Development Politics and the Cold War’ analyzes history of development assistance during the Cold War, focusing especially on superpower aid to India for the three decades after independence in 1947. It examines development as a rhetorical strategy that allowed groups in both donor and recipient nations to make claims upon others. It also calls for moving beyond “development talk” to examine the practice of development. And finally it shows how development assistance – undertaken in the name of building economic self-sufficiency, ultimately undercut the governability of recipient nations.
A dozen years after President Harry Truman promised technical aid in the famous fourth point of his inaugural address, Hans Morgenthau reviewed American programs with an eye to formulating a theory of economic aid.1 But even the twentieth century’s most influential theorist of international relations found foreign aid “baffling.” Morgenthau’s consternation, I submit, was related to the fact that foreign aid helped create a new kind of global politics—one that was chock full of the interests that Morgenthau found so compelling, but at the same time questioned the national unit that, to Morgenthau, constituted the basis of international relations.
Presidential address to the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, San Diego, California, June 24, 2016.
This new form of international relations—Development Politics—describes the dynamics of economic aid that profoundly shaped donor and especially recipient nations. The expansion of the national security toolbox to include dams, power plants, experimental farms, miracle seeds, and economic expertise heralded the arrival of new configurations of power within the donor nations. But the effects of development aid in recipient nations were all the greater; officials, politicians, and businesses used foreign aid to advance their own economic visions and economic interests. Development aid, in other words, ultimately functioned not as just as a new tool of foreign policy; it helped shape new patterns of relations between nations.
Economic aid was premised on the most optimistic of scenarios: that structural inequality between nations could be reduced through concerted action. Accordingly, it began with high promises: a vision of future independence, prosperity, and political stability for the newly emergent Third World. Both American and Soviet officials celebrated their aid programs as means to these ends, which they summed up in identical language as getting developing countries “on their own two feet.”2
Yet the world that development made never even approached this rosy scenario. Only a few new nations reached prosperity, many found themselves enmeshed in new forms of economic dependence, and their political arrangements too often ranged from instability to authoritarianism—with an unfortunate subset of coup-prone countries blessed with both instability and authoritarianism. There were many reasons for these unfortunate outcomes, reasons that varied tremendously according to local context. I would like to suggest, though, that Development Politics played an important role in this unhappy turn of events.
Development Politics, at heart, is a product of the interaction of national and international contests for power. The interpenetration of domestic politics and geopolitics shrunk the freedom of economic action for central authorities in poor countries in some ways that are familiar. Scholars in and beyond SHAFR have shown how donors used development aid, which Morgenthau compared with government-to-government bribes, to punish some countries and reward others.3 A Third World critique of the World Bank and other development aid emphasized the ways in which foreign assistance forced recipient nations into the same disadvantageous foreign trade patterns that they sought to overcome.4 But the most important effect of foreign aid for my purposes is the way that it provided resources—symbolic, technical, and financial—that escalated and expanded internal debates over economic policy in countries across the Third World. The infusion of these resources into postcolonial politics added mightily to the already formidable challenges of governance in newly independent nations. Indeed, as the nations of the so-called Third World began to band together in the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, they did so in the face of threats to sovereignty from above and below.
The era of development, of course, began before the Cold War. Development—defined here as state-centered efforts to effect linked social and economic transformation—emerged in the first half of the twentieth century. It was in this era that “to develop” became a transitive verb applied to territories, to populations, and eventually to this new abstraction called “economies.”5 While some of these efforts appeared within national boundaries, many others took place in the Asian and African colonies.6 The three prerequisites to development—a conceptual apparatus, the state capacity, and the political commitments—emerged in the decades between the world wars, and soon enough shaped colonial policies.7 There was, to be sure, a politics to colonial development plans. They were tools to strengthen or extend colonial rule, certainly, but they just as easily became tools to challenge imperialism. So development could be political. But it could not be Development Politics as long as imperial powers held monopolies over external relations and external resources in any given colony.
