President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles greeting South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem in Washington D.C., 1957
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

WE HAVE reached a crossroads in Asia, and a sweeping reevaluation of our policies there is no less than essential. Significantly that part of Asia to which we have paid the least attention may hold the key, not only to our own future, but to that of the democratic world. In the vast crescent-shaped area stretching from the Mediterranean, across the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, to Southeast Asia and the South China Sea, live one-third of the world's people. Today they are uneasy and uncommitted, suspicious of the Western democracies, but as yet reluctant to cast in their lot with Moscow or Peking.

Soviet policy-makers have long been convinced that the road to world domination runs through Asia, and that once Asia has fallen, Europe will surely follow. Consequently these 700,000,000 free Asians have always had a high priority in Moscow. It is fortunate for the free world that the early astuteness of the Soviet geopoliticians was not matched by the skill of Soviet tacticians. In 1923 the Comintern mission to Sun Yat-sen's China exhibited a fatal ignorance of the stuff of which Asian revolutions are made, and the subsequent clumsiness of the Soviet during the 1920's and 1930's in dealing with the vast, vulnerable colonial territories of South Asia showed that few lessons had been learned.

It is fair to say that the present robust position of Communism in Asia is due, not to the revolutionary genius of the Soviets, but to that of the Chinese. Communist success is due particularly to Mao Tse-tung, whose grasp of Asian revolutionary forces enabled him to capitalize on the defeat of Japan and the default of Chiang, and thus to forge the People's Republic of China. Although it was Mao who gave world Communism its second chance in Asia, the Soviet Union is now equally awake to the opportunity. Communist leaders have learned that pressure applied in Europe tends to increase the unity of the West, while pressure applied in Asia tends to blow it to smithereens, and Molotov and Chou En-lai have teamed up effectively in bringing this pressure to bear.

Wittingly or not we have made their task substantially easier. For America has countered Communism's far-flung appeal predominantly with military answers. In situations which are largely political and economic, we have too often responded with a barracks-room mind. To hundreds of millions of frustrated and impoverished peoples we have offered counterrevolutions largely devoid of political or ideological content save the idea of armed, single-track, anti-Communism. The consequences have been no less than devastating. Instead of our "taking the initiative" in rolling back Communism in Asia, as we boasted we were doing a few short months ago, Communism itself has steadily improved its position, while that of the United States has deteriorated.

A sober reëxamination of our Asian policy is certainly needed. But a partisan reëxamination that seeks simply to justify the past policies of either Democratic or Republican administrations will get us nowhere. Only if we come to grips with the great economic, political and psychological forces which are shaping Asian events can we evolve a workable approach. I suggest a reappraisal without agony, but with dispassion and clear-headedness, accompanied by an instructive side-glance at the Monroe Doctrine—a crucial American policy decision made when we, like the free nations of Asia, were young, "neutral" and in danger.


A brief review of the geopolitical factors which historically have affected South Asia and the Middle East may help to give us perspective. The Indian subcontinent is a strategic center between two geographic shoulders. Westward is the Middle East, stretching from West Pakistan across Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia to Turkey and the Mediterranean. Eastward are the countries of Southeast Asia, from Burma, Thailand and Indo-China through Malaya and Indonesia. For much of the last 300 years these two shoulders have been power vacuums, lacking the indigenous strength to repel invaders.

The history of Chinese aggression into Southeast Asia is sometimes forgotten. Chinese imperial power for centuries exacted tribute from much of what is now Burma and Indo-China, and Chinese Communist maps today include these areas in "greater China." By the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, the recession of Chinese power had rendered this rich area of Southeast Asia politically weak, and British, French and Dutch colonial power gradually filled the vacuum on a mutually tolerable and profitable basis.

The vacuum of the Middle East, on the other hand, was a continuing source of conflict among the Western Powers. In the late eighteenth century Britain finally won the race for the riches of India. But Britain's position there was under almost constant pressure from Tsarist Russia, whose goal was the establishment of firm, strategic positions on the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf—and eventually in India itself.

