Indian Foreign Policy: Non Alignment in the Midst of the Cold War

Indian Foreign Policy: Non Alignment in the midst of the Cold War At the onset of the cold war, the world was rapidly developing into two hostile camps, one dominated by the west – most particularly by the US – and the other by the USSR. The two superpowers differed only by ideology, the US with capitalism and the USSR with communism, but both sought to aggressively spread their ideologies and expand their spheres of influence to other sovereign nations. No means was spared in this expansion, the use of military force, moral and economic pressure and security blocs were all commonly used to subjugate other nations.

After World War Two, Europe was sufficiently polarized, any further expansion along the preset borders of East and West would have most certainly ended with war, a scenario none of the two camps wanted considering the continent was already ravaged by five long and bloody years of war. With no further expansion possible, the super powers turned their eyes on the newly formed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

These newly independent countries were long dominated by the colonial rule of Europe, leaving them impoverished and susceptible to outside influence in the hopes of eliminating their economic burdens.

But many rejected the pressure to choose sides in the US-USSR competition. In 1955, at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, dozens of Third World governments committed to stay out of the Cold War. The consensus reached at the Bandung Conference concluded with the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961.

Get quality help now
Writer Lyla

Proficient in: Cold War

5 (876)

“ Have been using her for a while and please believe when I tell you, she never fail. Thanks Writer Lyla you are indeed awesome ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Non Alignment stands for “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics. Of these countries that follow the doctrine of non-alignment India is of great importance not only because it spearheaded non-alignment but because non alignment was deeply etched into its foreign policy more than a decade earlier on the eve of its independence. India like many other third world countries shared the same common history of domination and subjugation by an imperial power, because of that India was under colonial rule and struggled to gain her freedom. Furthermore, like those countries both the US and USSR vied to incorporate it into their pheres of influence. however according to the ideology of Non Alignment, India worked to distance itself in a way that would not let her be dominated by any one of the superpowers while still maintaining friendly relations and complete autonomy. Throughout the cold war India’s decision to remain non-aligned in her dealings with the US and USSR proved to be an effective technique in maintaining her independence and freedom while at the same time strengthening and/or maintaining her national security.

Nonalignment had its origins in India’s ancient history, colonial experience and the nonviolent Indian independence struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. Years of harsh British Rule left India resolute to not be dominated by any foreign power either politically by Cold War blocs or economically by US capitalism or Soviet communism. The concept of non-alignment stems forth from the cultural and philosophical history of the India . Historically India has always had a diverse background, and has been the meeting point for many different people’s cultures and religions.

Because of this; diversity, cooperation and tolerance has become the central philosophy of every Indian and leaves no room for absolutes and extremes but rather a golden middle path of compromises and tolerance. Naturally expanding this view to the power struggle between the US and USSR it makes sense that India rejects the ideologies of both powers and seeks a sustainable middle ground between the two. Indian non alignment was heavily influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi during India’s independence struggle.

His philosophy of truth and non-violence and his techniques of nonviolent non-cooperation resonates within the doctrine of non-alignment itself. Though non-alignment may not be an invention of Gandhi, it does carry three notable trademarks that bear resemblance to the teachings of his. Firstly it is born of morality; in that Gandhi’s struggle for freedom was a moral one . Secondly it is completely transparent, in that Gandhi’s struggle was completely open, and where even disobedience (although peaceful) was never kept in secret.

Thirdly it maintains peace by refraining from evil, in that Gandhi never refused to hold out a hand of friendship for anyone even for those who opposed him. According to S. B Jain “A moral tone, a friendly but fearless approach, a polite but firm refusal to submit to evil with a temper of peace and a spirit of cooperation – all these were the legacies of the Gandhian Age and they were bound to be projected in India’s policies. ” After India gained independence from British rule, Jawaharlal Nehru and his Congress party came into power, and openly laid down the principles of non-alignment for the first time.

Nehru talked about the independent approach which was needed to be taken by India, an approach towards international problems, self-development that would be free from outside interference, whether from allies or enemies. He spoke of non-alignment as the next step in war of liberation against the evils of imperialism and colonialism, followed by a stage of complete economic freedom. This doctrine was ingrained into the Indian National Congress, which became the first political organization to adopt the ideology of non-alignment.