Development Politics emerged in the late 1940s as the slow demise of European empires met the rapid rise of American-Soviet antagonisms. The beginning of the end of the European empires broke their monopolies on development as colonies became nations. And the American-Soviet conflict, with its battle for friends and favor beyond Europe, provided competing models of development, universalistic ideologies that demanded worldwide promotion, and the funds to support the competition.
This exploration of Development Politics operates primarily through the case of superpower aid to India, though the list of donors and recipients covered much of the world. India is an especially good place to watch Development Politics in action, not least because it drove intellectual and policy innovations for decades. The case of India spurred the American turns from technical assistance to loans, from projects to program loans, and the imposition of conditionality. And similarly, key Soviet ideas and policies—from the non-capitalist path to “multi-structurality” (mnogoukladnost’)—came out of encounters with India, which received the first Soviet loan outside of the People’s Republics and would later pioneer new kinds of trade relations.8
Indian officials did not, of course, need American or Soviet experts to teach them about development. After independence in 1947, India’s ruling Congress Party, successor to the pre-eminent anti-colonial movement, enshrined development in its policies and its bureaucracy, and soon enough in the Indian Constitution. Congress promoted an economic policy of swadeshi, self-sufficiency; this slogan had long united disparate elements of the Congress Party, from industrial magnates to khadi-wearing Gandhians to socialists like founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But because no Indian leaders sought total autarky, fierce debates ensued over what exactly self-sufficiency would look like and how to achieve it.
Likewise in international politics. Nehru carried proudly the banner of Non-Alignment, a doctrine insisting that the Indian government would steer clear of the emerging superpower blocs; India would work with many powers but would be beholden to none. Like swadeshi, Non-Alignment accentuated the negative, leaving plenty of room to debate what India’s foreign policy would actually look like.
Many observers saw the advantages of working with multiple donors along the lines of the Non-Aligned nations. The great Polish economist Michał Kalecki, a frequent advisor in India, praised India and other Non-Aligned countries for being able to get more aid by playing the two sides off one another. Invoking a Slavic peasant adage, Kalecki compared India and similar countries to “the proverbial clever calves that suckle two cows.” In a competitive situation, argued Kalecki, each side offered more aid and fewer conditions, thus allowing countries like India to attract aid “with no strings attached.”9 Kalecki’s hope for bottom-up empowerment proved to be a high-water mark of an era suffused with optimism.
Kalecki’s point makes intuitive sense; with competition among the donors, recipients could, in theory, get more aid on better terms. And the sources in question spoke this way. One Indian diplomat, for instance, saw the entry of the Soviet Union into development assistance as providing immediate benefit to countries like his.10 Soviet officials worried that they would be forced to compete against the deep-pocketed United States.11 And American officials fretted, alternately, that they were being played by Indian officials, and that they were losing out to the Soviets in the game.12
Development Politics was not purely an Indian phenomenon, so this essay draws gratefully but unsystematically on the burgeoning scholarship that has emerged in this and other journals and in the steady flow of books about development aid.13 I will also build on the distinguished SHAFR tradition of studying the relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy.14
The remainder of this essay offers three observations about Development Politics. First, development provided a rhetoric for making claims and pursuing interests. Because development was widely celebrated but poorly defined, any number of projects could—and did—march under the development banner. Secondly, development was not just a rhetoric; it also encompassed practices, so studying such practices shows how seemingly minor administrative details could radically alter a project in favor of one or another vision of the economic future. Finally, development is a story of groups and networks, not just nations; even as development assistance primarily took the form of intergovernmental agreements, the state was an instrument of development aid as much as it was an agent defining development projects.
