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The Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan.

When India and Pakistan gained independence, the subcontinent seemed unlikely to become a theater in the Cold War. Officials in Washington noted that the absence of industry, skilled workers, military bases, and raw materials placed both countries on the periphery of U.S. interests, a category including large parts of Africa and Asia but meriting little official attention. A sticky border dispute over Kashmir provided good reasons for allowing Britain to remain the region's outside arbiter. Yet in a little over fifteen years, the United States became the chief supplier of weapons and economic aid to the area, Pakistan's military ally, and, in the eyes of both sides, the villain of the Kashmir dispute. Robert McMahon's sophisticated study explains how, without identifiable goals, American policymakers pursued vague and elusive aspirations, like prestige and a tenuous Northern Tier alliance. In the process, they militarized the subcontinent created opportunities for Soviet and Chinese countermoves, and brought the Cold War to south Asia.

McMahon probes the history of the subcontinent to solve one of the Cold War's great unanswered questions: Why did the United States try to make friends and allies in almost every corner of the globe, and why did it fail so completely? Deadlocked in Europe and in the nuclear race, Eisenhower's aides searched for a political or psychological edge that would allow them to regain the initiative against the Soviets. On this important but vague errand they blundered upon Pakistani leaders who offered friendship and bases close to Soviet soft in return for military aid. McMahon perceptively describes how geopolitical pipedreams blinded U.S. officials to the effects their actions had on the region. Pakistan's internal disorder and military weakness as well as India's size and strength argued against siding with Karachi, but Eisenhower's aides convinced themselves that the Kashmir dispute mattered less - even to south Asians - than the contest between the superpowers. As a result, a border problem that might have been solved in the early 1950s turned into a prolonged military, and recently a nuclear, confrontation.

A persistent failure to recognize either regional imperatives or the potency of nationalist aspirations characterized U.S. policy on the periphery, and accounts for the colossal failure of most foreign aid programs. McMahon explains that not once did policymakers regard aid as a solution to the subcontinents poverty, or even as a means to enhance U.S. prestige. Instead, the timing, quantity, and type of aid were all calibrated to send political messages, to bribe or threaten recipient countries into following the lead of the United States. It had little effect. As the United States poured $12 billion into the subcontinent, India and Pakistan obdurately refused Washington's counsel and devoted more of their own meager resources to the military. Only after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 did President Johnson try to stop the cycle. Based on exacting research, McMahon's conclusions reveal more than the effects of U.S. policy on an important region. In arrogance and fear, U.S. leaders inflicted similar problems on weak nations around the world, and this important study tells us why.

Nick Cullather Indiana University

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Author:Cullather, Nick
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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