The interests of the Russian Communists have matched those of the Tsars. In November 1940, in their secret negotiations with the Nazis, Soviet leaders stated that their "territorial aspirations centered in the direction of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf," and since the war their pressure has continued. In both World War I and World War II the Middle East was likewise a major target of German strategists.

For nearly 200 years British imperial policy was designed to counter such pressures and thus assure the security of India and the stability of South Asia. This policy was directed by a series of skilled colonial administrators, one of the ablest of whom was the Marquess Curzon of Kedleston. In 1892 Lord Curzon outlined the British "containment" program in the following blunt terms: "I should regard the concession by any power of a port on the Persian Gulf to Russia as a deliberate insult to Britain, as a wanton rupture of the status quo, and as an intentional provocation to war."

In those days, as now, firm statements were meaningless unless there was power to back them up. British policy was effective because it was backed by the Indian Army and the British fleet. In World War I, Indian troops were the backbone in Allenby's Mesopotamian campaign. In World War II, with the Gurkhas, they played a major rôle in Montgomery's defense of Suez and his defeat of Rommel's Afrika Korps. In 1941 they blocked a Nazi-organized coup d'état in Iraq. The Indian Army was also the principal power factor in Southeast Asia. The garrison of the great British base at Singapore was principally drawn from India. In 1942 Sikhs, Gurkhas and other units of the Indian Army were in the forefront of the fighting against the Japanese, first in Malaya and later in Burma and Assam.

Today the British are gone from India, and with them has gone the combination of diplomatic firmness backed by strong, readily available forces which, for the benefit of the British Empire, had long provided stability in these two historic power vacuums. When independence came to India in 1947, the Indian Army—the backbone of British policy in Asia—was neutralized. Indeed, with the partition of India and Pakistan, it was split into two rival forces.

Russian pressure, however, has continued to probe towards the Middle East, and since 1950 Chinese pressure has increased sharply in Southeast Asia. British diplomacy, deprived of the support of the Indian Army, has been unable to meet these threats, and the United States has felt forced to take a more vigorous position.

In 1946, through the United Nations, we took the lead in inducing Russia to withdraw from Iran. In 1947, through the Truman Doctrine, we threw our military and economic support behind Greece and Turkey, which were faced with Soviet pressures towards the Mediterranean in the classic pattern of the Tsars. In the last few years we have established a widely-flung ring of air bases stretching from Japan to Morocco, introduced some economic aid, attempted wherever possible—as in Korea and Thailand—to provide military equipment and training for local armies, given massive material support to the French effort to hold Indo-China, and attempted to devise a series of anti-Communist alliances.

Our strategic air bases have strengthened our military posture in the event of World War III. Our plans to establish and train formidable anti-Communist native armies have been successful on the extreme flanks of the South Asian crescent—in Turkey and Formosa. But little progress has been made in creating a defense line in South Asia itself, and our political position has steadily deteriorated. Whatever its compensating advantages, our military assistance to Pakistan has in fact seriously weakened our relations with India and stimulated increased Soviet probing into Afghanistan, traditionally a buffer state in this strategic area. Our air bases have aroused widespread suspicion and resentment among the very people whom we have sought to protect. Our investment of nearly 3 billion dollars in military aid to the French in Indo-China has failed to avert one of the most humiliating defeats in history.

Much of the difficulty we have faced has stemmed from Asian neutralist attitudes which create understandable wonderment among Westerners to whom the objectives of world Communism long have seemed clear beyond all question. This neutralism stems from three sources, and if we are to cope with it successfully it is important that we understand them.

First, most non-Communist Asians are convinced that their greatest danger stems, not from overt aggression from Moscow or Peking, but from Communist subversion feeding on internal economic weaknesses. This leads to extreme concentration on internal affairs.

Second, the free Asians have had a long and bitter experience with Western colonialism, which confuses their relationship with the Western democracies and creates suspicions of Western policy in Asia. Our very efforts to "save" them from Communism lead to resentment against the would-be rescuer.