Development as Rhetoric
To talk about development politics as rhetorical is to fly in the face of Hans Morgenthau’s pithy injunction that “politics is in its essence action.”15 And yet it is well worth observing how different individuals invoked development as, in Frederick Cooper’s words, “a claim-making construct for … social and political movements.” Though Cooper wrote of Africa, his insights were not limited geographically; anti-colonial leaders in India, like their counterparts across Africa, promoted visions of an economic future that contained increasingly explicit condemnations of British economic policy.16 By World War II, at least a half-dozen official and unofficial plans for India’s future development circulated in the colony, leading one participant to conclude that India was “seized with a fever for planning.”17
Development could serve just as easily to make claims against a post-colonial government as against a colonial one. Some claims were transparently and narrowly self-serving. Take, for instance, the beseeching letters received by the Indian Planning Commission, well known at the time for its promotion of rapid industrialization and central planning. The letter writer sought employment as an advisor to the Commission for Ayurvedic Medicine.18 Exactly what colonics and aromatherapy had to do with heavy industry was not entirely clear, but development and planning offered a rhetoric for claiming employment if nothing else.
Development aid could also prompt more meaningful claims. Take the case of Homi Bhabha, the physicist who led India’s civilian atomic energy program. He spent most of the 1950s shuttling between Washington and Moscow, not to mention atomic reactors in Oak Ridge and Dubna, on extended shopping trips seeking the best possible deal for foreign equipment. Bhabha took Kalecki’s excitement about aid competition to its logical extreme, at one point inviting two expert delegations—one Soviet, one American—to New Delhi at the same time. The practicalities of the visits led Bhabha to send the unsuspecting Americans on an emergency tourist excursion to the Taj Mahal, but not before using the threat of the Soviets to improve the American offer.19
Bhabha’s indefatigable pursuit of external support was, at root, an extension of a domestic battle for resources. Indian leaders had consistently rebuffed his persistent attempts to obtain government funding.20 In directly pursuing external aid through transnational scientific networks, Bhabha neatly sidestepped the ongoing negotiations between the governments of India and the United States over aid priorities, not to mention a budgeting process that continually rebuffed his requests for a large-scale atomic power program. As one American diplomat astutely observed, the Indian scientist was working hard to make the U.S. embassy into a “middleman between Bhabha and his own Government.”21
Just as Bhabha used foreign aid to promote his vision of how to power India’s future, so too did others in Nehru’s government. Take for instance, K. D. Malaviya, a junior Indian minister determined to make India, as he put it, “oil-minded.”22 He insisted that a vertically integrated oil sector under public ownership was the only way to challenge the primacy of global oil giants.23 He sought out technical and administrative advice as well as financing from the Cold War East and West alike. His aspirations did not sit well with western aid officials, who took the minister to task for “refusing to accept [the] productive capital” of foreign oil firms.24 Malaviya eventually won Cabinet approval for his plans largely because he was able to attract Soviet and Romanian funds for oil exploration and refining. Thus Soviet technology and financing dominated the Indian oil sector for decades.25 It is not that the oil sector was publicly owned because it was built by the Soviets; to the contrary: it was built by the Soviets because Indian leaders like Malaviya wanted it in the public sector.
Similarly, Indian efforts at rural transformation built on connections and common ground between Indian and foreign enthusiasts. So-called Community Development—village-level programs of empowerment—had a sort of Peace Corps gestalt (if a decade too early) that promised to build democracy and increase productivity at the village level.26 India’s Community Development program began with great fanfare on Gandhi’s birthday in 1952. Early plans were hardly modest, calling for an initial size of 16.7 million people in 27,000 villages. Proponents hoped to increase those numbers fivefold in the next four years.27 In light of such aspirations, the Community Development projects were awarded their own Cabinet ministry in the mid-1950s.28
Yet the decline of Community Development was as swift and as steep as its rise. Shortly after the ministry’s establishment, the Ford Foundation curtailed its support for India’s Community Development. Only five years after its much-lauded founding grant, Ford sent over a group of experts who demanded a focus on production over political transformation. An inquiry appointed by the Indian government came to a similar conclusion.29 Even the Community Development Minister conceded that he had paid insufficient attention to production as grandiose efforts at democratization gave way to Potemkin programs to boost output.30 His ministry limped along for another seven years, bereft of both domestic support and external funding, an artifact of a brief era of unbounded optimism about the Indian countryside.
