Great expectations unrealized: Chester Bowles and U.S. Cold War policy, 1951--1969

Date of Completion

January 1998


Biography|History, United States|Political Science, International Law and Relations




In 1951, Chester Bowles (1901-1986) accepted President Harry S. Truman's offer to become Ambassador to India. Thus began nearly two decades of participation in the making and administration of U.S. Cold War foreign policy. Bowles twice served in New Delhi, India (1951-1953 and 1963-1969), became a member of Congress from Connecticut (1959-1961), and actively participated in the Kennedy administration, first as Under Secretary of State (1961) and later as Ambassador-at-Large (1961-1962). Bowles consistently sought to modify traditional U.S. Cold War policy to gain U.S. support of Third World economic development, nationalism, and neutralism. But Bowles did not convert policymakers to his prescriptions and became an increasingly marginal figure. This dissertation explores why Bowles failed by discussing his personality, his access to influential decisionmakers, his policy recommendations, the Cold War context, and the bureaucratic structure of U.S. foreign policy.^ Chapter I introduces Bowles's Wilsonian worldview. Chapter II examines his first ambassadorship to India and his unsuccessful attempt to gain adequate funding for India's economic development. Chapter III explores Bowles's criticism of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's foreign policy and his partially successful effort to redirect U.S. foreign assistance programs. Chapter IV recounts Bowles's attempts to restructure the State Department and attract talented people to public service and analyzes his fall from influence. Chapter V investigates Bowles's mixed record opposing Kennedy's militarization of policies towards Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Laos during the first six months of 1961. Chapter VI, examines Bowles's unsuccessful opposition to hard-line policies toward the People's Republic of China and Vietnam.^ Chapter VII traces Bowles's unsuccessful effort to secure long-term U.S. military aid for India. Chapter VIII discusses U.S. food policy to India under the Johnson administration, examining Bowles's marginalization on this issue and others. A brief epilogue summarizes the last seventeen years of Bowles's life and concludes that, although he was often right, he did not reach his objectives because he lacked political skills, found it difficult to compromise, shied away from bureaucratic infighting, and overstated his case. More, he was a liberal visionary and moralist operating in a policymaking environment of amoral Cold War pragmatism. ^