The pragmatism evident in western Europe extended as well to U.S. policy toward neutralism worldwide, but with mixed results. In The Specter of Neutralism, an important study of America's early postwar relations with Yugoslavia, India, and Egypt, H. W. Brands concluded that actual American policy during the Truman and Eisenhower years, as distinct from public rhetoric, "demonstrated a pragmatic ability to deal with neutralism on its own merits. If the neutralist actions of a particular country worked to the advantage of the United States, that country deserved, and usually received, American support. If a neutralist challenged American interests, opposition was the rule." The American advantages and interests to which Brands referred were inevitably defined by the geopolitical rivalry with communism and often lacked a sophisticated understanding of the interests of the Third World states.
Although Brands's study was restricted to the Truman-Eisenhower period, his insight could for the most part extend to the Kennedy years as well. Kennedy administration pragmatism was informed by a more sophisticated understanding of Third World issues, yet Cold War interests still prevailed and affected American tolerance for neutrals. Washington offered economic assistance and encouraged social reform as means to guide these states toward democracy and, it hoped, to counter the allure of communism. Policymakers were committed to resisting Soviet influence and preferred that these countries commit to the West, but when necessary, they were willing to use neutralism as an alternative to communist expansion. Notable in this regard were the Southeast Asia states of Cambodia and Laos. In the late 1950s, as the United States slowly increased its involvement in that area of the world, these two nations, recently independent from French control, embraced neutralism in an ultimately futile attempt to keep out of the emerging conflict. While the United States preferred a Laos and Cambodia committed to the anticommunist cause, it grudgingly accepted their neutralism. Kennedy, furthermore, during his 1961 Vienna summit meeting with Khrushchev supported the neutralization of Laos.
From the end of World War II to the 1960s, neutralism brought opportunities and challenges outside western Europe. In the Soviet bloc, the United States encouraged Yugoslavia's neutralism, even in the face of congressional opposition, because this was a chance to discreetly undermine Soviet dominance. The flowering of neutralism in the Third World dictated that the United States adapt its policies, which it did with varying degrees of success, as relations with the key neutrals, India and Egypt, illustrate. In South Asia, a region on the periphery of American interests, India, the quintessential Third World neutral, vexed policymakers. Resistant to U.S. efforts to draw it into entanglements with the West, India stubbornly followed a truly independent course. But while south Asia was not critical to U.S. security interests, the Middle East with its oil and strategic geographic position was. Here, U.S.–Egyptian relations proved particularly trying.
Yugoslavia John Gaddis, in The Long Peace, a retrospective look at four decades of the Cold War, argues that from as early as the middle of 1947, the United States had pursued a "multifaceted strategy aimed at driving a wedge between Moscow and its ideological allies throughout the world." Nowhere was this wedge strategy more evident than in relations with Yugoslavia. After World War II, Josip Broz Tito had imposed a Marxist regime. But, although committed to building a communist regime internally, he chafed under Stalin's attempts to impose tighter control over the eastern bloc. Stalin could not tolerate Tito's separate road to communism because Tito's neutralism conflicted with Soviet domination of the communist movement. Their dispute culminated with Stalin labeling Tito a deviationist and expelling Yugoslavia from the Cominform in June 1948. Without abandoning his commitment to communism, Tito then adopted nonalignment to address his nation's best interests.
The break left Yugoslavia desperate for economic assistance. The United States, quick to recognize the opportunity Tito's defection offered, stepped in to fill the vacuum left by his former Soviet benefactor. U.S. officials anticipated that, if successful, Tito's independent brand of communism might spread not only in Eastern Europe but also among communist states elsewhere, perhaps even China. Of added benefit was Yugoslavia's military strength. Tito commanded a force of thirty divisions that could potentially be turned against the Soviet Union in case of attack. In pursuit of these ends, the Truman administration adopted a low-key public approach, both to divert congressional opposition to support of a communist regime and to avoid the impression that the United States was responsible for Tito's defection, thus lending credence to Stalin's charges that Tito was selling out to the West. The United States extended aid and credits, including a $20 million loan from the Export-Import Bank, and lifted trade restrictions on many items, including some munitions. In the aftermath of North Korea's invasion of South Korea in 1950, Washington offered further military assistance through the Mutual Defense Assistance Act.
As its defection became more permanent, Yugoslavia also figured in plans for the military containment of the Soviet Union. In February 1953, negotiations between Yugoslavia and Greece and Turkey, endorsed by the United States, resulted in the Balkan Pact, a friendship treaty providing for consultation and coordination of defense planning. Within a year, this pact evolved into a military alliance. The agreement enhanced Tito's international standing, but it never fulfilled expectations of closer collaboration with the West. For Tito, carefully guarding his nonaligned position, never abandoned the option of resuming relations with the Soviet Union. Following Stalin's death, formal relations were restored in 1955, after Khrushchev recognized Yugoslavia's independent road to communism. In that same year, Tito enhanced his neutral credentials by joining India and Egypt as a principal sponsor of the Bandung Conference. Despite Tito's machinations, the Eisenhower administration continued America's cautious support for Yugoslavia throughout the 1950s, seeing his independence as a beneficial break in the monolithic control that the Soviet Union exerted over the eastern bloc.