The pattern emerging from these cases—atomic energy, oil, and Community Development—suggest that the superpowers’ main contacts and clients were quickly dispersed across different agencies and organs within the recipient government. For India, this meant that Soviet aid officials built up connections with the industrial ministries and public sector undertakings. And American officials had their strongest connections in the ministries devoted to rural life, including the ministries of Food and Agriculture as well as Community Development; the ministries of Trade and especially Finance similarly aligned with Western agencies.
This pattern was not a sign of budding fifth columns in the Indian government, but a reflection of the consonance of interests and visions between Indian officials and their counterparts from either superpower. Nor was this pattern unique to India. In Afghanistan, according to an ambitious new account by Timothy Nunan, a parallel pattern emerged: Soviet economists ended up at the Ministry of Planning, while American experts camped out in the ministries of commerce and finance.31 And in postcolonial Kenya, antagonisms between the vice president and the minister of economic planning similarly invoked superpower polarities.32
If development became a rhetoric for staking claims in recipient nations, it could function similarly in donor nations as well. At times this could be the pursuit of economic interest so crude that it might have made William Appleman Williams or John Hobson blush. Take, for instance, the push for Green Revolution agriculture, with its heavy reliance on capital-intensive inputs like fertilizer. American diplomats and aid officials, to put it bluntly, come off as shills for Bechtel Corporation.33 One undiplomatic American diplomat, for instance, ordered his colleagues to “prod Indians” to sign Bechtel’s expensive offer, even while recognizing that its terms did not favor Indian interests.34 In a gesture of even-handedness, American officials also promoted fertilizer sales by Amoco, a competitor of Bechtel’s.35 During Bechtel’s negotiations with the government of India, the sides lined up in predictable ways: the Ministry of Agriculture favored the deal and managed to fend off opposition from both the Ministry of Finance (which looked askance at the foreign currency implications) and the Planning Commission (which did not want to invest heavily in agriculture).36 It is also worth noting that the Green Revolution fed by such fertilizer came to India not because it was foisted upon its government, but because American aid gave a leg up to a Minister of Agriculture determined to implement it. As one Indian civil servant recalled, American aid officials thought that they were trying to push against an ideologically resistant government but instead were merely “leaning on an open door”—a door held ajar by those hoping to bring capital-intensive farming to India.37
American politicians also used development, unsurprisingly, to advance their own standing, especially when it coincided with their constituents’ economic interests. American concessional food sales abroad, known as PL-480, offered foreign aid for purely domestic purposes: to offload surplus grains before they reduced prices for American agricultural products. Such commodities were sold internationally as “Food for Peace” though the program was initially administered, tellingly, by a Committee on Agricultural Surplus Disposal. George McGovern, a successful history professor (and farm state congressman) before he became an epically unsuccessful presidential candidate, rightly called Food for Peace a “near perfect blend of American self-interest and international humanitarianism.”38 But the blend might have seemed like Hawkeye Pierce’s infamous recipe for a perfect martini: drink gin and think about vermouth; in this case, serve American self-interest while thinking about international humanitarianism. A telling indicator of this was the sharp opposition to PL-480 raised in the State Department and aid agencies, opposition so fierce that even the steady Secretary of State John Foster Dulles apparently got a “nervous tremor” any time PL-480 appeared on his desk.39
Food for Peace serves as an excellent example of how development created international networks of support. In spite of Nehru’s personal wariness, his government signed food purchase agreements under the program, occasionally accepting products it did not want (like tobacco) in order to obtain products it did (like wheat).40 The large quantities of food sent to India certainly alleviated shortages. But the food purchases remained intensely political in India, with divides along regional lines (base in part on wheat- versus rice-based consumption patterns), the urban-rural divide (higher food prices benefitted the countryside, lower prices the urban areas and those favoring industrialization), and of course economic ideology. PL-480 was especially popular with ministers of food and agriculture who sought to deregulate Indian food markets, those whom American diplomats considered “friend[s] to the U.S… . and [to] private enterprise.”41 Meanwhile, critics on the Indian left spoke vociferously against PL-480, arguing that it provided for “American infiltration” of India and impeded the path to economic self-sufficiency. One firebrand went so far as to demand that the United States pay India for relieving American grain surpluses.42
Food for Peace was an even more complex program than I have described here.43 Much of the complexity resulted from ongoing debates in both the United States and recipient nations, as groups within each country created and used the program to serve their own purposes. In PL-480, as in oil and atomic energy (not to mention Ayurvedic medicine), development projects took shape as much from informal negotiations within countries as from formal negotiations between them.
