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Indo American Relations Cold War Crisis History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016


This extended essay deals with the Indo-American relationship during the Cold War. It deals with India’s foreign policies and its direct effect on the U.S. The foreign policies implemented by India during the Cold War deteriorated its relationship with America by increasing political and social tensions. This investigation will deal with the outcomes of India’s foreign policies and will continue to answer the question: To what extent did the foreign policies implemented by India deteriorate social and political relations with the U.S during the Cold war?

The scope of this assessment is restricted between the years of 1947-1979. It will analyze the negative effects of India’s foreign policies on the Indo-American relationship. In order to conduct this investigation, America’s retaliation policies will be analyzed as well. India’s relationship with other countries such as Pakistan and the Soviet Union will be mentioned only if relevant to the Indo-American relationship. The policies of countries such as Pakistan and the Soviet Union will not be evaluated. Sources by Kissinger, Christover Van Hollen, Sumit Ganguly, as well as Srinivas Chary will be used to enhance this essay.

At the end of this investigation, it will be clear that India’s foreign policies were the direct cause of the cold relationship between India and America. It will be proven that India’s policies caused tensions to rise between the two nations, ultimately leading to the worst point in Indo-American history.


Benito Mussolini once said “O con noi o contro di noi” translated in English to “You’re either with us or against us”. His statement reverberated through the decades, and remained relevant in the foreign policy of the nations entangled in the Cold War. Shortly after gaining independence in 1947, India was amidst a brewing Cold War between capitalism and socialism, the U.S and the Soviet Union. India being a new nation, implemented a number of foreign policies to increase its image on the world stage. This essay will investigate the extent to which the foreign policies implemented by India deteriorated social and political relations with the U.S during the Cold War. Initially this essay will analyze the negative effects of India’s “Nonalignment movement” on the relationship between the two countries. Furthermore, the Indo-Soviet Treaty of 1971 implemented by Indira Gandhi, led to political complications between the presidents and further deteriorated conditions between the nations. Finally India’s “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” of 1974 did not aid in improving relations with America but instead allowed for social tensions to rise between the countries. The foreign policies implemented by India during the Cold War allowed political and social tensions to increase between India and the U.S.

This paper will investigate foreign policies adopted by India, as well as some foreign policies adopted by America. The views of the presidents will be evaluated in relation to the foreign policies and their effects. This essay will mention other significant nations to the relationship between India and the U.S, but will not discuss their foreign policies. This essay will only mention events prior to 1947 for historical background, but will not analyze the relationship between India and America prior to it. Events after the year 1979 will not be analyzed as well.

A variety of sources and historians with different views and backgrounds were used to aid this investigation. One of the sources is The Eagle and the Peacock: U.S. Foreign Policy toward India since Independence, by Srinivas M. Chary. The other source is THE TRANSFORMATION OF U.S.-INDIA RELATIONS: An Explanation for the Rapprochement and Prospects for the Future by Sumit Ganguly and Paul Kapur.

Historical Context

India’s relationship with the United States on a grand scale can be seen as a strategic necessity for both nations, initially tracing all the way back to the late 18th century. In 1794, the Jay’s Treaty (of 1794) was signed between America and England; this treaty authorized trade between America and India. [1] The American Mahratta Mission was set up in 1815, missionary activists provided help by establishing schools and providing food to the poverty-stricken areas. “The number of missionaries in India rose from 139 in 1885 to 2478 in 1922.” [2] During the late 19th century to mid 20th century the bond between the two nations improved, in Stephen P Hay’s words “The writings of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and of the Sanskritists Hopkins, Lanman and Whitney helped instill in 19th century Americans a respect for India’s cultural heritage.” [3] In 1893, Swami Vivek Anands words “My brothers and sisters of America” earned him respect and applause from the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. [4] In WWII Britain allowed Americans to use India as a base of operations against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbour. India received many American products during wartime through America’s Lend-Lease program, India also provided goods to America “in pursuance of its reciprocal-aid program.” [5] During the 1946 Food Famine in India Americans formed the India Famine Emergency Committee(IFEC) with Pearl S. Buck as chairperson “in order to achieve acceptance of the principle of equity in relief shipments to Europe and Asia and to ensure the allocation of needed supplies to India by the United States.” [6] 

America after ww2 was in an active Cold War with the Soviet Unions. Americans were against Communism, which the Soviets strongly preached. Hence they came up with the policy of containment [7] in order to prevent the spread of Communism. India being a relatively new country in 1947 surrounded by Communist nations, spread fear for in America. Therefore to stop the spread of Communism, America got itself involved in the events happening in South Asia during the Cold War, which led to many complications.