The term “Non-Alignment” itself was conceived by Jawaharlal Nehru himself during his speech in 1954 at the Colombo conference, Sri Lanka to five other newly independent Asian countries. In his speech, Nehru defined Panchsheel “the five pillars” as the founding principles for economic cooperation and mutual assistance between countries . Later on these principles would serve as the foundation of the Non-Aligned Movement. The five principles were: 1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty 2. Mutual non-aggression 3.

Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs 4. Equality and mutual benefit 5. Peaceful co-existence The principles of nonalignment, as spoken by Nehru and his successors, were the conservancy of India’s freedom of action through refusal to align India with any military bloc or alliance, especially those led by the US or the USSR. Throughout the cold war Indian national security and non-alignment faced many challenges. Both the US and the USSR vied to bring India into their sphere of influence at one point or another through various situations.

We will discuss the events of these situations and how they developed to see if India did indeed maintain its policy of non-alignment and whether or not non-alignment ensured a beneficial result. The first major threat to Indian national interests was the retaliation of the superpowers towards India’s policy of non-alignment and the exporting of the non-alignment ideology to other parts of the world. India being a country which recently gained independence from colonial rule was susceptible to “spill-over effects” of the cold war. Other countries like India in the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America were equally susceptible.

The vacuum left by their former colonial rulers could easily have been replaced by the domination of one of the two superpowers. This would effectively eliminate any newly gained political freedoms and territorial independence, and form them into military blocs therefore creating new fronts in the cold war. Jawaharlal Nehru the first prime minister of India foresaw this situation, and therefore made it paramount in Indian foreign policy to contain the effects of the Cold war to already present boundaries and to maintain a “non-aligned area of peace” in those newly formed countries.

The main principle behind this policy was the justification that an alliance with a much larger power be it the US or the USSR would result in complete suppression to the will and policy of the larger country. Nehru even stated: “Non-alignment has become a summary description of this policy of friendship toward all nations, uncompromised by adherence to any military pacts. This was not due to any indifference to issues that arose, but rather to a desire to judge them for ourselves, in full freedom and without any preconceived partisan bias.

It implied, basically, a conviction that good and evil are mixed up in this world, that the nations cannot be divided into sheep and goats, to be condemned or approved accordingly, and that if we were to join one military group rather than the other it was liable to increase and not diminish the risk of a major clash between them. ” The containment of the “spill-over effects” from the cold war was hence a major target of Indian foreign policy. The outcome of this strategy of containing the cold war by spreading non-alignment was a huge success.

From 1947 to 1964 the majority of newly independent third world countries in Asia and Africa had adopted the values of non-alignment and sought to stay out of the cold war. Hence Indian non-alignment, improved relations with the third world and placed it in a prime leadership role for the developing world. The export of the values of non-alignment also helped limit the spread of the cold war and improve international security as a result. Early on India decided not to interfere in cold war politics for fear of giving up its neutrality and turn South Asia into a new cold war front.

But during the Korean war of 1953. India chose to voice her opinion in the UN Security Council in defense of South Korea another third world country. This proved to be a challenging issue for India’s stance of non-alignment as the United Nations was clearly dominated by the US – nearly 90% of all army personnel, 93% of all air power and 86% of all naval power for the Korean War had come from America . If unconditional support was given to UN action against North Korea then India would be seen as a puppet for the west, thereby bringing the cold war to South Asia.

On the other hand if India sympathized with North Korea and rigidly opposed the UN resolution she may be seen as being aligned with the communist bloc, thereby also bringing the cold war into South Asia. As a member of the UN commission on Korea and also a non-permanent member of the Security Council India was committed to the UN resolutions. Therefore the situation required very skillful diplomacy on the part of India to avoid being drawn into the cold war. In June of 1950 India voted for the resolution naming North Korea as the aggressor, which drew condemnation from the soviet bloc.