Third, there is a deep conviction in Asia, as in Europe, that Red China cannot be controlled by Moscow and may eventually develop quite independent policies, provided the door to the outer world is left open.

These beliefs may be wrong, but they are deeply held and they will not lightly be abandoned. If we are to deal effectively with the new free Asia we must start to take them into account. Especially must we burn deep into our consciousness the knowledge that we are not all-powerful, that we often do not have the control over situations that we think we have, and that in many parts of the world our policies at best can have no more than a supporting effect in any situation short of total war.

An American-inspired, American-managed, American-dominated defense program for Asia is a political dead-end. If in the next ten years Southeast Asia and the Middle East remain safe from Communist subversion or attack, it will be largely because the people who live there have finally recognized the essential nature of the Communist threat, and because they have started to take the steps which are essential to stop it. If we are to make a meaningful contribution to this development, we must stop our scolding and come to grips with those indigenous forces, which for better or worse will write the history of this vast and complex area in the coming years.


Historic parallels are often flimsy things. But the comparison is striking between the present-day viewpoint of "neutralist" Asia and the attitudes which shaped our own foreign policy in the last century.

The United States, like the newly-independent nations of Asia, was born in a period of revolutionary upheaval. The year our Constitution went into effect—1789—saw the downfall of the French monarchy. During the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were in full swing. From the earliest period of French revolutionary ascendancy in the 1790's, well-financed French and British agents had worked tirelessly to draw the new North American nation closer to one or the other of the two major orbits of power. Many Americans, like many Indians today, developed sharply opposing viewpoints and accused each other of being foreign puppets.

It was against this background of internal and external pulling and hauling that President Washington delivered his farewell address to the American people on September 19, 1796. The plea that Washington made then for an American policy of neutrality and dynamic independence was strikingly similar to that which Nehru advocates for India today. "Observe good faith and justice towards all nations," said Washington. "Cultivate peace and harmony with all. . . . A passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. . . . Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." A century and a half later, this is precisely the language of the spokesmen of the new Asian nations in New Delhi, Rangoon and Djakarta. And America's exasperated reaction in 1954 is remarkably similar to that of the British, as they struggled to keep Napoleon from conquering half the world.

The period from 1800-1820 continued to show some patterns of political alignment remarkably similar to those of the past twenty years. Europe then, like the world today, exhibited a bi-polar split among the leading Powers and a shifting pattern of alliances. Thus Britain, Russia and their allies coöperated to defeat Napoleon's aggression, just as they and we coöperated to defeat Hitler's in our own time. Analogous, too, was the quick shift in power blocs once the common danger was over. Russia, Britain's leading ally in the Napoleonic Wars, took the postwar leadership of the Holy Alliance coalition against Britain, just as Russia with her satellites and China, following the defeat of Hitler, organized a coalition against the West.

Still anxious to remain aloof from "Europe's quarrels," American policy-makers were confronted with a totally new and unexpected problem in 1814 after the collapse of Napoleon's armies at Waterloo. The people of South America had taken advantage of the conflict in Europe to throw off the colonial domination of Portugal and Spain and to establish independent nations. The United States, which had only recently fought itself free from Britain, looked on these revolutions with favor and gave them both direct and indirect support.

After peace was established, the Spanish and Portuguese, supported by the Holy Alliance of Russia, Prussia and Austria, sought to reimpose their control over the South American states. The British, who had established extensive trade in South American ports previously denied to them by Portugal and Spain, were strongly opposed.

At this time the United States lacked an army of any consequence, and its navy was small. Its moral influence throughout the world, however, was great, much like that of India's today. And just as both blocs in the cold war now seek Indian friendship, so both the Russian-led Holy Alliance and the British Government sought American approval and support in 1820-23. On July 5, 1820, John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, wrote to our Minister at St. Petersburg describing recent advances made by the Russian Minister in Washington. His letter suggests a dilemma similar to the current predicament of South Asian leaders like Nehru:

To stand in firm and cautious independence of all entanglements in the European system [Adams wrote] has become a cardinal point of policy under every administration of government from the peace of 1783 to this day. . . . Yet the difficulties of maintaining our system and the temptations to depart from it increase and multiply. . . . A direct though unofficial application has been made by the present Russian Minister here that the United States should become formal parties to the Holy Alliance. . . .

