Breakthrough or Breakdown? US-Pakistan Military Alliance of 1954

Foreign Policy Journal, November 22, 2011

34 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2011 Last revised: 23 Jun 2014

Date Written: November 22, 2011


Scholars often query why the United States and India, the world’s greatest and largest democracies, are not more closely allied. Though news headlines recite continued attempts to improve ties, the Cold War-era record is telling.

As the last British ships left India, their stewards left behind a legacy in the Subcontinent. They had stirred religion as a divisive issue in South Asian politics in order to advance their own interests. By contrast, Mahatma Gandhi propounded secular, unifying ideals that gained widespread acceptance in India.

It is this dichotomy, based in South Asian history, that forced Pakistan’s acceptance of a Realism worldview and India’s policy of nonalignment. While Pakistan was founded on Islamic ideals, Nehru carved India’s policy of dealing with its affairs independently, without Superpower domination (from which it had only recently freed itself). Militarily, he argued that a “no-war” zone should be extended from India’s borders to include the entire Subcontinent.

Realism was the ideology that Pakistan found appealing. It favored the struggle for power internationally. This was the only policy that Pakistan could logically accept because it needed to deny India’s secular ideology from dominating the Subcontinent. With America as its ally, Pakistan could justify its existence as an Islamic nation in South Asia, with its military to back up its words. Meanwhile, the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and was disenchanted with India’s unswerving determination to build a “third power” - a non-aligned one - to shadow the power struggle of the superpowers. Moreover, Indian traditions espousing a class-free society too closely resembled socialism to American eyes, and fueled a belief that India favored Communism.

These are the conditions that made it ripe for a Pakistani request for military aid and an American approval. While Pakistan argued that it would not use its weapons shipment in its struggle against India in Kashmir, Nehru blasted this aid. He claimed that Pakistan’s Prime Minister intended such aid for more than defensive purposes. The nature of this aid – reportedly a military alliance rather than an isolated weapons shipment - fueled this belief.

Although the United States and India both fought the same colonial power for justice and independence, this fact alone failed to bind them due to prevailing ideologies and the impressions they engendered. Politicians from India and the United States each indicated why the other could not be relied upon, as America was preoccupied with containing Communism and India was preoccupied with non-alignment. Pakistan’s acceptance of Realism was inevitable due to the geographic and historical experience of the Subcontinent. Significantly, these stances played themselves out in the nature and fact of a US-Pakistan alliance.

Keywords: Kashmir, India, Pakistan, US Military, US Military Aid, Central Asia, Asia

Suggested Citation

Chhabra, Amit K., Breakthrough or Breakdown? US-Pakistan Military Alliance of 1954 (November 22, 2011). Foreign Policy Journal, November 22, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Amit K. Chhabra (Contact Author)

New York Law School ( email )

185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States

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