenly indicated a shift away from urging restraint to diplomatic backing for Israel at the UN and intervention if the Soviets became involved. They coincided with the formation of a national government including the former terrorist and future Prime Minister Menachem Begin, with Moshe Dayan as Defence Minister. With the military determined to launch an attack approved by the new Cabinet on 5 June the Israelis struck. The key to the ensuing, rapid victory was the surprise destruction of the Arab air forces while they were largely still on the ground, which left the Israelis with a marked advantage in reconnaissance, aerial support of ground attacks, and the dropping of paratroops. The USSR must shoulder some of the blame for Arab failures because of their misleading intelligence, and failure to appreciate the consequences of attaching so much importance to assisting the regime in Syria.22 By the morning of 8 June, on the Egyptian front, Israeli forces had reached the Suez Canal, while paratroop and naval forces had captured Sharm el-Sheikh at the bottom of the Straits of Tiran: all the Sinai peninsula was soon in Israeli hands. Meanwhile, 8 June also saw Israeli forces reach the River Jordan, having overrun the whole of the West Bank including the Eastern half of Jerusalem. The victory was completed with an assault, on 9 June, on the Golan Heights, from which the Syrians withdrew the following afternoon.

The Security Council had called for a ceasefire on 6 June and it was accepted by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria on 9 June. Yet the Israeli assault continued with the USSR threatening to review its relations with Tel Aviv and hinted at intervention.23 As the US Sixth Fleet (p. 267) approached, the Washington–Moscow ‘hot line’ was used for the first time in a crisis. A ceasefire was then agreed, which left the Arab armed forces humiliated and the Israelis with new, more defensible military borders that were still short of the original Zionist ideas on the boundaries of a Jewish state. Nasser immediately offered to resign but popular acclamation kept him in power. It was ‘the most spectacular military victory in Israel’s history’,24 greater even than those of 1948 and 1956. The consequences of the war remain central to the future conflict and its resolution in that the Palestinian issue and the extension of Israeli settlement began to emerge as the crux of the dispute.

Aftermath: the ‘War of Attrition’

In the immediate wake of their success, some observers hoped it would be possible to make a trade of ‘land for peace’ quite quickly: Israel would return all or most of the conquered territories in return for Arab recognition of its right to existence and to do so in peace. The closure of the Suez Canal, now the front line between Israel and Egypt, increased international pressures to find a solution. In July 1967 a joint Soviet-American UN proposal proved unacceptable to both sides. An Arab summit the following month agreed neither to recognize, nor to negotiate with, Israel, many Arab states broke off diplomatic relations with America, and there was a short-lived Arab oil boycott of Western pro-Israeli states (a precedent for more dramatic action the next time war occurred). In November a ‘land for peace’ deal did form the essence of a UN Resolution, number 242, which became the basis of all future attempts to achieve an Arab–Israeli settlement (see boxed section). And there were some clandestine Israeli–Jordanian contacts, late in the year, to explore such possibilities. But peace proved impossible to achieve. Israel, believing it had acted in self-defence

UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967

Following long discussions about the Arab–Israeli conflict, the Security Council adopted a British-drafted resolution, the full text of which is given below. Resolution 242 was based around the idea of a ‘land for peace’ arrangement but was carefully worded to try to please all sides. Thus the Israelis were asked to withdraw ‘from territories occupied in the recent conflict’ but not from all the territories—creating a fundamental ambiguity about what a ‘land for peace’ deal might include.

The Security Council

EXPRESSING its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East.

EMPHASIZING the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.

EMPHASIZING further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter.

  1. 1. AFFIRMS that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

    1. (i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

    2. (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;

  2. 2. AFFIRMS further the necessity

    1. (a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

    2. (b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

    3. (c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;

  1. 1. REQUESTS the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;

  2. 2. REQUESTS the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representatives as soon as possible.

