IPI HomeEventsSpeakers EventsGary Bass: Forgotten Genocide May Portend Future Stain on UN Inaction


print print  |  share share back back

Speaker Events - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gary Bass: Forgotten Genocide May Portend Future Stain on UN Inaction

The inability of the United Nations Security Council to halt mass atrocities in East Pakistan some 40 years ago has parallels to current inaction in North Korea, argued Gary Bass, a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, on February 19th. He likened a recent UN report accusing North Korea of crimes against humanity “on a colossal scale” to similar reports in 1971, which detailed a killing campaign that left over 200,000 Bengalis dead.

“When whoever is the equivalent of me 40 years from now writes a book about North Korea, the UN is going to look terrible for this,” said Mr. Bass. “This is going to be a lasting historical stain, what's going on in North Korea right now.”

Mr. Bass appeared at the International Peace Institute to discuss his book The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. The book chronicles atrocities that began March 25, 1971 in Pakistan, then a country of two parts, East and West, separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India. The conflict in East Pakistan eventually led to its independence as the nation of Bangladesh.

Following an election in 1970 that had newly empowered East Pakistan, the military dictatorship in Islamabad launched a campaign of violence against its Bengali citizens in the East—especially targeting Hindus, intellectuals, and elites, explained Mr. Bass.

For almost nine months, with the death toll surging, the Security Council “passes exactly zero resolutions on the killing,” the author said. He added that the United Nations’ unimpressive record on this event was further compromised by the fact that it opposed India’s eventual intervention to stop the killing.

"The UN, faced with mass atrocity, condemns India," he said.

American Collusion

However, The Blood Telegram is not focused on the impotence of the Security Council as much as the complacency and even complicity of the White House, specifically President Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.

At the time, Agha Yahya Khan, the military ruler in Pakistan, was the key communications channel to Mao Zedong for the White House leaders in their secret plan to conduct the dramatic 1972 opening to China.

“The US is supporting the military dictatorship based in Islamabad as it is embarking on this killing campaign," said Mr. Bass. The White House didn’t even ask Islamabad to avoid US weaponry in the mass killings, he added. “So you actually have ‘US-light’ tanks—you have US-made jeeps with US-made machine guns going through the streets of Dhaka," he said.

The author, who culled research from countless hours of the Nixon tapes, said that regarding US military support to Islamabad, Nixon told Kissinger, "’Hell, we've done worse.’"

Archer Blood

Mr. Bass explained that the book’s title refers to a series of cables that protested US inaction sent from the consul in Dhaka: Archer Blood. The consul’s deputy was a man named Killgore and the junior political officer was one Scott Butcher, he added.

“You can't make this stuff up,” he said. “So, you have cables being drafted by Butcher, vetted by Killgore, and signed by Blood."

In response to this dissent, Nixon and Kissinger essentially trashed the consul’s career, he said. “Archer Blood ends up teaching at a college and dies in relative obscurity in 2004,” he added.

Mr. Bass recognized the heroic efforts of the consul and suggested that more buildings be named after Archer Blood.

The author also praised Sydney Schanberg, who was a New York Times correspondent in East Pakistan in 1971. Mr. Bass said he relied greatly on the reporting and interviews with this Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who also attended the event.

In response to a question, Mr. Bass noted that circumstances leading to genocide and US collusion and UN inaction were all embedded in the Cold War. “I think it would have looked profoundly different if it was not; things are much easier after 1989 and the UN system is not as deadlocked as it was at the height of the Cold War," he concluded.

The event was moderated by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.

The Global Observatory

Does Xi Jinping's Visit to India Signal a Shift in Sino-Indian Relations? Q&A with Hardeep Singh Puri
With Chinese President Jinping's first visit to India underway, the former Indian Permanent Representative to the UN discusses the future of Sino-Indian relations.

Key Global Events to Watch in September
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.

The Global Observatory, produced by IPI, provides timely analysis on peace and security issues, interviews with leading policymakers, interactive maps, and more.

Recent Events

September 10, 2014
Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future: The Middle East After 1914
On September 10-11, 2014, the International Peace Institute launched its inaugural meeting at its Middle East Regional Office in Manama, Bahrain titled “Lessons from the Past, Visions for the Future: The Middle East After 1914.”

September 09, 2014
Threats and Opportunities for Energy Sector in West Africa
West African development depends on energy, and that energy depends on stability—this was one of the sentiments repeated during a September 9th expert roundtable held in Paris on the theme of energy and security in West Africa.

September 09, 2014
Preventing Mass Atrocities: Why We Fail, and What Can be Done About It
In the twenty years since the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations system has developed a considerable body of policies, principles, and practices dedicated to the goal of preventing future atrocities.

View More