Skillfully India later also endorsed the inclusion of China as a permanent member into the Security Council instead of Taiwan and a commencement of direct negotiations between China, USSR and the US. India also opposed the crossing of the 38th parallel border by UN troops and subsequently did not condemn china after it retaliated on the side of North Korea. This later stance drew lots of skepticism from the west of India harboring communist sympathies. One of the major victories of India’s non-alignment was using it against the cold war powers to keep them at bay, by threatening to move in the direction of alignment on either side.

Yet in the end because of such a policy taken by India to support either the west or the communists depending on the circumstances helped her to remain non-aligned and not be forced into the cold war, therefore maintaining her security and national interests, while at the same time increasing relations with the cold war powers. The second major obstacle to Indian security and national interests was the aggressive position taken by its neighbor Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After the first Indo-Pak War in 1947, Kashmir was split between the two countries, with roughly two fifths going to Pakistan and the remaining three fifths including the most populous and fertile areas going to India. Struggle for Kashmir remained a priority for both countries and resulted in three more wars. Prior to 1954 India could have tackled the Pakistani military threat, as India could have fielded a much larger military force against Pakistan. But After 1954 there was a shift in Pakistan’s military alignment away from on-aligned to a policy that was more in tune with the west most particularly with the US. In February 1954, the U. S. administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the decision to provide arms to Pakistan and subsequent induction of Pakistan into the SEATO and CENTO military blocs . These agreements assured Pakistan the supply of sophisticated military hardware and economic aid. As a result of this alliance with the superpower, Pakistan effectively brought the cold war to the door step of India and any further action on the case of Kashmir would have the backing of the US behind Pakistan.

This was an enormous concern for India as Pakistan was now in more commanding position over Kashmir and the influx of aid both military and economic exasperated the situation even more. In keeping with doctrine, regardless of the aggravation of Pakistan, India was committed to non-alignment. Instead of seeking the aid of the Soviet Union to counter the influence of the US and effectively negate any Pakistani advantage, India chose to maintain her course of non-alignment so as to save the south asian region from becoming a cold war front.

To counter Pakistan’s enhanced military threat, India developed capabilities against Pakistan that would prevent any technological disparity from proving fatal. This can clearly be seen in that Pakistan even with the economic and military backing of the US, couldn’t achieve her goals of complete Kashmiri control and is still maintains the border drawn up after the Indo-Pak war of 1947. Pakistan hoped that an alliance with a superpower would give her an edge over India and reform the geo-political inequality between the two countries.

But she underestimated India’s ability to “operationalize” her non-alignment policy in a way to counteract Pakistani and indirect American aggression. Therefore the fact that India remained non-aligned never compromised her national security and effectively worked to not aggravate already high tensions with Pakistan and turn the subcontinent into another cold war front. The third major threat to Indian national security emanated from India’s eastern neighbor China.

China and India both were relatively new countries in Asia, and had a relatively calm past prior to 1959. The policy maintained by the new Indian government was that of maintaining friendly relations with China. India was among the first nations to grant diplomatic recognition to the newly-created PRC and even fighting for Chinese introduction into the UN Security Council. This changed however as the border disputes between the two countries grew worse, and was further aggravated by Indian political involvement with Tibet.

On 20 October 1962 the People’s republic of China launched a 2 pronged attack on India. China repelled back the unprepared and ineffectually led Indian army to just outside the Assam plains in the northeast border and occupied various strategic locations within the Ladakh province along the northern border in Kashmir. Subsequently China declared a cease-fire on 21 November of that same year and immediately withdrew its forces to twenty kilometers behind the line of actual control thereby giving up a large portion of captured territory.

After the war relations between the two countries deteriorated further during the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s with frequent border skirmishes taking place within the Sikhim region of India. China continued an active campaign to spread anti India propaganda through northeastern India and supplied ideological and financial assistance to dissident groups within those areas. China also accused India of providing assistance to the Khampa rebels in Tibet. Despite the loss suffered against China, India gained many benefits from the 1962 conflict.

