U.S. - India Diplomacy
By Raymond Cohen
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "U.S. - India Diplomacy," Selection from: Raymond Cohen, Negotiating Across Cultures: Communication Obstacles in International Diplomacy, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991), pp. 119-120.
A 1954 episode in U.S.-India diplomacy illustrates the damage which can result from culturally based misunderstandings. In 1954 the U.S. decided to grant military aid to Pakistan. India strongly opposed this move. In an attempt to reassure India, U.S. ambassador Allen delivered a presidential letter to Prime Minister Nehru explaining the American decision. In the letter American President Eisenhower reassured Nehru that the decision was in no way directed against India, that America would intervene if necessary to prevent Pakistan from using the aid against India. He also said that Indian requests for military aid would be heard with sympathy.
Generally India is proud of its independence, and is sensitive to perceived slights to its national status. Nehru's personal style was very dignified and restrained. After Nehru read the letter, he indicated to ambassador Allen that he did not doubt that America harbored no ill-will toward India. Yet Nehru did explain very calmly India's concerns regarding the consequences of the U.S. action.
Allen mistook Nehru's restraint for acceptance and considered the matter closed. In fact, India was deeply offended by the patronizing tone of the American letter, and remained gravely concerned about the arming of their adversaries. This episode continues to color U.S.-India relations to this day.