In Comrades at Odds: The United States and India, 1947–1964, Andrew J. Rotter argues that the unique cultural characteristics of the United States and India played a crucial role in the diplomatic relations between these two states. Rotter includes several themes, such as strategic culture, gender, and religion, to solidify his premise that culture played a ubiquitous role in US-Indian relations in the early Cold War years. In the preface, however, Rotter mentions the work of Lucian Pye during his discussion of the importance of political culture (xxi). Ironically, Pye, as an antithesis to Rotter’s argument, argues in his article “‘Asian Values’: From Dynamos to Dominos?” that “problems arise when an attempt is made to jump all the way from generalized cultural characterizations. . .without taking into account all the intervening variables and the situational contexts.” Although Rotter outlines each aspect of culture in significant detail, he fails to convincingly illustrate that US-Indian relations were centrally influenced by culture. There is significant evidence in Comrades at Odds that culture could have played a crucial role in US-Indian relations, but there is no evidence provided that conclusively makes such a connection.
The first chapter of Comrades at Odds is devoted to how culture influenced the strategic interests of the United States and India during the Cold War. Rotter prefaces this chapter with the sociological implications of samkaras as well as a background in Hindu cosmology. As Rotter explains, samkara, or “innate dispositions,” causes Hindus to accept their individual limits and not “struggle against the outside world” (42–43). Perceiving the limits of one’s potential as endless is discouraged and impractical according to the precepts of samskara. Moreover, according to Hindu texts, the central continent in the Hindu cosmos is named Jambudvipa with Mount Meru at the center. Surrounding Jambudvipa are treacherous animals, dangerous storms, and kalapani,or “black waters.” By traveling outside of Jambudvipa and encountering such threats, one could become unclean, uncomfortable, or forced to survive in uninhabitable areas; thus, due to such cosmological implications of traveling outside of one’s designated territory, Rotter claims Indians were only concerned with protecting their familiar boundaries during the Cold War and had no interest in expanding into areas of unforeseen danger (42–44). Yet, this argument reserves room for doubt. Pakistan, a state frequently contrasted with India in Comrades at Odds, also stayed within its natural boundaries, but Pakistan, an Islamic state, did not conceptualize the cosmos in the same manner as India. Thus, if Rotter’s premise held true, Pakistan should have attempted to expand outside its regional bounds since Pakistani leaders did not fear the perils associated with traveling into the kalapani. Although strategic culture may have contributed to India’s foreign policy, Rotter’s argument is limited by not expounding on why culture rather than India’s economic or military limitations better explains India’s lack of expansionist tendencies (39–40). Thus, despite an insightful background into the strategic culture of the United States and India, Rotter’s connection between strategic culture and US-Indian relations is left inconclusive.
Rotter also stresses the importance of gender roles relative to US-Indian diplomatic relations. The United States often described India as a “feminine country” that possessed “certain feminine virtues” (200). Conversely, India characterized the United States as a dominant and masculine state. Not only does Rotter attribute disagreements between India and the United States to these gender differences, but he also attributes the close ties between Pakistan and the United States to gender similarities (219). However, the defect in Rotter’s gender argument rests on the assumptions he relies on to make these connections between gender issues and diplomatic relations. There is little explanation provided as to why India’s non-alignment or Pakistan’s close alliance with the United States is due to gender issues rather than to other possible explanations. Could India have remained nonaligned due to the negative ramifications associated with “picking sides” during the Cold War? Could Pakistan have accepted United States’ aid simply to improve its economic and military positions? Although Rotter’s monograph is focused on a cultural approach to US-Indian relations, by neglecting other possible explanations for the tensions between the United States and India, his argument is diluted of its persuasiveness to show causality for such tensions.
Religion is also a key aspect of Rotter’s cultural argument. Rotter juxtaposes aspects of the Hindu, Christian, and Islamic doctrines with actual events to find causality for the successes and failures of the United States’ relationships with India and Pakistan respectively. Yet the connections between religion and US-Indian relations are never self-evident in Comrades at Odds. Rotter establishes a link between the United States and Pakistan because they both adhered to monotheistic religions. Conversely, India’s primary religion, Hinduism, is polytheistic, which, according to Rotter, partially led to icy relations between the United States and India (236). Moreover, as with the other cultural aspects Rotter discusses, other possible variables that could explain US-Indian relations are avoided; this again only serves to undermine the strength of his argument. Although Comrades at Odds is well-written and well-organized, Rotter simply leaves too much room for US-Indian relations to be explained by other methodologies. Despite Rotter’s use of Lucian Pye’s work in Comrades at Odds, Pye’s previous work pinpoints the limitations of Rotter’s argument: cultural generalizations do not provide a convincing correlation to state behavior when surrounded by more reasonable and obvious explanations.
Northern Illinois University
Ron Leonhardt is double-majoring in History and International Relations with a minor in Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University. His academic interests are Marxism-Leninism in the Global South, Cold War diplomacy, Post-WWII genocide studies, and 20th-century conflict in Southeast Asia. He is planning to attend graduate school to pursue a PhD in History after graduation.
Ron Leonhardt, review of Comrades at Odds: The United States and India, 1947–1964, by Andrew Jon Rotter, Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History 3, no. 1 (Jan. 2013).
Lucian W. Pye, “‘Asian Values’: From Dynamos to Dominoes?” in Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, edited by Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 244–55.