(p. 268) and backed by the US, was reluctant to abandon its conquests without the Arabs first guaranteeing the right of Israel to exist. Moreover it, did not wish to give up certain territories, not least East Jerusalem, which held great religious significance for both Muslims and Jews. For their part, the Arabs, backed by the USSR, held Israel guilty of launching an unprovoked attack and continued to refuse to recognize a Jewish state, on what they took to be Arab soil. Thanks to the war, about 250,000 Palestinians fled from the West Bank into Jordan, worsening the problem of refugees from lands that the Arabs considered to be ‘occupied’ by an enemy and increasing the PLO’s moral standing in the Arab world. There was even a far-reaching attempt to settle differences within the Arab camp between radicals and conservatives, in that oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait agreed to provide financial aid to Egypt and Syria in return for Nasser’s withdrawal from the Yemen conflict which, by 1970, was effectively resolved in the Saudis’ favour. International opinion also grew more sympathetic to the Arabs in the late 1960s: ‘Israel fought the Six Day War in a favourable climate of world opinion. Its extension of Israeli sovereignty to Arab Jerusalem, and the picture of poor Arab refugees crossing from the West Bank into Jordan … soon dispelled this.’25

Rather than achieving a peace settlement on the basis of Resolution 242, the next few years in Arab–Israeli relations were characterized by a ‘war of attrition’, between Egypt and Israel in particular. Arguably, it began in October 1967 with the Egyptian sinking of an Israeli ship, the Eilat. It came to include raids, often by Palestinian paramilitary groups, from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. In 1968 the Palestinians also began a series of aircraft hijackings which advertised their cause to the world. In 1968 Al Fatah, the largest of the Palestinian groups and boosted by the so-called Battle of Karameh (Honour) in which they inflicted significant casualties on the IDF, effectively challenged the PLO leadership and transformed the organization into a political front uniting the guerrilla groups bar the PFLP. The following year they won control of the PLO executive committee and the process of unification under Fatah leadership was completed by 1970.26

Across the Suez Canal the war of attrition initially took the form of limited-scale, punitive raids in the form of shelling, bombing, and commando operations, by one side on the other. Once the war was formally declared by Nasser in March 1969 it assumed new dimensions. In December 1969 the American Secretary of State, William Rogers, launched the ‘Rogers Plan’, which was designed to achieve a ceasefire as a prelude to ‘land for peace’ talks. Almost immediately the Israelis rejected the plan and began actively to oppose it. In January 1970 the Israelis tried to use their air superiority to intimidate Egypt by inflicting unacceptable losses on the Egyptian hinterland but Nasser simply secured better air defences from the Soviets, worsening Israel’s aircraft losses. In June Roger launched Plan B which was designed to secure a ceasefire, to gain acceptance of 242, and start negotiations. In August 1970 a ceasefire was finally agreed in the war of attrition on the basis of Rogers B and for a brief moment peace talks seemed possible, spearheaded by the UN’s special envoy Gunnar Jarring. However, once the Egyptians breached the standstill agreement in the ceasefire the Israelis withdrew from the talks. US President, Richard Nixon, let his Secretary of State take responsibility for an initiative that was always likely to fail. Indeed, he even contributed to it by making clear that the Israelis would not be pressured to accept the terms of the original Plan involving a settlement of the refugee problem as well as Israeli withdrawal. Moreover, in September the Arab position was harmed by a civil war in Jordan.

The Jordan Crisis of 1970

Although Jordan had joined in the 1967 war against Israel, the ruler, King Hussein, was a conservative in the Arab camp who retained close links with America and Britain. After the Six Day War, however, Jordan, which already had a substantial Palestinian population, had become the main base of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which favoured a more determined, anti-Israeli policy and hoped for Hussein’s overthrow as a step to radicalizing the Jordanian government. On 1 September 1970 the latest of several assassination attempts on Hussein sparked off several days of fighting between the PLO and the King’s army. This had just begun to die down when, between 6 and 9 September, an extremist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), hijacked four civilian airliners, flew three of them to Amman (Jordan’s capital), and took hundreds of passengers—from an assortment of, mainly Western, nationalities—hostage. The hijackings ended without the widely feared bloodbath: the hijackers won the release of several Palestinian prisoners from Western Europe, the aircraft were blown up and, by the end of (p. 269) the month, all the hostages were released. But the hijack crisis led to a security crackdown on Palestinians living in Israel, to a US naval force being sent to the Lebanese coast, and to a decision by Hussein to force a showdown with the PLO in Jordan.