War with China did give India a wakeup call to India’s territorial security and placed a major effort in addressing the serious weaknesses in her armed forces. Over the next few years India’s efforts to improve her military position considerably boosted her army’s capabilities and readiness. Over the next few years India increased her military manpower, doubling it within two years. The war with china also united the country as never before with the popular masses supporting the government against that backstabbing of china.

India also acquired 32,000 square miles of disputed territory along the north east frontier area (NEFA) with China. India had avoided international alignments; by asking for help during the war, India demonstrated her willingness to accept military aid from several sectors and not just one specific military bloc. The threat to India’s non alignment didn’t come from the initial confrontation with China, as India sought aid both military and financially, not from anyone military bloc but from all who would provide it with aid.

The threat came from the aftermath of the war, with the strengthening of Chinese-Pakistani ties and the loosening of US hostility towards China after the Sino-Soviet rift. Pakistan, having also fought a war with India sought to further strengthen itself so as to wrestle Kashmir out of the passion of India. The alliance with the US not proving its worth on the issue of Kashmir, Pakistan looked to China to meet its goals. During the war with china, India received massive amount of financial and military aid in excess of $200 million in military aid and $2. 5 billion in economic aid from the US.

This utterly troubled Pakistan as the aid could be used to threaten Pakistan’s security in future conflicts. The issue of aid was so strong that Pakistan even threatened to leave both CENTO and SEATO (US military blocs in the Middle East and south Asia) if the aid wasn’t stopped and, declared that the massive Western aid to India in the Sino-Indian conflict would be considered and hostile act against Pakistan. As a result Pakistan made further efforts to improve its relations with China so as to offset the Indian aid advantage and provide a better position in the Kashmir dispute.

The following year, China and Pakistan peacefully settled border disputes in the Kashmir region and in 1963 finalized the China-Pakistan Border Treaty, along with trade, commercial, and barter treaties. On 2 March 1963, Pakistan even conceded its northern claim in northern Kashmir to China in favor of a more southerly boundary along the Karakoram Range. This single act angered India, as it considers the border treaty largely illegitimate as it claims to the entire Kashmir region as its own, therefore giving no right of Pakistan to concede any occupied territory to china.

After the Sino-Indo war relations between Pakistan and china strengthened, and India faced a major threat along its northern borders with both china and Pakistan who have both previously shown military aggression. However even face with such a threat India still remained committed to its policy of non-alignment, this has once again proved to be successful because even with Pakistan’s alliance with China, it has failed to achieve its goals regarding Kashmir. The fourth unfavorable threat to India’s security came as a direct consequence of the third on a more global scale.

During the time of the Sino-Indo war relations between China and the USSR have slowly been declining resulting in the Sino-Soviet rift. This coupled with increasingly friendly US gestures towards china pressed the USSR to seek relations with India. Furthermore the same China-Pak-US relations isolated India and led it to seek relations with the USSR so as to counteract the growing threat. Before this relations between India and the superpowers remained casual, although more favor was shown to the USSR as their policies never clashed unlike with the US. Initially Soviet attitudes towards India were ambivalent if not hostile.

It was generally viewed within the USSR that India was a pro capitalist, colonial country with western alignments. This impression may have been formed, judging by India’s colonial past, India’s democratic system of government, it’s decision to voluntarily remain within the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly the British Commonwealth), and it’s criticisms of activities of communist political parties within its borders. Between 1947 and 1949 Soviet diplomatic attitudes were far from friendly, the extent to which this is seen is the fact that major Russian newspapers didn’t even bother to acknowledge the Independence of India.

Soviet Interest in the South Asia region was also minimal, as soviet foreign policy deemed neighboring communist countries in Europe more important than non-communist countries elsewhere. Never the less India remained steadfast with her policy of non-alignment and didn’t let soviet hostility affect her decisions. Indian opinion on foreign affairs remained non-aligned, government criticism of communist activity within the country wasn’t silenced nor was India’s economic and military dependence on the west affected.

The first turning point of Indian Soviet relations came during the Korean War with skillful handling of the peace issue by Indian diplomats as discussed earlier. Nehru’s peace initiative on the Korean War was very well received in the USSR, and unlike previously was prominently covered by all the national newspapers. Once the ceasefire resolution was completed, and discussion within the UN general assembly began, further Indian participation was heavily opposed by the US while at the same time drew overwhelming support from the USSR.

