Updated: June 11, 2012 22:29 IST

Guns and roses

Rajiv Bhatia
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THE INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS OF MAO AND NEHRU: Andrew Bingham Kennedy; Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 795.
THE INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS OF MAO AND NEHRU: Andrew Bingham Kennedy; Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 795.

This book on Mao and Nehru by Andrew Bingham Kennedy is a substantial though slim work. Based on innovative research, it presents a comparative analysis of thoughts and value systems of its principal protagonists, the canvas being foreign policy. It examines the role of the two leaders' national efficacy beliefs in the foreign policy making of China and India during the early phase of the Cold War.

Drawing on his study of psychology and international politics, Kennedy, an Australian scholar, maintains that individual leaders make a difference in the management of international relations. Foreign policies may generally be shaped by balance of power as well as international norms, structures and institutions, but they can sometimes be moulded by leaders who choose remarkably ambitious causes in the realm of war and peace. Citing Kenneth Waltz who said that if structures ‘shape and shove', real leaders are quite capable of shoving back, the author believes that Mao and Nehru were the leaders who ‘shoved back.' However, they were driven by contrasting mindsets and ended up achieving different results.

Different moulds

Experts tell us of Mao and Nehru being ‘the antithesis of each other.' One was a military genius and ‘a hard-nosed politician' who mastered the essence of power politics, the other an idealist and a mass leader who aspired to be a statesman and did become a successful one – up to a point. If only the two had cooperated together, the world might have been different today. On 19 October, 1954, meeting Mao for the first time in the Forbidden City, Nehru told the world media that their countries had many ‘difficulties and responsibilities', adding: ‘To the extent we develop our relations, to that extent they will affect not only ourselves but the whole of Asia and the rest of the world.' These words are as valid today as they were then.

Kennedy's key thesis is that national efficacy beliefs (‘the ability of one's state to accomplish specific military and diplomatic tasks') of individual leaders can be relied upon to explain bold as well as conservative foreign policy choices. In Mao's case the focus is on ‘martial efficacy', whereas in Nehru's case it is on ‘moral efficacy.' In simpler terms, we know about Mao's faith in the use of force and recall his famous dictum - ‘Power flows out of the barrel of a gun'. On the other hand, Nehru, shaped by Gandhian values, preferred to bank upon non-violence, persuasion and cooperation as the main instruments of power.

Giving a significant twist, the author undertakes ‘a controlled comparison' by bringing in a top colleague of each leader, Liu Shaoqui and Vallabhai Patel, to argue that his principal protagonists took decisions that their top colleagues might not have taken. It is interesting though not fully convincing.

After analysing the linkage between national efficacy beliefs and foreign policy, the author devotes next three chapters to Mao's China, presenting a succinct appraisal of Mao's decisive role in Chinese policy towards Korea and Vietnam and on nuclear diplomacy. Mao's famed candour comes alive from the archival research presented. In February 1965, Mao told Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin: “We boast every day, you also boast, we also boast, saying that we strive for a reduction of international sanctions, those are lies (jiahua).'

Similarly three chapters are on Nehru's India, picturing Nehru and Patel as Gandhi's ‘dissimilar disciples' and explaining Nehru's motivations to take the Kashmir issue to UN and his subsequent disillusionment as well as his major diplomatic decisions and setbacks in later years. The background to China-India relations and the build-up to the 1962 war are explained to demonstrate Nehru's ‘proclivity for diplomatic boldness and military restraint.' His nuclear diplomacy is analysed as the author questions its impact to protect India's security interests. Nevertheless, Kennedy's strong empathy for the Indian leader is unmistakable. His assessment is that Nehru took office as an idealist but events progressively forced him to adopt a more realistic policy.


The book's conclusion is clear: while neither Mao nor Nehru was as successful in foreign policy as each leader had hoped, both made ‘very different kinds of mistakes.' Mao's military approach to foreign policy alienated much of the world and increased China's poverty, while Nehruvian diplomacy created ‘international processes' — UN involvement in Kashmir and international effects of restricting nuclear testing — that India had to address and ‘evade' in following decades.

This book resulted from Kennedy's Ph.D dissertation and post-doctoral work at Harvard, Princeton and elsewhere. Its line of reasoning may not evoke agreement all around, but its central thesis should trigger debate and further research. It is an interesting work meant for students of foreign policy wherever they are — in universities, embassies, media and strategic community.

THE INTERNATIONAL AMBITIONS OF MAO AND NEHRU: Andrew Bingham Kennedy; Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., 4381/4, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 795.

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