Online Exhibits@Yale

"Re-engineering the Market: Chester Bowles and Indian-American Relations During the Cold War" by Andrew Cordova

Image of Chester Bowles on the cover of Time magazine.

Cover of Time Magazine, March 4, 1946.

Chester Bowles, twice U.S. ambassador to India (1951-1953, 1963-1969), criticized the military as an instrument to influence foreign policy during the Cold War. He often remarked that it damaged America’s reputation as the protector of freedom. Instead, he hoped to build partnerships that satisfied the needs of foreign governments while ensuring U.S. national security issues.   

Specifically with India, Bowles centered his policies on the maximization of agricultural production. Understanding that India’s lack of food resources could cause political instability that threatened the young democracy, the ambassador persuaded the State Department to export grain to India, finance the construction of irrigation projects, and provide new agricultural technologies to Indian cultivators. In doing so, Bowles contended that India’s young democracy would be strengthened and stabilized, which translated to the decreased  likelihood that it would adopt communist ideologies.   

India is often disregarded as a commanding actor in cold War international politics. As a key endorser of the non-alignment movement, India is seen as particularly removed from the United States’ mission to limit the spread of communism in Asia. Moreover, U.S. food exports to India has rarely been seen as a diplomatic tool used to gain influence in a region that largely objected to U.S. initiatives.  Chester Bowles, however, harnessed the power of agriculture to influence India, which he saw as the linchpin to U.S.  strategic interest in Asia. Bowles’ divergence from military engagement allowed the United States to achieve its interests in a region marked largely by American failures.

"Re-engineering the Market: Chester Bowles and Indian-American Relations During the Cold War" by Andrew Cordova