Following this initial foray into indo-soviet relations, in 1953 there strong indicators that the USSR was ready to develop further relations with India. The USSR took the initiative in endorsing India’s policy of non-alignment which at the time was spreading to the newly independent countries in Africa and Asia. In another move to improve relations and recognition of India on the world stage, the USSR invited India to participate in certain issues at the Security Council, like Korea, Indo-China relations or disarmament, however this was opposed by the US and subsequently rejected.

On issue of Indian national security when dealing with Kashmir and the liberation of Goa, the USSR voiced its support in favor of India much to the annoyance of the US. Also at the time India’s condemnation of the English, French and Israeli action against Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1956, it’s disapproval of Belgian intervention in Congo during 1960 and it’s negative stance taken against the US during the 1961 Bay of Pigs incident drew favor in the USSR.

During this time Indian Soviet relations grew substantially, but in accordance with non-alignment the Soviets were kept at bay just enough to entice the Americans to develop its relations with India. This policy of non-alignment served India’s interest best as it forced the US to solidify its alliance with Pakistan at the risk of losing diplomatic relations with India to its rival the USSR. This would have intron resulted in the cooling down of tensions within the subcontinent. Initially the US showed much goodwill towards the newly independent democratic nation.

Politicians from both countries looked forward to a great friendship between the two countries; after all they were both the two biggest democracies in the world. But this was never meant to be, when it came to foreign policy making India and the US differed greatly. While US policymaker’s proliferated military alliances and pacts and emphasized their opposition to communism, India maintained a policy of strict non-alignment and the principle of coexistence between various political and ideological systems.

This quickly put both countries at ends when it came to issues of containment and non-alignment. US military aid and defense packs against the Soviet Union and China came in direct conflict with India’s notion of maintaining and area of peace within South Asia free from cold war rivalries . What aggravated the situation even more was the fact that US arms supplied to Pakistan, intended for use in containing the soviets, was blatantly used against India during the indo-pack war of 1965.

The war resulted from the still disputed territory of Kashmir, on this delicate issue the US and India locked horns only until the 1972 Shimla agreement where the US promoted bilateral talks between India and Pakistan did they cooperate. On the issue of the Goan liberation by Indian armed forces in 1961 the United States along with the United Kingdom proposed a UN resolution condemning the invasion in the Security Council, but it was vetoed by the USSR. As a result of this the US cut the sale of supersonic Sabre jets to India.

Even during the Bangladesh crisis of 1974, the US was openly friendly towards Pakistan even after the discovery of the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army against the people of Bangladesh. Over all India US relations have been inimical, when it came to politics and diplomacy the regional interests of India clashed with the global interests of the US, but politics aside on the economic front the US has provided 56. 5 percent of the total aid received by to India between 1951 and 1971.

Despite the strained relations between India and the US during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation, $1. 8 billion of Indian debt was written off by the US as debt repayment. Unfortunately despite major cooperation on the economic front, very little of this cooperation seeped into the diplomatic side of the relationship, and India US relations remained cold until much later in the cold war. Indira Gandhi sums up Indian feelings towards the US. “Our relations with the United States started off rather well…However, this phase was short lived.

With the rise of the United States to the dominant world position, Washington’s concern and respect for the national independence of India receded into the background. Everything was viewed solely in the context of checking communism. India was regarded with disapproval and resentment because of her independent policy. This could not but affect the bilateral relations between India and America. Despite fluctuations of mood, our relationship as a whole has been uneasy over a long period of time. To our grave concern, US policy as it developed impinged seriously on our vital interests. In the end the confrontation between the United States desires to combat communism globally directly clashed with India’s desire to create a regional area of non-aligned nations within South Asia. Ironically both nations followed their policies in the hopes of strengthening their national security and safe guarding national interests. The late 1960s saw an intense transformation in foreign relation of the US and the USSR in relation to India. After the ideological rift between the soviets and the Chinese, the US sought to improve diplomatic relations with China hoping to gain a tactical advantage in Asia, further isolating the USSR.