Development as Practice
Following these negotiations, formal and informal, leads naturally to a second observation, about development as practice. Negotiations over development projects could reveal intentions better than glossy brochures or hifalutin speeches. The practice of development, the day-to-day interactions between donors and recipients, revealed interlocutors’ respective visions and interests. Morgenthau had little truck for such visions, arguing that differences between nations were really just about power.44 Power mattered, but so too did vision.
For development projects, as for laws and sausages, the details were ugly but important; the small print could make a big difference. Studying how individual projects actually operated—getting inside the room where it happened—reveals the sides’ different priorities and different needs. International development projects, in this framework, emerged upon the common ground between divergent visions. The common ground belies the notion that development projects were foisted upon recipients by donor nations, but at the same time the divergences undercut all the happy talk of international cooperation.
The chasm between the rhetoric and the practice in development aid was particularly wide in Soviet aid projects, where declarations of friendship were especially fulsome even before the third or fourth vodka toast—and the subsequent negotiations especially fierce. For the historian, studying what the Soviets called “economic cooperation” also offers a rare source advantage over American projects. The Soviet aid organ records are much better organized than those of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessor agencies; they became more accessible in 2015, when they were transferred from a reading room open 12 hours per week to one open (almost) every weekday. These sources reveal the everyday push-and-pull of development projects, but also much more.
Take, for instance, the project that started Cold War aid competition in the Third World: Soviet technical and financial support to build a steel mill in the central Indian city of Bhilai. The project might seem foreordained: Indian officials interested in public sector heavy industry, and having proclaimed a desire to create “a socialistic pattern of society,” signed a deal with Soviet aid organizations in February 1955. The steel plant quickly grabbed the attention of the Indian media, and soon enough of American diplomats, who scrambled to dream up U.S. sponsored projects that might make a similar splash.
Yet it is easy to overstate the inevitability of Soviet support; it may have ended up with Soviet sponsorship, but it did not start there. British experts sent to India under the Colombo Plan helped decide the location, and pro-private sector officials in the Indian ministries shopped the project in Japan and West Germany.45 Only after these attempts foundered did pro-public sector officials in the Ministry of Steel make the case for Soviet sponsorship. Nikita Khrushchev read this decision as a political endorsement, for instance, capping off one visit to the facility with the most poetic statement he could muster: “May our friendship be as strong as the steel produced by the Bhilai Metallurgical Factory”—a message then etched into an obelisk at the factory entrance.46
Such official platitudes, however heartwarming, disguised the fundamental divergences between Soviet and Indian officials. While Soviet leaders expected to deliver a Soviet steel mill, officials in the Indian economic ministries really just wanted a steel mill. The differences were evident in the day-to-day negotiations where historians have too often feared to tread. At the most basic level, the extent of sniping and backbiting gives lie to drunken odes to friendship. More significantly, the heated discussions reveal the clash between predominant Soviet and Indian ideas and practices. When the Indian Ministry of Steel, for instance, could not obtain a Soviet tractor that met its needs, the staff arranged a purchase from the Indian conglomerate Tata Industries. And when deliveries of Soviet electrical wiring were repeatedly delayed, the whole electrical system was put out to bid in the West. The same went for construction cranes. By the time it was commissioned in 1959, this so-called “Soviet” steel plant had Otis elevators, Fedders air conditioners, Tata tractors, Krupp cranes, and—reportedly—publicity from J. Walter Thompson.47 One chastened American diplomat summed it up: outside India, Bhilai might be known as a “Soviet steel mill,” but at the facility itself, it was considered “an Indian steel mill on which some Soviet technical consultants [were] hired.”48
By looking at the nitty-gritty details of Bhilai’s construction, we can observe the shaky foundations under this icon of Indo-Soviet friendship. And we can also see Development Politics in action, as the Ministry of Steel and Mines, staffed by those sympathetic to heavy industry, opportunistically joined forces with officials excited about Soviet aid in particular. The result was close ties between that ministry and Soviet economic organs, so much so, in fact, that the Soviet client was in essence not the government of India writ large, but a cluster of Indian ministries. And even those ministries came to work with the Soviets out of shared commitments to heavy industry under government ownership, not a commitment to communist doctrine or a shared enthusiasm for Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, or even Khrushchev, let alone Leonid Brezhnev.