The Kennedy administration likewise willingly accepted Yugoslavia's neutralism as an alternative to Soviet influence. It tolerated Tito's independent initiatives even when they challenged Western interests. In September 1961, for example, Tito hosted a conference of nonaligned states in Belgrade. There, he played a leading role in pressing the nonaligned agenda that promoted, among other things, peaceful coexistence and condemnation of colonialism. His tilt toward the Soviet Union on certain issues addressed at this meeting irritated U.S. officials, especially when he failed to condemn the recent Soviet decision to resume nuclear testing, but blamed the capitalist bloc for the recent crisis in Germany surrounding the construction of the Berlin Wall. But Washington still pursued amicable relations.
The Third World If the advantages of a neutral heretic in the Soviet bloc seemed obvious and led to a straightforward policy, appropriately addressing nonalignment among the former European colonies proved more problematic. The 1955 neutralism study commissioned by Eisenhower's National Security Council had also examined the phenomenon of neutralism in the Near East and Far East. Like European neutrals, Third World neutrals wanted to remain independent of the competing power blocs. But the study stressed that in the developing world anticolonialism and nationalism were closely intertwined with neutralism, creating a more complex set of circumstances. Furthermore, these newly independent nations had little international experience and had very little power in international relations. However pragmatic and insightful these observations were, in application U.S. policy was less effective in the Third World. Cold War concerns often gave priority to global considerations, which tended to obfuscate officials' interpretations of the motives and actions taken by these nonaligned neutrals. Strained relations often resulted.
World War II hastened the demise of the former colonial empires. During the war, the U.S. government had signaled some sympathy for the plight of these colonies. The Atlantic Charter (1941), a statement of wartime aims signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, had called for self-determination of all people, a reference in part to peoples under colonial rule. But political developments after the war soon complicated America's relationship with these former colonial possessions. As one former colony after another achieved independence, the United States was distracted by events in Europe. By the time the communist victory in China and, more significantly, the outbreak of the Korean War finally compelled America to turn its attention to the Third World, it encountered a rising tide of nationalism, resentful of years of colonial domination and determined to establish an independent position. Marxism appealed to many Third World nationalists, and the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China competed for influence. On one level, Khrushchev's call for "peaceful coexistence" was a blatant attempt to associate the Soviet Union with the cause of these newly independent states. The United States thus found itself in an awkward position. Not only were the former colonial powers some of its most valued European allies, but communism's appeal in the Third World aroused fears of the expansion of Soviet influence. The two prominent Third World neutrals, India and Egypt, illustrate the problems the United States faced in forging a successful relationship under these circumstances.
After India achieved independence in 1947, its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, crafted a foreign policy designed to steer clear of military involvements and to maintain an independent role in international affairs. Nehru's India was a democratic state that adopted the Marxist model of economic reform, thereby triggering suspicion among some policymakers. In contrast to Washington's global perspective, Nehru's outlook was decidedly regional. Given India's desperate economic state, his first priority was to improve the lot of his people. To accomplish this, he was open to economic assistance regardless of whether it came from the East or the West.
The Truman administration from the start encouraged India's effort to establish itself as a viable independent state. As Dennis Merrill notes in Bread and the Ballot: The United States and India's Economic Development, 1947–1963, "United States policy toward India abounded with contradictions." But, according to Merrill, it was guided by several goals: to prevent India from succumbing to communism and the increasing influence of the Soviet Union; to draw India into the Western alliance, tap its raw materials, and make it a reliable military ally; and to make India a model for noncommunist development in the Third World and an Asian "counterweight" to the People's Republic of China.
India, which from the beginning not only espoused neutralism but also acted in a neutral fashion, confounded American officials. Nehru's criticism of American policies, including Washington's refusal to recognize Communist China and its support for what he characterized as French aggression in Indochina, created friction. When the Korean War broke out, India supported early UN resolutions condemning the invasion and sanctioning UN actions to repulse the North Korean forces, at the same time that it strove to mediate an end to the conflict. By the latter stages of the war, the United States found it convenient to use Indian diplomats as a conduit to convey its positions to the Soviet Union. After the armistice was signed, India chaired the Neutral Nations Repatriation Committee.
India's marginal importance to America's global strategy partially explained both America's measured response to its nonalignment policies even when they were detrimental to U.S. interests, and also why economic assistance to this poor country was slow in coming. But once it began, it steadily expanded during the Eisenhower years and reached its zenith during the Kennedy administration, peaking in 1962 at $465.5 million.
Good relations engendered by this aid, however, were often negated by the incompatibility of Washington's global goals with India's more regional interests. Nowhere was this more evident than in New Delhi's reaction to U.S. relations with Pakistan, a Muslim state established in 1947, at the time of India's independence, and a state engaged in an ongoing conflict with India over control of the state of Kashmir. In contrast to India's neutralism, Pakistan became a willing participant in America's containment efforts, which led the Eisenhower administration to view Pakistan as a barrier to Soviet expansion in the Middle East and as a potential bridge to Muslim populations there. In 1954, Washington concluded a mutual defense assistance agreement with Pakistan. Soon thereafter, Pakistan became a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. (Washington had previously tried to persuade India to join, but was rebuffed.) Then, in 1955, Pakistan joined NATO members Turkey and Great Britain in the Baghdad Pact (in 1959 renamed the Central Treaty Organization). While these maneuvers served America's global interests, they strained relations with India. Nehru not only was wary of bringing the Cold War rivalry to the Asian continent, but he feared the advantage American military assistance gave to his regional foe.
