In The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru: National Efficacy Beliefs and the Making of Foreign Policy, Andrew Kennedy crafts a superb account of the decision-making [End Page 181] beliefs and styles of two of the most consequential leaders of the twentieth century, Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru. Kennedy makes a twofold contribution. First, his book is an important addition to the emerging historical scholarship on Indian and Chinese foreign policy behavior during the Cold War. Second, he offers a fresh theoretical perspective by observing and comparing the foreign policies of Mao and Nehru through the prism of cognitive-psychological variables.
Kennedy’s book is part of a new historical scholarship that has concentrated on the neglected “Cold War on the periphery,” as Robert J. McMahon termed it in his Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). Building on newly accessible documents and original details from this historical period, scholars have offered new (and sometimes revisionist) interpretations of the role of India and China during the Cold War. Recent works along these lines include Gary J. Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (New York: Knopf, 2013); Rudra Chaudhuri, Forged in Crisis: India and the United States Since 1947 (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2014); Paul M. McGarr, The Cold War in South Asia: Britain, the United States and the Indian Subcontinent, 1945–1965 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Sergey Radchenko, Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); Srinath Raghavan, War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Srinath Raghavan, 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013); Robert B. Rakove, Kennedy, Johnson, and the Nonaligned World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); and Odd Arne Westad, Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946–1950 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003). Andrew Kennedy builds on an impressive amount of primary evidence he collected through extensive archival research in both India and China, but he does not aspire to break new empirical ground. His main contribution is to suggest a new theoretical approach to understanding the foreign policy actions of the Indian and Chinese leaders, especially in light of the adverse international conditions they faced in the 1940s and 1950s. In addition, unlike other studies of the personalities of the two Asian leaders, which have usually been made in isolation, Kennedy in his book offers a new and unique comparative perspective of Mao and Nehru during the same period, thus providing new insights on their foreign policy beliefs and strategies.
Traditionally, students of Cold War politics had looked at the structure of the bipolar international system as the main explanatory variable to account for the external behavior of states such as India and China. However, Kennedy justly points out that neither Mao nor Nehru ever accepted the international pressures or made any “concerted efforts to remake their worlds rather than simply accepting them as they were” (p. 2). How to account for these anomalous behaviors from a purely rational-systemic perspective? Past studies have concentrated on the role of ideology, domestic politics, or culture to account for variations in the leaders’ willingness to challenge [End Page 182] international structures. Building on the sizable body of cognitive-psychological literature in the field of foreign policy analysis, Kennedy offers an alternative, arguing that “belief systems” can help explain how the two leaders collected and processed information differently. Although both men experienced similar international material pressures after their countries gained (or regained) independence, their cognitive predispositions led them to interpret the situational context and their policy options differently. As a result, because of the particular institutional and political settings within which these two leaders directed their country’s foreign policies, Kennedy makes a strong argument that individual agency uniquely affected policy outcomes.
In his theoretical discussion, Kennedy distinguishes two...