However, the Tsar's government in 1823 was as offensive to American believers in democracy as its Communist successor is to most of free Asia today. Its proposal was politely but firmly refused, just as the free nations of Asia have thus far declined—too politely in Western eyes—to ally themselves with Communism.

British counter efforts to induce the United States to take a strong position in opposition to the encroachments of the Holy Alliance in South America were even more direct and to the point. On August 20, 1823, the British Foreign Minister, George Canning, wrote a private and confidential letter to the American Minister in London, Richard Rush. In it Canning disclaimed any British desire to interfere with the newly-won independence of the South American states. Then he added: "We could not see any portion of them transferred to any power with indifference. If these opinions are . . . common to your government, why should we hesitate mutually to convey them to each other and to declare them in the face of the world?"

Canning's proposal met with an immediate response in Washington. After consulting Secretary of State Adams, President Monroe sought the advice of all of his living Presidential predecessors. Thomas Jefferson, no friend of England, promptly replied that an agreement with her offered not only the best hope of keeping South America free from European aggression, but of assuring the fundamental premise of American foreign policy, i.e. to keep clear of European wars. John Adams and James Madison agreed.

Monroe and his Secretary of State decided, however, in favor of a unilateral American declaration. In the language of John Quincy Adams' diary: "[This was] a suitable and convenient opportunity for us to take our stand against the Holy Alliance and at the same time to decline the overture of Great Britain. It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war. . . ."

The scars of British colonialism were as fresh for Americans in 1823 as for Indians now, and there was a similar keen awareness of Britain's position as a leading imperial Power. Under these circumstances Adams knew that an alliance between America and Britain, regardless of its purpose, would have created a political explosion throughout the United States. Although America has no colonizing tradition in South Asia, her present world position and her close relationship with her European allies often make her seem the heir of the Western colonial tradition. Nehru knows well that an Indian-American political agreement would create an explosion in India today.

On December 2, 1823, Monroe proposed his famous doctrine as part of his seventh annual message to Congress: "The political system of the allied powers is essentially different . . . from that of America. . . . It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either [American] continent without endangering our peace and happiness. . . . It is equally impossible therefore that we should behold such interposition in any form with indifference." The British, although rebuffed in their proposal that Monroe agree to a bilateral statement of policy towards the South American states, accepted the situation as entirely to their advantage, and Foreign Minister Canning limited himself to a casual reference to it in the House of Commons.

Thus early in its history the United States acted upon a basic axiom of world politics, one we often ignored later on: that neutrality and non-alignment are not achieved for the wishing; and that an ounce of timely, constructive, peaceful involvement may save many times that amount of tragic, bloody involvement later.


There are, of course, many obvious differences between India's position today and that of the United States in 1823. There are also some striking similarities.

South America in 1823, like the Middle East and Southeast Asia today, was a power vacuum attracting like a magnet the ambitions of foreign Powers. The essential question for India and free Asia now is the same as it was for the United States in 1823: how to keep the power struggle from exploding into a world war on its front doorstep where military involvement would become a certainty.

India now, like the United States in 1823, considers herself geographically isolated from the major centers of conflict. India, like the United States in 1823, is deeply impressed with the massive economic problems with which she is confronted, and with her own opportunities for development and advancement. India, like the United States in 1823, is supremely suspicious of colonialism and anxious to support the independence of those nations which seek to throw off colonial domination. India, like the United States in 1823, is convinced that her best hope for peace and growing prosperity is to maintain correct relationships with all Powers and to keep her people from becoming emotionally involved in current struggles.

