The U.S. Misunderstanding of India During the 1971 South Asia Crisis


  • Adhitya Mahesh Michigan State University



South Asia Crisis of 1971, Pygmalion Effect, intelligence, nadir


This paper is interdisciplinary in nature, dealing with the issues of history, international relations, and cognitive psychology. Its purpose is to use these intersections to highlight the flaws in the Nixon administration’s approach to the South Asian region during the Crisis of 1971. The South Asia Crisis of 1971 created a humanitarian crisis which required India’s intervention in the Pakistani Civil War for regional stability. Due to Pakistan’s role in aiding the Nixon administration’s opening of relations with China, there was a United States (U.S.) tilt towards Pakistan that was based not only off self-interest, but also an incorrect assessment of India’s intentions which ultimately created a discrepancy between desired policy outcome and result. Two key cognitive psychological paradigms will be used in this paper. Theory of Fundamental Attribution Error underscores the Nixon administration’s framework for selecting facts and processing information to feed their preconceived notions of the countries in South Asia. Similarly, Theory of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy explains how the foreign policy actors enforced a Pygmalion Effect where the beliefs of the U.S. and India influenced their actions towards each other, reinforcing an endless cycle of preconceived ideas and contributing to an escalation of tensions during the crisis. The U.S. misunderstood India’s intentions in the South Asia Crisis and incorrectly aligned with Pakistan based on flawed intelligence, despite human rights’ violations and outcry from dissenters of the State Department who held regional expertise. This brought their relationship to its nadir.

Author Biography

  • Adhitya Mahesh, Michigan State University
    I will be a graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University in May of 2019, possessing a Bachelor of Art's Degree in International Relations. I am very passionate about the rapid dissemination of research, especially in the fields of history and international relations, and strongly believe in its open and free access.


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