The Bhilai deal of 1955 energized not just pro-aid Americans, but also pro-Western Indians. Top executives from the Tata and Birla enterprises sought direct assistance during their increasingly frequent tours of Washington. This American lobby aimed to bring American aid to India because it comported with their vision of India’s economic future, and with their desire for closer Indo-American ties. Surprisingly, given the Prime Minister’s wariness of U.S. aid, the group was led by Jawaharlal Nehru’s nephew.
This network sought to shift the form of aid away from big projects, which according to India’s industrial policy would be in the public sector, and thereby off-limits for American financing. Instead, the Prime Minister’s nephew argued, India needed not more industrial projects but what he called “free money” to relieve pressure on foreign exchange; “free money” would seem hard to oppose. The proposal acknowledged that such aid could come only from the West since the Soviet Union faced its own problems with hard currency reserves.49 Indeed, it even called for steering clear of future Soviet-aided projects because they would hinder efforts to obtain “free money” from the United States.50
Or for another, very different, example, look at the group of Colombian landlords and business owners who, in Amy Offner’s insightful account, brilliantly deployed David Lilienthal’s rhetoric of decentralized, democratic development to mount a power grab with profound effects not just on government but also governance.51 Seemingly narrow arguments over forms and practicalities of aid contained within them domestic politics as well as geopolitics. The practicalities and the practices reveal how Development Politics worked.
There is far more room for the study of development-as-practiced. Thus far many of our best works on the ins and outs of development projects have come in the form of ethnographic accounts.52 Yet historians of foreign relations have much to add here. Our contribution is less in telling development from the bottom up than in looking in our usual places—negotiations between representatives of official and unofficial development agencies—to discern broader visions and aspirations. Again, there is no way to understand the dynamics between the governments, or between governments and populations, without first accounting for the dynamics within them in the quotidian practices of economic development. This leads directly to the third and final observation about Development Politics: the key actors in development are groups and networks just as often as nations.
Development as Networks
It is this third notion that would have confounded Hans Morgenthau the most: he venerated, even exalted, national interest above all other factors in international relations. In his aptly titled book In Defense of the National Interest, he accused doubters of “moral perversion,” and ended the book with exhortation that leaders had not just a “political necessity” but also a “moral duty” to be guided by “THE NATIONAL INTEREST.”53 So long as the world is organized into nations, he concluded, “the national interest [should be] the last word in world politics.”54
Politely ignoring Professor Morgenthau, historians of development have set our sights both beyond and within the state and beyond formally constituted institutions. Formal and informal networks of like-minded individuals shaped development assistance in profound ways. Take, for instance, the gruesome climax of Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception: the spread of what amounted to compulsory sterilization in India in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Such a program was possible only because such networks managed to circumvent any single authority. Family planning proponents in American philanthropies joined up with activists in the United States and Europe to promote a program that provided incentives for population control. A loose group of Indian proponents, ranging all the way up to the son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, took these ideas and funds, evaded democratic control as well as bureaucratic monitoring, and established the procedures that brought sterilization programs to villages across India with brutal effectiveness.55
Such networks were also responsible for cheerier kinds of programs like Community Development, which spread to and beyond India through an informal network that similarly spanned continents and fields. With adherents in the United States, Western Europe, China, and India, Community Development was hardly a western imposition on an unwilling India; it was instead the result of a broad and cosmopolitan network that crossed national and political boundaries. Early experiments came from an American urban planner who happened to spend part of World War II building military bases in Calcutta. Financial support came from the U.S. Technical Assistance mission as well as the Ford Foundation; Ford’s imperious representative in India happened to be a rural sociologist whose work was influential in the early discussions of Community Development. Its adherents in India included Prime Minister Nehru and an energetic U.S.-trained Indian engineer working for General Electric. Such networks did not rely only on formally invested power—cabinet ministers, senior bureaucrats, or philanthropic leaders—but on people whose power often exceeded their official position.
