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India's Diplomatic Build-Up on the San Francisco Treaty in 1951

India's PM Nehru believed that accepting the US-led treaty would be tantamount to a political somersault, with no logic left in any policy that it would pursue.



Jawaharlal Nehru, S Radhakrishnan, and Rajendra Prasad in 1955. In 1951, they were India’s prime minister, ambassador to the Soviet Union, and president, respectively. (©Government of India)

In a letter written to India's then Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, (archives dated August 1, 1951) PM Jawaharlal Nehru highlighted that regarding the proposed conference, many issues had been kept vague under the clauses "territorial." India was hopeful that peace would enable Japan to be free from occupation forces. However, according to the draft treaty, the United States armed forces were to remain in Japan. 

Fourth of five parts

First part: San Francisco: Why India Made Its Own Peace with Japan
Second part: What Made India Uncomfortable in the San Francisco Treaty?
Third part: San Francisco Treaty: How India Sought Burma and Indonesia's Cooperation in the Hope of Establishing Peace

PM Nehru's Decision

Interestingly, India's then Ambassador to the United States and Mexico, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, had advised the Government of India to sign the Japanese peace treaty. Pandit was also the sister of PM Nehru.

However, the Indian Ambassadors in London, Moscow, and Peking (Beijing) had advised very strongly against signing the treaty. Moreover, KPS Menon (India's Foreign Secretary at that time) too, was against it. Most members of the Government's Foreign Affairs Committee were also against signing.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his sister Madame Pandit, and US President Harry S Truman leave Washington National Airport on 11 October 1949. (National Archives and Records Administration)

After carefully considering all inputs, PM Nehru observed that moderate tendencies and real democratic ways and policies found less scope, while the fascists and communists held the field against each other, ultimately leading to war, probably. In this reference, as far as India was concerned, it wanted to keep out of this. While India was "certainly not lining up with the communist countries, [we] have an equal distaste for the fascists." Therefore, India would not be in a position to sign the treaty. Nehru conveyed this to Vijayalakshmi Pandit vide an August 6, 1951 letter.

A Political Somersault

Moreover, PM Nehru was certain that accepting the Japanese treaty as it was would put an end to India's (then) policy. In fact, PM Nehru believed that it would be a political somersault — with no logic left in any policy that it would pursue. Advising India's Ambassador to the United States and Mexico on the far-reaching consequences of India signing the treaty, PM Nehru wrote:

It means a reversal of what we have been saying and acting upon thus far. It means a submission, under pressure or fear, to American policy in the Far East and Asia. The consequence of not signing it means greater ill will in the United States. My mind is clear that we cannot sign this treaty. No doubt the treaty will be signed without us and will take effect. We cannot stop it and do not come in the way. But I see no reason whatever why we should be, in a sense, guarantors of the treaty and of the many provisions in it which we utterly dislike. We would prefer to sign a simple bilateral treaty with Japan […]

The September 10, 1951 edition of The Mainichi Shimbun reported about the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference. Of the 51 participating countries, 48 countries signed the treaty on September 9. The Soviet Union and two other countries did not. This officially put an end to World War II. (The Mainichi Shimbun)

Soviet Union's Decision

By August 13, 1951, the Soviet Union had announced its decision to go to the San Francisco Conference despite its opposition to the US-sponsored treaty. This surprised many, including India. However, it was evident that Moscow was not going to sign the treaty. It intended to use the platform of the Conference to state its objections on record. 

Related was a telegram dated August 19, 1951, sent by India's then Ambassador to the Soviet Union, S Radhakrishnan to PM Nehru. The former asked: "[Andrei] Gromyko wishes to see me tomorrow 21 hours [...] May be about Japanese peace treaty […] Anything you wish me to ascertain?" Upon receiving the telegram, Nehru replied a day later via a cable message:

You might ascertain what procedures the Soviet delegation intend [on] adopting at San Francisco Conference in view of US declaration that no change can be made in final draft of Japanese treaty and fixed time table for signing […] For your personal information we have decided not to participate in San Francisco Conference. Burma will also not participate. Our decision will be finalized soon in full Cabinet and conveyed to US about 25th August […]

Cropped photograph of Andrei Gromyko from 1972. (Nationaal Archief)

Avoiding Wordy Warfare

Additionally, in an August 15, 1951 note to Girija Shankar Bajpai, then Secretary-General at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), PM Nehru stated that he was inclined to agree with the former's view about India's not attending the San Francisco Conference. The Conference was likely to become a major factor for wordy warfare and mutual recrimination. India's position would become very embarrassing and difficult, holding the views as it did. 

Bajpai, in an earlier note to Nehru, had written that the signing of the treaty by India was impossible. Therefore, the right course would be "to communicate our objections to the treaty and not to attend the Conference at San Francisco."

India's Objections to the Draft Treaty

Finally, the Government of India replied to the August 23, 1951 note received by the US. It welcomed the assurance that the overriding desire of the Government of the United States was peace in Asia. Welcoming also that the latter did not want to be a party to colonialism or imperialism, India underlined opposition to colonialism and imperialism as the basis of its struggle. That said, the Government of India made many significant observations in its August 27, 1951 reply to the US note. A select few of these have been cited below: 

  1. The Government of the United States have expressed the belief that their view of the proposed treaty is shared by the Government and the people of Japan. The Government of India regret that they cannot share this view; such information as they have received does not confirm the appreciation of the situation by the United States Government.
  1. In discussing the Government of India's views regarding defensive arrangements to be made by Japan, the Government of the United States describe them as tantamount to leaving Japan defenseless against proved aggressors. The Government of India fail to find any warrant for such a conclusion from anything that they have said. The draft treaty recognizes that Japan as a sovereign nation possesses the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense and that Japan may voluntarily enter into collective security arrangements. Adequate provision is thus made for Japan independently to make whatever arrangement she considers necessary for her self-defense as soon as she has signed the peace treaty and it is not clear to the Government of India why there should be "any period of total defenselessness" for Japan.

The Parliament of India

The next, final section of this series analyzes the Government of India's statement on the Japanese Peace Treaty in the Parliament of India as things were coming to a culmination on this subject. The Parliament on August 27, 1951, was apprised of the latest developments regarding the proposed peace treaty with Japan, and of India's decision thereon.


Author: Dr Monika Chansoria

Dr Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs in Tokyo and the author of five books on Asian security. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization with which the author is affiliated. Follow her column, "All Politics is Global" on JAPAN Forward, and on X (formerly Twitter) @MonikaChansoria.

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