How far will this parallel hold? Is India today, as was the United States in 1823, aware that an independent position can be maintained only by positive, imaginative action and by the assumption of some clear responsibilities? This may be the most critical question to be asked and answered in the politics of the next decade.

Monroe and Adams knew that any move of the Russians and the Holy Alliance into South America would be vigorously opposed by Britain, and that this would force the United States to take sides. As long as the present power vacuums continue to exist in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Communism will be tempted to fill them, and any overt armed aggression by the Moscow-Peking bloc will be met head-on by the United States even at the risk of a Third World War. Does India see that in the event of such a conflict, so disruptive of her essential sea communications, so very near her own borders, it would be utterly impossible to maintain the neutrality which is now the bedrock of her foreign policy?

Assuming, as we must, that present Indian proclivities toward neutralism are firmly rooted, the only way that India, during the next few years, can remain aloof and neutral from the cold war struggle is to take her share of responsibility in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, just as the United States took responsibility in South America 130 years ago. If India and the other free Asian nations miss this crucial point it will be chiefly because the heritage of colonialism muddies the analogy for them. This can be seen by examining two proposals which call for outside sponsorship of free Asian action—the alternative sponsors being Red China or the United States.

A major objective of present Chinese policy is to establish a "Monroe Doctrine" of her own which would not only break existing ties between the Western democracies and the free nations of South and Southeast Asia but eventually would exclude the West from all of Asia including Japan. If Asia were once properly sealed off from Western influence, China would be in a position to step up her demands on her weaker neighbors, firmly assert her political and military leadership throughout Asia, and ultimately establish complete control from the Arabian Sea to Alaska.

Chou En-lai has been most persuasive in identifying the first step in this process with the historic anti-colonial attitudes which deeply influence even the most anti-Communist Asians. In his discussions with South Asian leaders such as Nehru and U Nu, there has been no strident appeal for militant action. His emphasis has rather been on coexistence, independence and nonaggression—concepts which reflect familiar Asian overtones of nonviolence and peaceful progress.

But as time goes on Chou's anti-colonial appeal may become less and less pertinent. Colonialism is on its deathbed in Asia, and that fact is becoming obvious even to the most bitter anti-Westerner. The débâcle of Indo-China assured the demise of French colonialism there and in the tiny French city states in India. On the basis of their postwar record in India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, we must assume that the British will be prepared to withdraw from Malaya once the guerrillas are under control and a new constitutional framework is established. Presumably similar steps will eventually be taken for Sarawak and British North Borneo.

Save for the British bases in Singapore and Hong Kong, only a few tidbits of European colonialism will remain in Asia: the Portuguese in Goa, Timor and Macao; and the Dutch in Irian or Dutch West New Guinea. The insignificance of these lingering colonial outposts suggests that a Chinese-inspired "Monroe Doctrine," directed against the fancied menace of Western colonialism, will carry less and less conviction in the coming years. As long as the leadership of South Asia remains democratic, Chou En-lai's efforts to isolate Asia from the West will face formidable obstacles.

Even now it would be a mistake to consider the recent Indian-Chinese agreements in New Delhi as anything like a sweeping Communist victory. The Chou En-lai-Nehru statement issued in July proposed that the recent Indian-Chinese treaty on Tibet serve as a model for all of Asia. The preamble of this treaty lays down five principles for friendly relations: mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual nonaggression; mutual noninterference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful coexistence.

The Indians cannot be unaware that China violated all five of these principles in taking over Tibet in 1951. Nor has anyone suggested that India has ever failed to live up to them in her conduct toward China. If their restatement now by Chou and Nehru means anything, it is a Chinese pledge to start living up to ideals blatantly and recently violated by the Chinese themselves. The Indians on their part are obviously hoping, as we of the West so futilely hoped in the years following the war, that the Communist tiger, its appetite satisfied, will settle down to peace and harmony.

Arguments from Western sources, no matter how logical, will have little effect in persuading the skeptical Asians that they are hoping for the impossible. Only hard, bitter experience with broken Communist promises is likely to disillusion them.