The question of informal power appears in other realms as well. It does not seem obvious, for instance, that the official who formulated India’s Second Five-Year Plan in the mid-1950s would hold the title of “Honorary Statistical Adviser to the Indian Cabinet,” which might not rank much above a hypothetical advisor for traditional medicine. From that modest perch, though, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis was as responsible as any single individual for enunciating Indian economic policy in the mid-1950s. He wielded such power in spite of the fact that he was a statistician—indeed, the founder of a distinguished institute—with no training in economics.56
Mahalanobis’s effectiveness as a policy impresario came in part from his network of connections among economists and planners, a network stretching from Gosplan in downtown Moscow to Bell Labs in the wilds of northern New Jersey. Mahalanobis energetically promoted Indo-Soviet ties; indeed, the Soviet Academy of Sciences holds more than 350 pages of correspondence from, to, and about Mahalanobis.57 Despite his affinity for Soviet officials, Mahalanobis also established many scholarly contacts throughout Western Europe and the United States, which he frequented as a member of a United Nations expert commission. Mahalanobis’s travels were so extensive that his institute’s annual reports routinely devoted three or four full pages to documenting his trips overseas. He also hosted a seemingly endless stream of international visitors at his institute’s Calcutta campus and its policy outpost in New Delhi. In peak years, as many as 200 scholars, including three of the first four Nobel Laureates in economics, came through his institute.58
Mahalanobis developed the network to make up for his lack of economic expertise– but not to teach him economics. The visitors, instead, provided him ammunition for use against his opponents. Visiting experts, he boasted, were like “air force cover for the army”; their advice did not change the direction of attack but provided firepower to support a campaign well under way.59
Mahalanobis’s approach to network-building may have seemed ecumenical in Cold War terms; American economist John Kenneth Galbraith certainly thought so when he praised Mahalanobis’s institute for the uniquely “easy and intense exchange between the peoples of the socialist and the nonsocialist worlds, and of the rich countries and the poor.”60 But thanks to Mahalanobis’s careful sequencing, the network ultimately functioned along sectarian lines. The first visitors to Calcutta were (as he put it) “whole-heartedly in sympathy with our outlook”; these included economists and planners from the East Bloc as well as Marxists from the West. This group established the parameters and even the vocabulary for Indian planning. Econometricians and neoclassical economists arrived only later, and for different purposes: they came, as Mahalanobis put it, to “help at the technical level” with techniques that might be “transferable” into a planned economy.61 Mahalanobis orchestrated the visits so that the advisers, no matter their own inclinations, sang his tune loudly enough to drown out skeptics in the Indian parliament, bureaucracy, and economics profession.
Elsewhere, such expert networks worked for neoliberal economists and for liberal modernization theorists, not just for central planners like Mahalanobis. Networks supported by American foundations and government agencies promoted different economic visions in Chile, South Korea, Japan, and beyond.62 Networks crossed borders, organization charts, and occasionally even political alignments, and were as likely to mobilize state power as they were to be subject to it.
For those, like Morgenthau, who wrote from a donor perspective, the Cold War seemed like a boon for aid recipients. American political scientists came to the same conclusion; by their calculations, the Cold War disempowered donors, who could not exert pressure for fear of sacrificing their own geopolitical interests.63 And Kalecki, writing from the recipients’ perspective, celebrated the Cold War for providing Third World elites the opportunity (as one anthropologist put it), to “play the superpowers against each other.”64 In either variant, American-Soviet competition for the hearts and minds of this Third World offered opportunities for recipients to shape their own futures.