The Kennedy administration, more sensitive to India's interests, appointed the prominent economist and confidant of the president, John Kenneth Galbraith, as ambassador in 1961, signaling an interest in improving relations. Galbraith promoted expanded assistance to India and counseled acceptance of its nonaligned foreign policy. When the People's Republic of China attacked India in 1962 over disputed border areas, the United States provided India with necessary military aid. The United States now saw India as a counterweight to the growing influence of Communist China in that area of the world. India accepted U.S. assistance, but still resisted any commitment that would draw it into the Cold War. Washington continued to pursue improved relations, but India never achieved priority status.
In contrast to India, Egypt, located in the Middle East, a region rich in oil and strategically situated in the eastern Mediterranean, became a serious concern for American policy. Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to power in 1954, two years after a military coup had deposed King Farouk. Nasser rapidly established himself as a leader of the nonaligned movement and became a hero to the cause of Arab nationalism. Prior to the early 1950s, the Middle East seemed safely in the Western camp. And for a time after the coup, U.S. relations with Egypt were cordial. Washington promoted an Anglo-Egyptian base treaty that ended British occupation of the Suez Canal zone and expressed willingness to provide Cairo with both economic and military aid. But relations gradually deteriorated. U.S. commitments to Israel and its determination to deter the advance of Soviet influence in the region proved increasingly incompatible with the course Nasser chose to follow.
Nasser, whose country for years had endured British rule, adopted a form of neutralism intent on preventing domination by both the West and the Soviet Union. He resisted Western influence and rebuffed U.S. attempts to get Egypt to join a Middle East Defense Organization, an effort to expand the Western alliance system into the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, while he willingly cooperated with the Soviet Union when it served his purposes, he guarded against letting this cooperation turn to subservience. To Nasser and fellow Arab neutralists, opposition to the State of Israel was part and parcel of this policy. They opposed Zionism not only because Israel occupied Arab lands, but also because the former imperial powers supported Zionism. They saw Zionism as a tool of Western imperialism.
The neutral Nasser, like Nehru, willingly accepted aid from both the Soviet Union and the United States. He recognized that the West was a more reliable source of aid, but he was wary of any assistance that threatened his independence of action. Thus, his independent neutralism increasingly ran counter to American interests. Nasser refused to join the Baghdad Pact in 1955, so Washington turned to Iraq, long one of Egypt's adversaries. Later, when Nasser requested military supplies after some serious border skirmishes with the Israelis in the Gaza Strip, Washington rejected his request. In response, Nasser turned to Czechoslovakia for arms, evoking vehement objections from Washington. While his actions were consistent with his neutral strategy, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles condemned him for opening opportunities for the expansion of Soviet influence.
Dulles's handling of the Aswan Dam project antagonized Nasser even further. In 1955, the United States, Great Britain, and the World Bank offered a financial package to fund this ambitious project intended to provide irrigation and other benefits for Egypt's economic improvement. However, Dulles made this offer contingent on Egypt's abandoning closer ties with the Soviet Union. When Nasser continued to negotiate with the Kremlin for a better offer to build the dam, refused to rescind his arms deal with Czechoslovakia, and then extended diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China in 1956, Dulles rescinded his offer, prompting Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal in order to use the fees collected to finance the dam.
Dulles created a self-fulfilling prophecy. The United States worried that neutralism provided opportunities for the Soviet Union in the Middle East. Washington's response to Nasser's neutralism resulted in the spread of Soviet influence and damaged American prestige. In October 1956, when Israel invaded Egypt, and Britain and France in a coordinated move occupied the Suez Canal under the pretext of protecting it, the United States found itself at odds with its major allies in Europe. The United States was forced to join with the Soviet Union in calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Egypt.
Washington added to the damage by suspending aid to Egypt and freezing Egyptian assets. U.S. officials could not shake the fear that Nasser was a pawn of the Soviet Union. The 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, which assured American support for Middle Eastern nations threatened by external aggression, was intended to contain the spread of Soviet communism. But Arab allies of Nasser interpreted it as an attempt to contain his nationalist movement. In 1958, Nasser accepted Soviet aid for the construction of the Aswan Dam and welcomed Soviet advisers, who remained in Egypt until Nasser's successor, Anwar Sadat, expelled them in 1972.
Beginning in 1959, relations improved as Eisenhower once more made Egypt eligible for food aid. By 1960, the United States provided two-thirds of Egypt's grain imports. And in October 1962, the Kennedy administration reached a $432 million aid deal with Egypt. But these steps could not totally mend the damage done to U.S. prestige by the events of the mid-1950s. Uneasy relations with Nasser continued, especially after he signed another arms agreement with the Soviet Union in June 1963.