Argument 1:

Initially the relationship between America and India continued to thrive even after India’s independence on August 15th 1947. Harry S. Truman, the President of America at that time, sent a telegram to India which stated, “I earnestly hope that our friendship will in future, as in the past, continue to be expressed in close and fruitful cooperation in international undertakings and in cordiality in our relations one with the other.” [8] In response to the telegram, The Prime Minister of India responded by saying, ” May I also say that all of us in India know very well, although it might not be so known in public, what great interest President Roosevelt had in our country’s freedom and how he exercised his great influence to that end.” [9] This strong relationship was short-lived, as the Cold War brought differences in the nations’ policies that caused them to drift apart. After gaining independence on August 15th 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of India and viewed a future for India as one of world powers. To pursue his dream he believed that India should adopt a non-alignment policy. A non-alignment policy keeps a nation from having a political or military alliance with any major super power, this later came to be known as the Non-aligned movement in 1961 which grouped nations which had adopted the non-alignment policy. On December 4th 1947 Nehru declared, “We have proclaimed during this past year that we will not attach ourselves to any particular group. That has nothing to do with neutrality or anything else or passivity. If there is a big war, there is no particular reason why we should jump into it. Nevertheless, it is a little difficult nowadays in world wars to be neutral. . . . We are not going to join a war if we can help it and we are going to join the side which is to our interest when the choice comes to it.” [10] Jawaharlal Nehru was a prominent advocate of this movement. American’s were disappointed by this decision of India, as they felt they were a relatively new and weak country, they also feared that they can be influenced by the Communist countries around them. [11] India’s neighbours were China and the Soviet Union, who were both followers of communism, the U.S feared that the distance between India and the other two nations was much closer than India and the U.S, which would cause India to look at the Soviets or the Chinese for political or economical assistance.

The annexation of Kashmir took place in 1947 by Pakistan. Kashmir then relied on India to get rid of the Pakistani raiders from Kashmir on the condition that Kashmir becomes Indian Territory. After successfully driving away most of the Pakistani raiders the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took this issue to the United Nations (U.N.) on January 1st 1948. At the U.N. the United States were unwilling to declare Pakistan the aggressor despite its attack on a neutral nation, which was now a part of India, the decision of the United States was highly criticized in India. [12] America understood the significance of Pakistan to its strategic plans of planting military bases around the Communist nations. Pakistan permitted Washington to have a military base in Pakistan to eavesdrop on the Soviets, Pakistanis in return received considerable economic and military assistance from the Americans [13] . Geographically, Pakistan was closer to the Communist nations of China and the Soviet Union than America itself, having military bases in Pakistan would reduce the threat of Communism taking over South Asia. The Americans trusted Pakistan rather than India due to Pakistan supporting America’s containment policy. Pakistan participated in programs such as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), both these organizations were anti-communist military alliances. Hence it became interested in helping Pakistan in the affairs of Kashmir during the direct negotiations between India and Pakistan (1953-1956). [14] Also during the negotiations, the U.S granted Pakistan military aid. [15] This stopped the negotiations for a while, and made it clear that U.S was not looking for a solution to the Kashmir issue which favoured India. Instead America proposed a plebiscite to be taken which was opposed by India. During the Kashmir issue, the Soviet Union supported India and vetoed the decision for the plebiscite on June 22nd 1962. [16] The U.S now felt that the Indian policy of non-alignment was not being upheld, and India was leaning toward the Russians, they were threatened by the shift in sides. The U.S press criticized the Indian’s for the stalemate over the Kashmir issue publishing an editorial in The New York Tribune entitled “India Hides behind Russia’s Veto”, which put the entire blame on India for stalling the decision to be made on the future of Kashmir. [17] The fight for Kashmir was not over yet, in 1965 a war was fought between India and Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir, this was also called the Second Kashmir war, the first happening in 1947. During this war, Pakistan was armed by American weapons. Pakistan liberally used weapons including Sabre Jets and Panton Tanks which were provided by America. [18] Though Pakistan initiated the war of 1965, the U.S again never admitted to Pakistan being the aggressor, and on the other hand it blamed both India and Pakistan of weapon misuse. [19] Although eventually the war was lost by Pakistan, suspicions increased amongst Indian citizens over the supply of American weapons to Pakistan. M. Srinivas Chary, a professor at the New School University for Social Research in New York City, who has attained a Ph.D from Kansas State University, states that the war of 1965 reduced the hopes of an improvement between Indo-American relationships. [20] 

