US & South Asia, Comparative analysis of the US foreign policy towards South Asia during and after the Cold war

The history of world politics delineates the Hobbesian state of nature about the international structure of conducting relationship between states and individuals. An international system, even in the age of globalization and rapidly-increasing interdependence, seems to be as anarchic as it used to be before the institutionalization of international relations with the advent of League of Nations. Historical trends manifest that in international relations, there are neither permanent friends nor foes; the only permanent thing is one’s national interests. Before the World War II, both the US and the Soviet Union were on same page as regards fighting the common enemy but as soon as the goal was achieved, their confrontation became inevitable.

It is commonly believed that foreign policies are formulated to address the foreign challenges of respective time but I think foreign policies are meant to serve the policies at home. The Marshall Plan, offered to the Western Europe, was not proposed on humanitarian grounds but actually meant at the spread of capitalist structure of market economy and above all to counterbalance the influence of Communism in the region.

The US cold war policies towards South Asia were full of complexities and multifaceted strategies. Before the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Pak-US military alliance was thriving and was largely believed to assist and secure Pakistan against any Indian aggression. Staying neutral during Indo-Pak war, the US proved that the alliance was only to promote American interest in the region.

In the post-1962 scenario, the changing alliance system made US review its policies towards South Asia. The escalating Sino-Soviet tension and shift in China’s attitude towards US to balance the Soviet threat was one of the most important developments of that time. Deng’s open door policy was indeed a vibrant economic policy decision.

The 70s witnessed a number of events that baffled the US policy-makers. The 1979-Iranian Revolution was a nightmare for them. Another rocking event took place when the Brezhnev Doctrine was materialized with the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. At this point, the capitalist US couldn’t tolerate expansion of the communist sphere of influence in the entire belt ranging from south towards the Southeast Asia and in part of Middle East. Pakistan’s strategic location was once again in the eyes of the US and Pakistan was again put to the front in a war to subdue the rising communist threat. The combatants were trained and Pakistan was heavily funded in order to fight a war that was actually a confrontation of two superpowers. This exemplifies how foreign aid serves to extend one’s political interest.

With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and emergence of the US as the sole superpower, world saw a transition from bipolar to a unipolar world. The ‘evil empire’ as said by Reagan, then became a part of history. Capitalism emerged as the only structure to rule the world economy but owing to the recent tensions followed by military advancements of the US and the potentially arriving power China, another confrontation took their way.

Rapidly expanding Chinese economy and investments proved detrimental to the hegemony of the US. Here, we see a new trend in the American policies which departs sharply from its traditional, centuries-old, Euro-centered policies. ‘Pivot to the Asia’ policy of Obama administration seems to be a counterbalancing phenomenon to the ever-expanding Chinese influence in the Asian region. Making strong military pickets in the region and establishing strategic alliances in Indo-pacific area is surely a concern to Chinese military. The US is also believed to intrude into the Sino maritime disputes with regional countries like Japan and Vietnam causing the re-assertions of claims of these nations.

The US media and establishment portray China’s military advancement as a threat to regional peace. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the US military build-up in Asia might actually destabilize the entire region due to the fact that advancements in China’s military build-up is in no way comparable to that of the America’s.

Due to India’s strong diplomatic manoeuvres, the US has now realized that India cannot confront an emerging China specially when the Chinese policies towards Indo-Pak dispute are modified and China is no more a threat to India.

While realizing the looming crisis, Chinese President, Xi Jingping stated that the Sino-US relations were at the crucial juncture. Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, calls for dialogue to reduce risk of miscalculations particularly between the two mighty militaries but it can be comprehended that both US and China believe on a zero-sum game. Chinese paper tiger policy seems to be modified in the light of recent advancements in military but succeeding economy doesn’t really guarantee the dominance in political sphere too and yet China is still far away from the position being held by the US in international community.

For the US, it is better to maintain the defensive nature of her policies rather than being offensive towards any country, be it China or anyone else, because ultimately it is not in the interest of today’s world community to engage into another war costing lives of thousands and loss of billions of dollars for the sake of just prestige, pride and ideological supremacy.

By: Bushra Batool

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