ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

US-India Relations during the Cold War

the Cold War Ninan Koshy The United States and India: A History Through Archives explores the relationship of two states, the US and India during the onset of the cold war in the 1950s and 1960s. The narrative is provided by the declassified documents from the US. The editors acknowledge that the narrative is incomplete as they base the history solely on the US documents and the counterpart documents from the Indian side are still locked up under archaic Indian laws.

Economic & Political Weekly EPW november 22, 200847book reviewUS-India Relations during the Cold War Ninan KoshyThe United States and India: A History through Archives, The Formative Years edited by Praveen K Chaudhry and Marta Vanduzer-Snow;Sage, New Delhi, 2008; pp 683, Rs 1,800 (cloth).The United States and India: A History ThroughArchives explores the rela- tionship of two states, the US and India during the onset of the cold war in the 1950s and 1960s. The narrative is provided by the declassified documents from the US. The editors acknowledge that the narrative is incomplete as they base the history solely on the US documents and the counterpart documents from the Indian side are still locked up under archaic Indian laws.In spite of this, there emerges a revealing picture of the US-India relations during the period under review with fascinating and sometimes strange assessments by the US administrations on Indian policies, motiva-tions, problems, people and leaders. These are all viewed primarily through the tinted glasses of the cold war and many conclu-sions arrived at appear unconvincing. Story of DullesAfter a brilliant introduction (chapter 1) by the editors which lucidly surveys the period from the vantage point of the documents, the actual documentation begins in chapter 2. To provide readers an understanding of American foreign policy during the post-war period, the editors document six speeches by John Foster Dulles, all made before he became the secretary of state under the Eisenhower administration. Of course, Dulles was fairly close to the US administration during that time. The think-ing of Dulles substantially contributed to the US policy during the cold war.Dulles affirms that “in human affairs, the non-material or spiritual element is more important than the material” and that “there is a moral or natural law not made by man that determines right and wrong and conforming with this law is in the long run indispensable for human welfare”. Dulles was a participant at the San Francisco Conference which made the Treaty of Peace (with Japan) and says that, “Of the 51 non-communist nations invited to San Francisco no less than 49 accepted and signed the treaty”. One country which re-fused to sign the treaty was India. The au-thors tell the story of Dulles’ interaction with ambassador Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit. “Does your prime minister realise that I have prayed at every stage of this treaty?”, Dulles asked. Pandit was at a loss for words. For India’s leaders this language was unu-sual for intergovernmental dialogue. The authors are understandably critical of the religious language used by Dulles in diplo-matic discourse.It appears that the present leaders of India have no difficulty at all in dealing with a president of the United States who claims he asked god for advice before starting war with Iraq and who describes himself as a “messenger of god” who is do-ing “the lord’s will”. If Dulles’ theology was about the cold war, Bush’s theology is about imperial wars and conquest. To Dulles, his understanding of the threat from the Soviet Union determined his position. “We are marked down for de-struction by those who today control one-third of the world. This is the one fact that should dominate all aspects of our policy.” To him a policy of “containment” was un-acceptable because it was immoral. He called it “non-moral diplomacy”. “Today one-third of the human race is subject to the despotic terrorism of a new Dark Age. It is morally impossible to reconcile ourselves to that as a permanent condition by some ‘deal’ which would confirm that servitude.” He called for the disintegration of the Soviet Union.John Foster Dulles was the son of a Pres-byterian clergyman and grandson of a missionary in India and was steeped in Protestant faith. He was quite active in the church and gave leadership to the Federal Council of Churches of theUS during the post-war period. At the national and inter-national levels of the churches, Dulles played a significant role in formulating “Christian views” on the issues of war and peace. Some commentators speak of an “early Dulles”, generally progressive and liberal, before he became one of the staunchest cold warriors. As the secretary of state, he was convinced of his own right-eousness which coincided naturally with America’s exceptional mission.The documents show that the officials of the US administration differed in as-sessing the Indian policy as well as the Indian positions on crucial international problems. Ambassador Chester Bowles wrote in a letter to the state department, “Let me say in all fairness that I do not feel that the dangers and opportunities of India are sufficiently well understood among high policymakers in Washington”.Intelligence ReportOne chapter is devoted to US documents on Jawaharlal Nehru. The documents show the importance given by the US policymakers in evaluating Nehru. There is a very detailed Intelligence Report on Nehru’s attitude towards communism, the Soviet Union and Communist China (No 6269 Date: July 24, 1953), prepared prior to Nehru’s visit to Washington:The evolution of Jawaharlal Nehru’s think-ing on Communism, as reflected in his writ-ings, speeches and private conversations, has been one of gradual disillusionment. Nehru was too greatly influenced by Eng-lish liberalism and the Gandhian philoso-phy ever to have become a Communist…..Nehru’s admiration for the Soviet Union and its achievements has cooled considera-bly. …However, he is still inclined to search for excuse for Soviet intransigence and to give theUSSR the benefit of doubt in inter-national affairs.On Nehru’s attitude to China the Intel-ligence Report said: Nehru has long believed that the future well-being of Asia depends largely on the