India’s affinity of the Soviet Union was not only due to strategic reasons, but as well as subjective preferences. Russia’s economic success impressed India’s Prime Minister who had socialist tendencies, he also resented America’s free-market capitalism. [21] Nehru believed that the key to gaining economic success was by eliminating the difference between the rich and the poor by socialist methods, and that capitalism does not achieve that goal [22] . India’s relationship with the Soviet Union strengthened when they sided with the Soviets over controversial issues such as the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979, India denied that “Eastern Bloc’s military capabilities endangered Western Europe.” [23] Therefore India’s “non-aligned” frustrated the Americans and became a nuisance as they criticized the Indian government for siding with the Soviets in significant ways. India’s co-operation with the Soviets was perceived by Americans as an attempt to undermine their power. [24] India’s support of America’s arch rival, Soviet Union, and America’s support of India’s arch-rival, Pakistan increased social tensions between the countries and instilled fear in the citizens against each other. The non-alignment policy of India initiated a cat and mouse game between the two nations throughout the majority of the Cold War.

Argument 2:

The Indo-Soviet treaty of “Peace, Friendship and Co-operation implemented by Indira Gandhi in 1971 allowed political tensions to reach a maximum between America and India. The Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei A. Gromyko, flew to New Delhi on August 8th 1971 to meet India’s minister for External Affairs, Swam Singh. Together the next day they signed a twenty year pact of “Peace, Friendship and Co-operation.” [25] This treaty brought India and the Soviet Union closer than ever, and pushed India and America further apart, the two countries promised to aid each other in the event of a perceived military threat. [26] The treaty proposed that India and the Soviets maintain contacts on major global issues, and take effective steps in order to keep peace and security of both the countries, and to develop friendship and good-neighbourly relations with each other [27] . The pact was strong enough in deterring any country to declare war on either Russia or India. This was the biggest deviation from India’s non-alignment policies of 1947. M Srinivas Chary believes that this treaty ended India’s non-alignment movement completely. Americans criticized the Indian Government and felt threatened by the Indians being friendly with the Soviets. The Nixon government felt that this policy endangered the subcontinent of a future warzone. [28] To the Indian government the U.S appeared to be strongly linked with China and Pakistan, whereas for the American government, India was evidently associated with the Soviet Union. [29] Nixon’s policy of the Sino-American rapprochement, and America’s assistance of Pakistan in the past, made India suspicious, whereas the Indo-Soviet treaty of 1971 got America worried. Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India at that time confirmed that the non-alignment policy was still intact, and the treaty was in accordance with the non-alignment policy. [30] In November 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi traveled to Washington to ask for the assistance of the U.S government, for the necessities of the refugees who had come to India from East Pakistan [31] . Indira Gandhi attempted to persuade Nixon that India was trying its best possible to not engage in a war with Pakistan. At the same time the burden of caring for 9.6 million refugees was more than India could bear. [32] Nixon gave her a cold reception. According to Kissinger the conversations between Nixon and Indira Gandhi turned into “a classic dialogue of the deaf.” [33] The two leaders failed to listen to one another “not because they did not understand each other but because they understood each other too well.” [34] After the unsuccessful meeting with Indira Gandhi, President Richard Nixon stated “We really slobbered over the old witch” his national security advisor Henry Kissinger responded saying “The Indians are bastards anyway…they are starting a war there.” Nixon responded saying, “While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted too. She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn’t give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she’s got to go to war.” [35] Nixon’s use of inappropriate language toward a prime minister portrays the amount of hate and political tension between the two nations. Instead of solving a looming war in South Asia, Nixon sanctioned a $40 million parcel of weapons to Islamabad, this allowed for political tensions to rise between the two presidents, Srinivas Chary criticizes Nixon for being prejudiced against India. [36] Indira Gandhi’s plea for help was unheard of, and Nixons’ decision to help arm Pakistan was seen as a direct insult to the Indian government. [37] Nixon was ready to engage in a war with India indirectly, the political and social tensions reached a maximum by the end of 1971. Henry Kissinger commented that Ms. Gandhi and Nixon would never be congenial, he stated “Her assumption of almost hereditary moral superiority and her moody silence brought out all of Nixon’s latest insecurities. Her bearing toward Nixon combined a disdain for a symbol of capitalism quite fashionable in developing countries with a hint that the obnoxious things she heard about the President from her intellectual friends could not all be untrue. Nixon’s comments after meetings with her were not always printable.” [38] Senator Kennedy criticized Nixon and Kissinger for their actions toward India he states “We have made her [India] the scapegoat of our frustrations and failures and often the bankruptcy of our policy toward Pakistan.” [39] In spite of the criticism Nixon was persistent with his pro-Pakistani policy. Nixon was unwilling to better the relationship with India due to his paranoia of communism taking over South Asia. As the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 drew closer, the tensions increased between the two nations.