For this reason the agreement between Nehru and Chou En-lai, instead of promoting closer Chinese-Indian relations, may prove to do the opposite. In any case it provides a clear test of Chinese intentions. If the Chinese follow the example of the Soviet Union in the 1920's and 1930's, and decide temporarily to relax their pressure and consolidate their revolution, India and other free Asian nations will be given a badly needed breathing spell in which to put their own economic and political houses in order. If, as seems more likely, China disregards her new promises and embarks either directly or indirectly on further expansion, the real nature of Chinese Communism will become obvious to many Asians for the first time.

Such a development, following Chou's commitments in New Delhi and Rangoon, may provide free Asia with the kind of initial, psychological shock that the Communist coup d'état in Czechoslovakia and the death of Jan Masaryk gave the West in 1948. Should that happen, the Communist partnership would have exposed itself for all Asia to see: a new "unholy alliance," seeking to impose its own brand of imperial domination and slavery.

If for these reasons a "Chou En-lai Doctrine" may lack solid, lasting appeal for free Asians, a "Dulles Doctrine" is likely to be equally unappealing. In his address to the House of the People in New Delhi on April 24, 1954, Nehru castigated American "statements which came near to assuming protection, or declaring a kind of Monroe Doctrine, unilaterally over the countries of Southeast Asia." As this is written we have yet to see how the eight-Power discussions in Manila may develop, but a defense system in Asia not supported by the Colombo Powers is a limited military expedient carrying obvious political liabilities.

It is possible, however, that India and her non-Communist neighbors may eventually decide to play an independent rôle in helping to fill the vacuums of the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Because the Indo-China situation was then at the crisis point, the Ceylon Conference in late April, attended by the Prime Ministers of India, Ceylon, Pakistan, Burma and Indonesia, received far less attention in the West than it deserved. During the coming years these five "Colombo Powers," with populations totalling one-fourth of mankind, have three courses of action theoretically open to them:

At one extreme, four of them could follow the example of the other—Pakistan—and abandon their present independent policies, joining the Western democracies in a defense pact frankly supported by Western military power.

At the other extreme, they could associate with Red China in the kind of "Asia-for-the-Asians" coexistence advocated by Chou.

Or, finally, they could adopt a kind of Monroe Doctrine of their own. While refusing to join a Western-supported military pact, they could sense the likelihood of future Chinese pressure, at a time and place of Mao Tse-tung's own choosing, and announce their determination vigorously to oppose any future aggression in South Asia from any source.

In the foreseeable future it would be wishful thinking to assume that the first course of action is a practical possibility. Whether we like it or not, India, for one, is no more willing now to become a "cockboat" in the wake of the American "man of war" than the United States was willing to adopt that relationship to the British in 1823.

If we continue to concentrate on military measures in Asia, and largely to ignore the economic and political forces making history there, the second alternative—the most unpleasant one for us—may become the most likely of the three.

But the third, which in the present complex situation offers the most practical hope for stability in Asia, is by no means out of the question.

The Ceylon conference was a good beginning. After meeting at Colombo and Kandy, the five Prime Ministers affirmed "their faith in democracy and democratic institutions" and declared "their unshakable determination to resist interference in the affairs of their countries by external, Communist, anti-Communist or other agencies." This can scarcely be termed a ringing pledge to oppose Communist aggression at any cost. Some Americans, insistent on all-or-nothing alliances and forgetful of our own early, supersensitive, colonial-conscious days, may also be irritated at the reference to anti-Communist agencies as a potential source of interference. But if the Colombo-Kandy declaration contains the germ of a future genuine and indigenous Monroe Doctrine we should remember our own history and be reassured.

India, of course, is the key to the situation. How far would she actually go in opposing a clear-cut Communist advance in Asia? As things stand now, no one, probably including the Indians themselves, really knows. India has demonstrated her determination to crush internal Communist subversion. If any enemy, Communist or otherwise, should attack her, India would certainly defend herself. India has left no doubt that she would also defend her neighbor, Nepal, and the tiny Himalayan principalities of Bhutan and Sikkim on her northern boundary. In case of a Chinese Communist attack on Burma, it is almost certain that India would support immediate counteraction through the United Nations.

