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The 1962 India-China war has been analyzed threadbare by experts and lay people on the 50th anniversary of the war. Articles and papers based on in- depth research of earlier documents and records have appeared in several countries, most notably India and China . Now that the analyses and discussions about India ’s humiliation have tapered off, it is interesting to note that for reasons that remain inexplicable many inferences and lessons that should have been drawn by analysts in India have not been touched upon. A brief review of some of these omissions follows.

          To begin with tomes have been written on the perfidious Chinese. That they spurned the hand of friendship and deceived India by attacking it in strength. Deception on the part of Chinese has been writ large by practically every major presenter. While non military experts and those outside the diplomatic fraternity can be forgiven for roundly and soundly castigating the Chinese for their perfidy, the same cannot be said of military persons and diplomats. All of them seem to have forgotten or overlooked the fact that deception has been and remains the bedrock of the art of warfare. The number of times Chanakya, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli have been quoted by military writers can hardly be counted. And yet relating to the 1962War practically everybody seems to have overlooked them. Lamenting that China deceived India in 1962 has almost been used as an excuse for India’s failures on many fronts in several writings that appeared - by government functionaries and military writers in India. The bigger danger is that India may come a cropper on this very count once again. There are still any number of officially sponsored think tank writers and security experts who maintain that the military threat from China has been exaggerated or that China ’s concessions and professions of friendship from time to time should be taken at face value. Several newspapers also routinely expound this line of thinking. Mercifully the military hierarchy in India has begun to differ and see the Chinese threat for what it is. For the reality is that the military asymmetry created by China opposite India is so overwhelming that it would be foolish in the extreme to not take it seriously.

          In a perverse sort of way one can actually thank China for having so dramatically - and traumatically - brought to light India ’s glaring military deficiencies. Had 1962 not happened there was a strong possibility that the neglect of the military would have continued. Moreover, Mr. Nehru would have continued to be lost in his make believe fantasies stemming from his lack of understanding of real politic. His confidence in his defence minister Krishna Menon would have remained unshaken, allowing the latter to play havoc with the leadership, seniority and self-confidence of the top military hierarchy. The net result of all these failings might have spelled a bigger disaster for India in 1965 when the war with Pakistan was joined. In sum, if nothing else 1962 was a wake up call. In spite of heavy military reverses and national humiliation India was allowed to reclaim all the territory that it had lost in the east without firing a shot, courtesy the unilateral pull back by China . It had set out to teach a lesson to India . The lesson was well learned. It led to a series of victories over the conflicts with Pakistan that followed the 1962 disaster. Further, after 50 years India has the self-confidence not to allow a repeat of 1962. It is possible that 1962 could have given a fillip to India ’s quest for a nuclear capability following China ’s first nuclear test in 1964.

          However, the most important lesson that the Government of India and the country’s defence planners at the highest level have failed to recall was the total absence of a riposte capability against China in both Eastern and Western sectors. In practically every recent war it has again been established that fire power by aircraft, missiles and other advanced weapon systems no matter how crippling is never the final deciding factor where terrain is involved. Ultimately it has to be boots on the ground. In the case of China the asymmetry in their favour is so overwhelming that it is hardly a subject to be debated. This asymmetry will be enhanced when one realizes that their defense budget is five times that of India . With the accelerated boost to defense preparedness in recent years, it should be possible for the Indian Army to prevent a repeat of 1962, i.e. , a major reverse.   

From the elaboration given above the point that is being highlighted is that China will continue to call the shots and up the ante at will unless India has a deterrent that they cannot afford to ignore. In the conventional military sense that deterrent is a strike corps that is capable off biting of a chunk of Chinese territory at the place and time of the defender’s choosing. Besides acting as a deterrent a strike corps restores a modicum of initiative to the Indian side. What is more, capture of even a small portion of Chinese territory would alter the geo-political situation to a lesser or greater degree depending on the inroads made by the strike corps, especially in Tibet.

          However, the fact is that in spite of having borders with several countries the strategic space that it has carved out for itself allows China to reposition forces from any sector to back its offensive against India without creating vulnerability elsewhere, e.g., it could pull out almost all the missiles and aircraft facing Taiwan to reposition them to support the offensive against India, thereby adding to the overwhelming asymmetry already enjoyed. Going a step further, the Tibetan plateau and the rail and road communications that they have created affords them all the advantages of interior lines of communication vis-à-vis the Indian forces whose infrastructure along the border for lateral movement or speedy reinforcements leaves much to be desired.  In sum not only are the Chinese in a position to make major inroads in certain sectors they could end up by creating a strategic vulnerability. A well-trained and well-motivated defender - the Indian Army – can make the opponent pay a very heavy price. Should however the aggressor be willing to pay the price, India would be in deep trouble.

          Finally, studying the pattern of warfare of modern armies over the last 100 years or so, it will be seen that in practically every campaign studied, in over ninety cases out of hundred, possibly more, the adverse situation created for the defender could only be rectified by a riposte. Some of these ripostes ended up creating havoc for the initial attacker. In the light of the foregoing it becomes imperative for India to raise the strike corps for the mountains on the highest national priority.


Vinod Saighal

New Delhi, November 1, 2012.

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