BOOK REVIEWnovember 22, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly48maintenance of cordial relations and a spirit of cooperation between the largest Asian nations, China and India...The Indian Prime Minister has been reluctant to characterise communist China as other than a peaceful nation whose intentions have been misjudged by the West. He has, nevertheless, quietly and systematically strengthened the defences of Indian borders facing Chinese territory.The Intelligence Report examines in some detail Nehru’s attitude towards the US. As early as 1944, Nehru was question-ing whether America might not develop a new kind of imperialism. The report quotes from The Discovery of India. “Whatever the future may lead, it is clear that the economy of the US after the war will be powerfully expansionist and almost explosive. Will this lead to some new kind of imperialism?”. It continues, “One of the major features of Nehru’s foreign policy is his anti-colonialism, and he has sometimes appeared to fear western imperialism, as much as, if not more than that of the USSR”.The attempt to woo Nehru to the Amer-ican side is evident in an incoming tele-gram of the state department from New Delhi dated December 7, 1956: We feel strongly that the “moment of history” has arrived, which if seized and exploited, can give as much firmer anti-communist an anti-red China counterpart in India. We can as it were, redress our emphasis on Europe and on the periphery of Asia by more firmly consolidating our position with Indian land power. We think this should be possible without prejudicing our NATO and other pact relationships. If India were convinced of our interest in seeing her through the criti-cal years ahead, India might be expected to ameliorate some of her objections to Ameri-can policy as regards Pakistan, NATO and the Baghdad Pact. Risks are involved but it ap-pears to us that the risks are greater of losing India through failure to exploit the opportu-nities now presented.Indian Foreign PolicyThe documents on India’s foreign policy also are equally illuminating. The frustra-tion of the US administration in not being able to get India on its side against its cold war targets is evident in these records. A review of the world situation published by the central intelligence agency, published on March 15, 1950 said: The value of South Asia as a bulwark against expanding Asian communism continues tobe impaired both by India’s attitude of detachment toward the problem and by in-stability in the area… Nehru has persisted in his policy of aloofness toward the struggle between the communist bloc and the West.On the Kashmir issue, the documents show that theUS position was in general one of support to Pakistan, relying on UN resolutions and did not concede the legitimacy of accession of Kashmir to the Indian Union. However, from the mid-1950s theUS appeared to be rather cautious in its support to Pakistan. “The US attitude is dictated by the fear of damaging US-Indiarelations which were somewhat improved after Nehru’s visit and by the desire to support Pakistan with whom we are allied”. The documents show that the “UK position is somewhat stronger in support of Pakistan than that of theUS”. They also analyse the differences in the Soviet and Chinese positions on Kashmir concluding that, “the somewhat divergent approaches of the two strongest communist parties on the Kashmir question do not necessarily involve contention between them, capable of creating or exacerbating other frictions”.There is an interesting Intelligence Report of September 23, 1957 on ‘The Indian Intelligentsia, Attitudes and Influence’. It notes that, perhaps the most striking atti-tude of the Indian intelligentsia is the ex-tent to which they have accepted British values as touchstones of progress. It points out that educated Indians are prone to criticise the US for what they consider to be inflexibility in foreign policy, an undue emphasis on military might and means. India and PakistanIn the chapter on ‘India and Pakistan’, the documents justify the US policy in the sub-continent, supporting Pakistan and gener-ally critical of India. The analysis some-times sinks to the level of personal attacks on personalities like V K Krishna Menon. A department of state document on a tele-gram from New Delhi (the US embassy) dated September 19, 1962 said: On Indian side the principal barrier, of course, is Menon, who needs the Kashmir issue as a cat needs a sandbox and who has seen again this year how it can catapult him into popular-ity, eminence and even possibility of power as nothing else. Also, the Prime Minister, while he makes the right noises becomes visibly lethargic when the issue comes up. Officials and sympathetic ministers agree on need of pressing Nehru and bypassing Menon if any-thing is to be accomplished.The introduction contrasts the ideas of freedom projected by the US and India. For the US freedom had to be maintained through a global system of military alli-ances, whereas for newly independent India freedom had to be promoted at home and abroad through peace and justice. The authors point out that, This disjuncture represents one fundamental cause for India-US relations. For India, this matter was central to national security as Pakistan eagerly joined this system of mili-tary alliance. Given the fact that India and Pakistan share a border and conflict, for India and Nehru the US had gone too far. While the US organised much of Asia and west Asia, also known as Middle East, into analliance system against communism, Nehru’s concern and commitment were for countries faced with the challenge of foreign control and development. Nehru stated, “India’s struggle today is part of the great struggle which is going on all over the world for the emancipation of the oppressed”.In an extremely valuable analysis, the editors point out that the US foreign policy internationally was actually the extension and export of a regional model fashioned for Latin America. Latin America, west Asia and the Indian subcontinent repre-sented three central regions for the US during cold war years, each in its own right. A careful look at the framework of US policy shows consistency in objectives. But as it moved across regions, the US facedunanticipated problems and lacking enough historical and even geographical knowledge of particular regions, the security formula of military alliances began to unravel.The editors have to be commended for the careful compilation of documents of a very important period in history when the US emerged as the most powerful nation of the world and as India entered the world stage as a new and important actor. It is en-riched by a clear and critical study of the period in their introduction to the volume. All engaged in the study and analysis of history and international relations owe a debt of gratitude to the editors.Email:

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top