Ralph A. Becker

First Advisor

Haberman, Aaron

Date Created



The Cold War defined a state of conflict between the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union during the nuclear age that followed World War II. During the Cold War the United States practiced a foreign policy that was episodic in nature as the great nations recruited the developing countries of the Third World to carry on their ideological struggles. This policy meant that the U.S. would aggressively intervene during periods of war in developing countries in order to prevent the spread of communism. Yet, after the episode ended, the U.S. would quickly vacate the region and move on to other areas to fight its Cold War battles and counter communist advances throughout the Third World. The détente initiative of President Richard M. Nixon demonstrates this episodic tendency in U.S. foreign policy. Détente provided the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union with a platform to negotiate their differences, along with economic, political, and military inducements that were mutually beneficial to all parties. Détente began as Nixon established a diplomatic opening to China in 1971, with the assistance of Pakistan’s President, Yahya Khan, to act as an intermediary between the U.S. and China. The U.S. had not given much attention to Pakistan previously, but détente caused Nixon to focus his attention sharply on Pakistan. As plans were underway for Nixon to visit China, Pakistan became involved in a civil war. Yahya Khan initiated a violent suppression of the Bengali people in East Pakistan which led to atrocities committed against his own people. Nixon remained silent on these issues in order to protect détente. Yahya’s atrocities outraged in the international community, and India eventually intervened on behalf of the Bengali people, leading to war between Pakistan and India. This war started the South Asia Crisis. This thesis argues that détente caused the South Asia Crisis, that the crisis threatened to destroy détente, and that détente itself brought an end to the crisis. The U.S. and China were allied with Pakistan, and the Soviet Union was allied with India. Nixon’s failure to curb Yahya’s atrocities led to Indian intervention. The ensuing crisis threatened to ruin détente as Nixon confronted a Soviet/Indian alliance that was determined to crush all of Pakistan. This essay argues that Nixon made the correct assessment of Indian/Soviet intentions during the South Asia Crisis. The regional conflict between India and Pakistan escalated into a potential Cold War conflict between the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union. Nixon confronted the Soviets and warned of U.S. intervention in the war on behalf of Pakistan, thereby risking détente. The Soviet Union desired to insure that détente remained intact based on its own interests in potential gains, and agreed to use its influence to restrain India and end the crisis. The South Asia Crisis demonstrates the episodic nature of U.S. relations with the Third World during the Cold War. With détente secured, Nixon quickly turned his attention away from Pakistan. Once the U.S. was convinced that the Soviet-backed Indian military would not continue its military campaign against Pakistan, the U.S. quickly moved on to other Cold War concerns. This became a pattern of U.S. action during the Cold War, and the episodic nature of U.S./Pakistani relations continues today.

Abstract Format



History; Cold War; Détente; South Asia Crisis; Communism


129 pages

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