While the Soviets were on India’s side of the war, Pakistan had America. The dramatic and highly controversial dispatch of the nuclear-powered carrier U.S.S. Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal further damaged the U.S. relationship with India. [40] The Americans publicized that this action was taken in order to ensure the safe evacuation of Americans in East Pakistan. But the real motive was to indicate U.S. concern regarding the continued integrity of Pakistan. Kissinger, in his book the White House Years, declared that the motivation was to give emphasis to “our warnings against an attack on West Pakistan and to have forces in place in case the Soviet Union pressured China.” The task force did not enter the Bay of Bengal until mid-December. [41] By this point in time Americans who persisted on parting from East Pakistan had been evacuated, and the Indo-Pakistan war was coming to an end. The task force never came close to the shores of East Bengal. In the words of Christopher Van Hollen, deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs in 1971: “There is no indication that the Enterprise deployment had any immediate political or military impact of events in South Asia ” [42] .The Enterprise affair led to aggressive demonstrations against Nixon in India. It marked the low point of Indo-American relations and the scars formed never left the minds of the Indian’s. For the first time many Indians saw the United States as a major hazard to the safety of India because the dispatch of Enterprise might “escalate a local war into a much larger and more serious conflagration.” [43] Nixon’s policies during the conflict had little effect on the result, although they did contribute to create a good deal of bitterness and alarm in India, the United States, and elsewhere. It exacerbated the strained U.S. relations with India, the Soviet Union, and even Pakistan, for the latter had expected far more from the task force than a temporary show of force in the Bay of Bengal. In conclusion, the Enterprise sent in to the Bay of Bengal only managed to place distrust and anger in the minds of the Indians.

Argument 3

The strained relationship between America and India declined even further due to India’s “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” in 1974. Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India in 1966, work began on the nuclear program. [44] On 7 September 1972, Indira Gandhi authorized the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to manufacture a nuclear device and prepare it for a test. [45] Finally on May 18th of 1974, Indira Gandhi gave a green signal and India conducted an underground “peaceful nuclear explosion” in a Rajasthan desert, unofficially codenamed “Smiling Buddha” (Pokhran-I). [46] This was India’s first nuclear test and was received with immediate disapproval by the American government especially since it provided India with heavy water. [47] The Soviet Union on the other hand kept quiet on the matter.

The Nuclear test by India was not at all viewed as peaceful by the Americans. They were worried of India becoming a threat, as it was the first country out of the Security Council to conduct a Nuclear Explosion. In retaliation to the test performed by India, America stopped providing enriched Uranium for the Tarapore Plant, as provided under the bilateral agreement of 1963. In 1975 America lifted a 10 year old arms embargo against the sale of lethal weapons to South Asia. [48] This increased suspicion and doubt in the minds of the Indians, as they believed America might again start supplying weapons to India’s sworn nemesis, Pakistan. The Indians feared of an incident such as the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 again. The Americans on the other hand were outraged by India’s nuclear test; they were threatened by the actions of India and wanted to be prepared in case of any emergency. Due to this policy by the Americans, the Indians had cancelled the scheduled meeting of its External Affairs Minister to the U.S. [49] A chance of improving the relationship between America and India was lost due to India’s nuclear policy.

Following India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” America decided to make South Asia a part of its “Non-proliferation” efforts, a non proliferation treaty is a treaty which prevents the spread of Nuclear weapons and promotes the use of peaceful nuclear energy. It did this by creating legislation such as the 1978 Nuclear Nonproliferation Act, the Pressler Amendment, and the Symington Amendment; these were created in order to prevent India from getting Nuclear Weapons. [50] In India, the people highly criticized this policy of the Americans. It was viewed as hypocritical and discriminatory. India questioned that if nuclear deterrence was working in the West, why could it not work in South Asia. [51] Nuclear deterrence is a military doctrine that deters the use of nuclear weapons as long as it can be destroyed. India found it unfair that while other countries were conducting nuclear tests, including America, why its nuclear test was looked down upon. It was so deeply resented that even 20 years after in 1998, the foreign minister of India, Jaswant Singh, marked the 1978 Nuclear Proliferation treaty “nuclear apartheid.” [52] 


India’s foreign policies from1947 through 1979 deteriorated Indo-American relations by increasing political and social tensions. Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist ideology and non-alignment movement initiated the downhill path for the relations between the two nations. The Indo-Soviet treaty of “Peace, Friendship and Co-operation” in 1971 led to political tensions between the Indira Gandhi and Richard Nixon. India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion caused further complications as it increased social tensions as well as political tensions between the two nations. My enemies enemy is my friend is a quote by Sun Tzu is a concept which is clearly reflected throughout India’s relationship with America during the Cold War.

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