Rarely does a book come along and offer sensible, practical, factual, and intellectually unbiased overview of a topic as large & complex as US-India relations. Recently, we came across such a book, a book that we urge every interested American & Indian to read & keep on the bookshelf for re-reading.
That book is titled Forged in Crisis – India & the United States Since 1947. It is written by Rudra Chaudhuri, a lecturer in Strategic Studies at the Department of War Studies and the India Institute, King’s College, London.
In our initial review of this book, we present the author’s views of what the book tries to do and what the future holds.
1. The Book’s Title
Contrary to popular belief, Chaudhuri writes:
- “India’s relationship with the US has been the most comprehensive association the country has had since independence… India and the US had long engaged each other in a series of crises that gradually forged a deeper sense for each other’s motivations and aspirations … both sides managed to remain sure-footed but resilient. This resilience was not assembled in a decade or two. It rested on the successes and failures of the past sixty years, programming a degree of trust and a sense for each other into a relationship that was in fact considerably more cooperative than otherwise believed. … This is truly a relationship forged in crisis” [emphasis here & below -all ours]
2. Why this Book?
According to Chaudhuri, “the book makes three contributions to scholarship and policy“:
- “First, it re-tells an important part of the US-India story while challenging present accounts authored by both American and Indian writers.
- “Second, it insists that the conventional binary construction of ideas or interests as driving foreign policy is less than interesting and potentially misleading. Rather, the interrelationship between ideas and interests is a far more illuminating approach to uncovering motivations, and it also helps to answer a rather basic question: exactly what factors shaped, and continue to shape, India’s relationship with the United States?”
- “Third, this books exposes a prevalent myth of malaise in India’s foreign policy bureaucracy. An analysis and assessment of successive crises outlines how and why elites are perhaps far more proactive and even creative than informed outsiders wish to recognize or are willing to accept.”
What did Chaudhuri seek in writing this book?
- “This book has thus sought to adopt a novel approach, rather than one based purely on expediency, in identifying how ideas about statehood intersected with the need for material power, or capabilities.”
Did Chaudhuri succeed? We think so. You will concur if you read this book.
3. Sections of the Book
The first lines of Chaudhuri’s introduction are illuminating:
- “In the early 1950 Chester Bowles volunteered to represent the United States in India. … his choice of India over the Soviet Union, Japan and West Germany, … was baffling”. This, after all, was a country Truman associated with “people sitting on hot coals and bathing in the Ganges” – it was hardly “important” … the United States needed to know India better.”
The book is organized into three sections:
- Section I of the book is titled Negotiating Non-Alignment. It begins with pre-1947 and ends in 1962.
- Section II titled Negotiating Change begins with the panic & trauma of China’s defeat of India in 1962 and ends with the 1971 War for liberation of BanglaDesh & President Nixon’s decision to send the US Sixth Fleet against India.
- Section III titled Negotiating Engagement begins with President Clinton and ends with the Nuclear Deal between India and the US under President Bush.
We intend to review Section III in detail in a subsequent article.
4. The Conclusion
Chaudhuri is very direct about the rhetorical excess of trumpeting an alliance between India & USA:
- 4.1 – “First India will never be an ally of the US. Comparing India to the UK, or even France, is pointless. The UK depends in America for its military and economic freedom. France may have once chosen to slip away from its Cold War security blanket and even oppose a major US-backe intervention in the early part of 2003, but it still remains reliant on American support. The campaign against Libya only demonstrated France’s need for American cover“
At this point, it is important, we think, to recall what Robert Kaplan of Stratfor wrote in his August 2012 article – India’s Riveting Centrality:
- “It is not a matter of what India can do for the United States. … the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of geopolitics in Eurasia in the 21st century. India, in other words, looms as the ultimate pivot state. But the U.S.-India relationship can never be transactional: that is to say, Washington cannot expect New Delhi to equally reciprocate its friendship. … the rise of India, however uneven and admittedly over-hyped, has been the best piece of strategic good luck the United States has had since the end of the Cold War“
The basic message of Chaudhuri’s book is that both America and India understand the importance of their relationship and that’s why it has remained resilient over the past six decades.
But as Chaudhuri warns,
- “Relations between India and the US in the current milieu might not have reached and may never reach a point at which leaders can take the relationship for granted“
The second major point is directly related to what the Obama Administration did in its first term:
- 4.2 “… public pronouncements on the part of any US administration declaring an intention to “solve” the dispute over Kashmir do far more harm than good to both India and Pakistan”
Fortunately and consistent with the resilience of US-India relationship, President Obama put this issue away by declaring in his India trip that “only Indians can determine India’s national interests and how to advance them on the world stage“.
But Chaudhuri’s third point is the most important and most difficult especially for the NeoLib community in the US.
- 4.3a – “India represents and advocates an alternative set of arguments in an international system where the pursuit of foreign policy is increasingly challenged by opposition from within nation-states themselves. … This is most apparent with regard to the issue of international intervention and utility of military force”.
- 4.3b – “The question of humanitarian intervention is one of the most potent matters of interstate argument. India’s active role and determination to temper the anger over the use of force may not satisfy or impress American and even British officials at the UN, but it promises to invite the need for balance in a world in which rebellion and revolt shake and at times displace the very notion of sovereignty”.
This is why, we think, India has become the principal adversary for the NeoLib community in American media, academics & in the Obama Administration. This is one of main reasons for the current downtick in Indo-US relationship, in our opinion.
This brings up a point Chaudhuri calls “not immediately obvious … but … in fact essential“:
- “It is in fact in the interest of the larger international community – including Britain, Japan, and Australia, all of which share particularly close relations with Washington – to keep the fires of arguments between India and the US burning.
Unfortunately, Chaudhuri does not elaborate on this “essential” point. Instead, Chaudhuri points out that these differences have not damaged the underlying momentum in US-India relationship.
- “India’s growing market size, geographical location, spirit for enterprise and well-founded democratic credentials, and America’s ability to convince elites that the once ‘new world’ – as Bowles put it to Truman – has indeed been embraced – an objective Bowles set out in 1951”
The above, as the famous item song of Katrina Kaif says, is “just a trailer“. To get the “full film” effect, read Forged in Crisis.
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Thanks for the book review. Nice to see alternative voices try to explain India’s place in today’s geopolitics. Since you are familiar with Rajiv Malhotra’s views (via books line Beng Different, Breaking India, Indra’s Net etc); I’d like to ask, how if at all, does hie address civilizational worldviews ( and the clashes thereof) that underpin western thought vs the one that (should?) underpin India’s actions on the world stage ?
….. Since if India tailors its policies (foreign & domestic) as it has been for the past few dacades, based on some subset of western views, then it will soon be a notionally independent player, but a sort of intellectual satellite of western powers?
Some insight from the book, if any, or your views, would be appreciated.
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