On 16 September Hussein formed a military government in Amman and the following day civil war broke out with the Palestinians. The royal army had the better of the fighting but on 19–20 September another critical point was reached when neighbouring Syria, sympathetic to the PLO, sent tanks over the border to attack the Jordanians. Hussein was in such difficulties that he told the US and British governments that airstrikes were needed to halt the Syrian advance. The US, reluctant to intervene itself, then encouraged Israel to plan air-raids in support of Hussein. This desperate solution—which in any case had little appeal to Hussein—proved unnecessary, however. Jordanian resistance stiffened; the USSR, fearful of a mounting crisis, urged Syria to back down; and on 23 September Syrian tanks were withdrawn, leaving the PLO to be defeated. For Palestinian radicals the month became known as ‘Black September’. Instead of overthrowing Hussein, he was now as safely in power as ever, and in 1971 the PLO was forced to switch its headquarters to nearby Lebanon. The Jordanian civil war had only served to highlight Arab divisions and weaknesses, with Syria forced into retreat and the humiliating prospect being raised of Israeli military assistance to an Arab government. To make matters worse, September 1970 ended with the sudden death, on the 28th, of Egypt’s President, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

His successor, Anwar Sadat, at first seemed committed to existing policies, whilst the radical cause was strengthened by the coming to power in Syria of a ruthless, determined radical leader, Hafez al-Assad. In April 1971 an attempt to revitalize the Rogers Plan came to nothing. The two sides, armed by the superpowers, seemed as far apart as ever and Arab–Israeli tensions would continue to menace world peace. The Arabs were now in a desperate position after yet more humiliation and division as a result of the Six Day War and there seemed little prospect of persuading the protagonists to make a determined effort at peace.

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1. Frank Niess, A Hemisphere to Itself (Zed Books, London, 1990), 176.

2. Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: the US in Central America (Norton, New York, 2nd edn, 1993), 159.

3. David F. Schmitz, Thank God They’re on our Side: the US and Right-Wing Dictatorships (University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1999), 276–7.

4. Abraham Lowenthal, The Dominican Intervention (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1995), 153.

5. Frank Moya Pons, ‘The Dominican Republic since 1930’, in Leslie Bethell (ed.), The Cambridge History of Latin America, VII (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990), 527.

6. New York Times, 9 May 1965, quoted by Walter LaFeber, op. cit., 158.

7. Joseph S. Tulchin, ‘US Relations with Latin America’, in Warren Cohen and Nancy Tucker (eds), Lyndon Johnson Confronts the World (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1994), 233–4.

8. Nicholas Tarling, The Fall of Imperial Britain in South-East Asia (Oxford University Press, New York, 1993), 201.

9. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore (Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1977), 290.

10. J. D. Legge, Indonesia (Prentice-Hall, Sydney, 1980), 162–3.

11. Robert J. McMahon, The Limits of Empire: the US and South-East Asia since World War II (Columbia University Press, New York, 1999), 123.

12. Stanley Wolpert, Nehru (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996), 466.

13. Altaf Gauhar, Ayub Khan (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1996), 223.

(p. 270) 14. H. W. Brands, The Wages of Globalism (Oxford University Press, New York, 1995), 139.

15. G. W. Choudhury,The Last Days of United Pakistan (Hurst, London, 1974), 231.

16. Surjit Mansingh, India’s Search for Power (Sage, New Delhi, 1984), 223.

17. Bassam Tabi, Conflict and War in the Middle East (Macmillan, London, 1998), 68.

18. Abba Eban, Personal Witness (Putnam, NewYork, 1992), 353.

19. Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (Allen Lane, London, 2000), 235.

20. Yezid Sayigh and Avi Shlaim (eds), The Cold War and the Middle East (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997), 281; Edgar O’Ballance, The Third Arab–Israeli War (Faber, London, 1972), 278.

21. Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1994), 387–97.

22. Avi Shlaim, op. cit., 237.

23. Avi Shlaim, op. cit., 248–9.

24. Ibid., 241.

25. Ritchie Ovendale, The Origins of the Arab–Israeli Wars (Longman, London, 1992), 208.

26. Tessler, op. cit., 425–9.