Would India, together with her neighbors, offer a similar support to Thailand? Would she guarantee the boundaries of a free Laos and Cambodia? In the wake of the Indo-Chinese truce, the answers to these questions remain in doubt. This doubt would have to be removed if the declaration by India and her neighbors of a Monroe Doctrine for Asia were to be meaningful.

In the Middle East, India's position is even more obscure. Two years ago India showed deep, although private, concern about the weakness of the Iranian government in the face of Soviet intrigues through the Tudeh party. India has also been uneasy over growing Soviet activities in Afghanistan. India's eventual position on all these matters may well be decisive. If she remains unwilling to take a clear public position the danger of further Communist aggression may be increased.

The Ceylon Conference made one thing clear. Although President Monroe could act unilaterally, without undue concern for the feelings of his wobbly neighbors in South America, Nehru cannot issue a unilateral "Nehru Doctrine" without risking the resentment of his proud neighbors in South Asia. An indigenous Asian Monroe Doctrine to be effective would have to be worked out on a multilateral basis, and this involves additional questions.

Among these countries the lack of homogeneity and a common background of joint action are all too obvious. Furthermore, there are the delicate relations between India and Pakistan to be considered. Unless these two nations can at least bring their foreign policies into closer alignment, it is difficult to see how an effective indigenous South Asia defense program can develop.

Even if this hurdle is surmounted, those who still consider national effectiveness solely in terms of air power and armored divisions will question the military and political impact of a warning to potential intruders by the nations of South Asia. Yet the Indian subcontinent offers a potential source of military manpower which would not be lightly regarded by either Peking or Moscow. It would be clear to Communist policy-makers that in the event of a war growing out of Communist aggression in Asia, a Monroe Doctrine proposed by the free Asian nations would have the support of Western air and naval power, just as our own 1823 policy had the unspoken support of the British fleet.

It would be a grave mistake, moreover, to underestimate the moral weight that newly-independent nations carry among hundreds of millions of uncommitted people in Asia, Africa and South America. A statement by Nehru and his fellow Prime Ministers that further armed aggression in Asia would meet all-out opposition would immeasurably strengthen the forces of democracy throughout the world.


We face an inescapable predicament in Asia. We have been lavish with our expenditures of money, military equipment, earnestness and good will. But we have failed to build an effective American-directed, anti-Communist front, and our failure has been greatest in the crucially important crescent of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The reason for this failure is that our objective lies outside the range of political possibility. The lesson that we should learn is not that the Asians are ingrates or pro-Communist, but that American direction of an anti-Communist front is precisely what those countries will not permit. Further efforts along these lines are doomed to fail. With each failure our position and prestige will be gravely weakened, and we shall move closer to self-isolation.

The obstacles to an indigenous Monroe Doctrine for free Asia are clear, numerous and formidable. It would be folly to predict whether, when and how such an approach may come into being. But if there is to be stability, there are no practical alternatives for the long haul, and we may hope that conditions themselves will argue persuasively for timely action. We do know that no such program will spring full-blown from the head of Zeus. Like all deep-rooted policies, it will develop out of a culmination of various ingredients of attitude, sympathy, choice, personality and power.

Recognizing this, Americans would do well to submerge their craving for easy answers. There is none in Asia. Our realization of this essential fact has been clouded by the comparative success we have had in Europe with a series of specific measures: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and NATO. Much of our present frustration about Asia stems from the popular belief that our difficulties there must flow from the failure of our statesmen to be patriotic or clever enough to produce similar neatly packaged solutions.

But we delude ourselves if we think that the many-times more manifold problems of free Asia can be forced into a predetermined, European-tested mold. There is nothing simple or short-term about Asia, and the sooner we start to devote some dedicated attention to a longer view, the better will be our chances of contributing to the peace and stability which we so earnestly seek.