It is unlikely, though, that Indian aid officials—and no doubt those in other countries—experienced the Cold War as the peak of their power to shape their nations’ economic futures. They chafed under increasingly strident American threats and cajoling, what American diplomats more benignly described as incentives and suggestions. By the early 1970s, the India Lobby in the United States and the America Lobby in India, each exhausted by constant criticism over aid projects, plotted to reduce the American aid presence to a bare minimum, closing the USAID mission and donating the building to Indira Gandhi’s government.65 This expulsion formalized what had been an informal division of development labor. Those in India inclined to the public sector drew on the symbolic, technical, and material resources of the Soviet Union and other communist states, building project after project for government ownership. Those interested in a less regulated economy more integrated into capitalist flows of trade and investment, meanwhile, drew on the resources of the United States and its allies and negotiated “free money” (or “untied financing” or “program loans” in development argot) and debt rescheduling.
These three observations—development as rhetoric, as practice, and as network—suggest some broader themes. They reflect, for starters, an increasing need to study the actions of those outside Washington, most notably those in the recipient nations. This is an important, indeed essential, task, and one that has already proved fruitful in many studies.66
These observations also confirm the value of continuing to explore the worlds of international and non-governmental organizations. We are learning more about development work taking place within and beyond the UN umbrella in development, and the effects that these organizations could have on Development Politics.67 More studies are also emerging on Western NGOs and the development process.68 These will be crucial as we study the transnational networks that shaped development: showing once again the limits of Morgenthau’s state-centered approach. Morgenthau’s ideas reached peak influence during the postwar heyday of the nation-state, a period that, ironically, saw new challenges to these same states.
And just as we see beyond the state, it is time also to peer more deeply within it.
The take-home point of the first two observations (development as rhetoric and as practice) amounts to a call to disaggregate, to look at units below that of the nation-state, and to dig beneath policies and positions to see how they came about. These are areas in which SHAFR has a long and proud tradition, though one that is not fully brought to bear in most studies of development assistance. The third observation, about networks, meanwhile, suggests a call for connection, another strong point among SHAFR members and others involved in internationalizing American history.
Taken together, these approaches can help us investigate, rather than assume, the paramountcy of the state even in intergovernmental relations like economic assistance. There is plenty of room to erect a big tent approach. We can and should combine forces: bring together area knowledge and domestic politics; study the work of NGOs, international organizations, and states; examine tensions and politics within national governments. By doing all of these, we can more precisely map—and even explain—the world that development made.
That world looked very little like the starry-eyed proclamations of the leaders of all three Cold War worlds. Those in donor nations expected to win over recipients and teach them about the virtues of their respective economic systems as a means of advancing superpower visions and interests. The view from recipient nations like India was quite different. Later generations of talented, ambitious, and peripatetic Indians followed the example of Homi Bhabha and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis and used American-Soviet competition to promote their own visions and interests. As one scholar has nicely summed up: for those in the superpowers, development might be a Cold War weapon; for those in India, in contrast, the Cold War was a development weapon.69 But the deployment of these weapons in Indian politics ultimately caused collateral damage to India’s economic independence and even governability.
Development Politics helped create new forms of international relations that assumed formal sovereignty but distributed power in new, profoundly unequal ways; it gave rise to a new institutional ecology in which organizations responsible to no single authority gained influence and control.70 Development aid ultimately created an international system in which the bright lines that Morgenthau envisioned between national and international, between domestic and foreign, were harder to trace.
Morgenthau had sounded warnings about development aid not long after Truman’s Point Four declaration in 1949. He thought it likely that development assistance would promote Third World nationalism and thus “contribute to making international conflicts more intractable.”71 Instead, development aid corroded Third World states by internationalizing and funneling resources into long-running internal debates. The problem turned out to be not the threat of nationalism but the threat to states. In the end, development proponents promised to create prosperous, stable, and independent states in former colonies but ultimately produced new kinds of poverty, instability, and dependence.