This improved relations between the US and China, however it also isolated India, as now it was surrounded by two hostile nations being backed by the US. This push factor from the impending threat of American backed hostile countries on India’s borders and the pull factor of the USSR seeking relations within Asia to counter the threat of China and the US saw the two nations engage in deep international relations. Deteriorating relations with the US and the threat of Pakistan and China forced India into the situation of signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation in August of 1971 with the Soviet Union.

The treaty was largely criticized by the rest of the world as going against India’s core policy of non-alignment. However I feel that this is gross misunderstanding of the treaty after close analysis Articles 8, 9, and 10 states both India and the Soviet Union should “to abstain from providing any assistance to any third party that engages in armed conflict with the other”, Furthermore “in the event of either party being subjected to an attack or threat thereof . . . to immediately enter into mutual consultations” so as to end the confrontation .

These 3 Articles have been the ones to have garnered most criticisms for the Treaty saying that they cause India to reverse its policy of non-alignment. Nowhere in the treaty does it say that help must be provided to the other in the case of a military confrontation, unlike many of the other cold war defense pacts at the time . Also on the contrary if a military confrontation does occur, immediate consultations should begin to end the dispute, in other words the treat stressed dialogue as a means to end military dispute another huge difference from other defense pacts at the time.

Also looking at article 4 which states “India respects the peace-loving policy of the USSR aimed at strengthening friendship and co-operation with all nations…. The USSR respects India’s policy of non-alignment and reaffirms that this policy constitutes an important factor in the maintenance of universal peace and international security and in the lessening of tensions in the world. ” Shows us the true intentions of this treaty. Rather than being a military defense pact this was a treaty to promote a peaceful relationship between the two nations so maintain world peace.

Also note that the USSR acknowledges and recognizes India’s commitment to non-alignment further proof India never turned its back to non-alignment when it’s signed the treaty of friendship with the soviets. The friendship treaty also never compromised the important principles of Indian foreign policy and non-alignment. Each foreign policy decision was taken on a merit by merit basis with Indian national interests at mind; if an issue of importance had little to do with national interests then world interests would govern decisions. Indira Gandhi made it clear that the Soviet Union would not receive any special privileges.

This is clearly seen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when Indian diplomats circumvented denouncing language and resolutions that would antagonize the Soviet Union and stall a political resolution of the issue. Instead India called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and immediate negotiation to commence between involved and concerned parties. During private meetings between the two countries, Indira Gandhi also privately pressed harder for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and for the restoration of Afghanistan’s traditional nonalignment and independence.

By repeatedly stressing the nonexclusive nature of its relationship with the Soviet Union, as seen by remaining true to its foreign policy of non-alignment, India kept the path open for stabilizing relations with China and improving its ties with the US. India in the end benefited from the treaty of friendship with the soviets her independence was never compromised by the treat nor was her national interests. On the security front, India was not in a situation to ward of the combined trilateral threat of China, Pakistan and the US, considering the defeat at the hands of China at 1962.

The treaty of friendship insured Soviet help in any confrontation (not necessarily military) and effectively pressured China to not engage in any military dispute with India. This could be seen at the time when the Soviet Union came to support the Indian position on Bangladesh in 1971 and because the treaty acted as a deterrent to China. So in conclusion India’s policy to adopt Non-Alignment proved to be very successful. All throughout the cold war non-alignment turned unfavorable situations in to favorable one, like in the case of disseminating the ideology to newly independent countries which helped stop the spread of the cold war.

Even in military disputes India’s policy proved beneficial, India’s resolution to not give in to a military bloc in the hopes of warding off the threat proved invaluable as the cold war never fully entered into the subcontinent. India’s success at non-alignment can clearly be seen in the present, as it maintains friendly relations with both the US and the rest of the west while also remaining friendly wit

Cite this page

Indian Foreign Policy: Non Alignment in the Midst of the Cold War. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

Indian Foreign Policy: Non Alignment in the Midst of the Cold War
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7