The first and most basic essential is that we accommodate ourselves to the mainstream of Asian attitudes, and that we work to establish genuine relationships with Asian peoples that will allow us to talk meaningfully to them, and they to us.

The ultimate objective is the development of free, confident, dynamic new nations between the Mediterranean and the South China Sea. Whether the Communist timetable will allow for such a development is itself open to question despite what many free Asian leaders seem to think. Thus the ability of these nations to develop may in turn depend upon their awareness of their own mutual danger, and a common propulsion to play out the critical rôles assigned them by history—regardless of what they think of America and the West. The United States cannot create these conditions in Asia or anywhere else. They must grow—of themselves and by themselves. The most that we can do is to aid their growth by friendly and unobtrusive encouragement and support.

Recognition of these facts requires a far-reaching reorientation of our Asian policies. Yet the time is favorable for reorientation, because the disaster of Vietnam has divulged the hopelessness of our recent policies for all the world to see. What are the broad outlines of a new Asian policy that would take these lessons to heart?

We should maintain ample and adaptable military power, including orthodox weapons, and we should be prepared to use it against overt aggression. At the same time we should refrain from bomb-rattling, and from reckless public statements that frighten our friends and potential friends but rarely impress our enemies.

We should stand firm in Korea and on Formosa against further Communist encroachment; but at the same time we should recognize that we cannot base our Asian policies on two nations whose combined population of 35,000,000 amounts to less than 3 percent of all Asia. Syngman Rhee and Chiang Kai-shek have resisted Communism bravely, but they are almost totally out of touch with the mood of modern Asia, and most Asians and Europeans as well believe they are itching to start a Third World War.

We should adopt a clear, convincing and responsible position against vestigial colonialism wherever it remains. To continue to sacrifice our moral position for a doubtful strengthening of relations with our European allies is a bad bargain.

We should decisively increase our emphasis on Point Four assistance without strings and with a larger proportion spent through the United Nations. Steady economic progress in free Asia is of the essence.

We should carry through on President Eisenhower's atomic pool proposals, and plan to offer atomic energy to all free, friendly nations, as a peaceful resource for the development of their economies, regardless of Russian policy.

We should encourage, rather than fret over, the tentative steps Asian governments are beginning to take for renewed mutual discussion and benefit—like the recent talks in Ceylon. If an indigenous Asian Monroe Doctrine grows out of such discussions, we should be mature enough to welcome it.

We should be in the forefront supporting Asian nations for positions of responsibility in the U.N. and at important international conferences, rather than appearing to block them at every turn. In the long run we would gain much more in respect than we would lose in votes on particular issues.

We should recognize the fact that a dynamic Japan must soon find a new place in Asia and that the only questions are where and how. Agreements anywhere in Asia that ignore the existence of 80,000,000 hard-working, highly industrialized Japanese may prove to have been built on sand. In Europe we have long since crossed this bridge in our relations with West Germany.

We should anticipate the possible future rivalries between the Soviet Union and Red China, and courageously resist domestic political pressures that would make it impossible for us to capitalize on them.

Such an approach to Asia will call for more tact and humility, and fewer doctrinaire assertions, than we have exhibited in recent months. It may come easier if we will recognize that democratic progress in Asia in the next decade will not be made by dramatic and spectacular moves on our part. It will come through the kind of continued steady, indigenous development that India and Burma have had within the last few years.

Once we seek the success of these countries as the most promising means to stability in Asia certain other things will at once begin to happen. We will cease our own compulsion to chalk up every incident as plus or minus on the big cold war scoreboard. We will not lose our perspective when Chou pays a state visit to New Delhi or when Nehru plans a trip to Peking. We will at long last be thinking and acting positively, instead of reacting hypnotically to the moves of the Communists. We will once again be in tune with the aspirations of free people everywhere.

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  • CHESTER BOWLES is the former Ambassador to India; former Governor of Connecticut and Chairman of the Economic Stabilization Board; author of Ambassador's Report.
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