Monday, September 17, 2012




Our national trait for wishful-thinking often  worries me.

2. A rationally argued assumption is an important part of strategic thinking, a wishful thought with no rational basis is not. I had pointed out in some of my articles in the past how we often confuse wishful-thinking for strategic analysis. Some, if not many of those, who have made a name in our country as strategic analysts, are actually wishful-thinkers. There are many wishful-thinkers even in our security bureaucracy.

3. These observations have been triggered by some E-Mailed comments received by me on my article of September 17,2012, asking whether our humiliation of 1962 by China can repeat itself. The majority of those who have argued that the question of another 1962 does not arise have given two reasons, both of which appear to me to be nothing but wishful thoughts.

4.The first is that the Chinese are no longer in a position to spring a trans-Himalayan surprise on us as they did in 1962.The second is that the strong Navy that we have built up since 1962 will act as a deterrent to any more trans-Himalayan adventurism by the PLA. According to them, our Navy is in a position to disrupt Chinese energy supplies across the Indian Ocean and without assured energy supplies the Chinese would not be able to indulge in any adventurism across the Himalayas.

5. I feel uncomfortable with both these wishful-thoughts. Before October 1962, our political leaders had so convinced themselves about the superiority of our Army over the PLA that they thought that all they had to do was to order our Army to thrown out the illegal Chinese posts in our territory in the North-East and it would do so without any problems. Jawaharlal Nehru and V.K.Krishna Menon, the then Defence Minister, were living in a world of wishful-thinking.

6. Nehru openly went around saying that he had asked the Army to throw out the Chinese. The Chinese took note of his statements, which proved to have been irresponsible in retrospect, and launched a pre-emptive act of retaliation to neutralise our Army’s capability for throwing out the Chinese posts and inflict a humiliation on our Army.

7. That kind of wishful-thinking about the relative strengths of the two Armies and Air Forces is fortunately not there now. We take each other’s trans-Himalayan capabilities with a lot of realism. Realistic thinking and analysis is the foundation of good strategic thinking.

8.But I notice a new wishful thought clouding our strategic thinking presently and that is about the perceived superiority of our Navy over the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean area. I am confident that the Chinese Navy will not be able to disrupt our energy supplies across the Indian Ocean , but I do not share the confidence of those who have commented on my article that our Navy would be able to disrupt Chinese energy supplies and that the realisation of this will deter any trans-Himalayan adventure by the Chinese.

9. The Chinese are realistic geostrategic thinkers and planners. They know energy adequacy could turn out to be their weak point in any future military confrontation with any external power. They have been trying to build up their strategic reserves, diversifying their sources of supply and means of having the supplies reached to them. Their energy security diversification plan speaks well of their strategic foresight. I wish we have similar foresight.

10.So, to think and argue that our Navy has become a deterrent to Chinese designs and intentions would be unwise. Moreover, in our thinking, we should try to visualise what role the Pakistani Navy will seek to play in the event of another military conflict between India and China. We should be prepared with contingency planning for the eventuality that the Pakistani Navy will try to keep some of our ships bottled up near the Western ports so that we can’t use them against the Chinese.

11.If there is another military conflict between India and China, it is not going to be a copy-cat of 1962.The PLA is not going to move into our territory on foot and motor vehicles and occupy territory after over-powering our posts as they did in 1962. In my view, the most likely scenario is that copter-borne, specially trained units of the PLA will take our Armed Forces by surprise by undertaking a lightning occupation of Tawang and Itahnagar in Arunachal Pradesh. They will then try to force us to concede Chinese sovereignty over Tawang in return for their conceding our sovereignty over Itahnagar and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. I also expect that the copter-borne PLA forces will come not from the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), but from Qinghai, Gansu or Sichuan.

12. We are now in a better position than we were in 1962 to detect  Chinese preparations for a classical military strike from the TAR. Are we in a position to detect and neutralise a copter-borne invasion from bases outside the TAR? What are the other scenarios possible? What would be the options available to us?

13. Those are the questions that we in governmental and non-Governmental circles should examine with our feet firmly on the ground and without any wishful-thinking.

14.My two articles on the forthcoming 50th anniversary of the 1962 humiliation should not be misinterpreted to mean that I have probably lost faith in the possibility of a negotiated solution of the border dispute with China. I have not. I greatly respect the pragmatism of the Chinese political and military leadership.

15. When they initiated the military conflict with India in 1962, they were a poor country with a primitive economy. They did not have to worry about the likely impact of a military conflict on their economy and on the livelihood of their people.

16.Today, China is a major and influential economic and military power itching to catch up with the US. Any military conflict with India could have worrisome impact on their economy. Their interest in keeping their economy sustained and flourishing has made them a cautious power----more cautious than they were in 1962. They would avoid a military confrontation as far as possible.

17. At the same time, I am disturbed to notice the doggedness with which they have been pursuing their territorial sovereignty claims---whether  with us in Arunachal Pradesh or  with some ASEAN powers in respect of the South China Sea islands or  with Japan in respect of the East China Sea Islands.

18. This doggedness should forewarn us that  if an opportunity presented  itself they may not hesitate to seek a military solution to the border dispute.

19. Chinese strategic thinking is marked by a mix of pragmatism and opportunism. We should not create unwittingly a tempting opportunity for them by our military unpreparedness. ( 18-9-12)

(The  writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:  Twitter @SORBONNE75)




Unknown said...

Without a doubt i feel that the Indian Government's stand with China on the Tibetan issue is two sided.
While there is a recognition of China's sovereignty of Tibet, on the other hand India hosts the Tibetan Government in exile.

Paresh said...

This news article shows just how arrogant and disrespectful the Chinese are towards Indians. I wish they are taught a lesson somehow. But is our political leadership upto it? I sincerely hope so!

Visible Trade said...

I agree with you on almost all of the points that you have highlighted here. Here are a few on thoughts on the article:
1.The only point of strong disagreement that I have is on your assertion that war would be bad for your economy. Chinese economy is structured such that all forms of cost for production are kept to a minimum and surplus accumulates at the central government level. This worked very well while China posted decade after decade of spectacular growth. But with its economic Growth slowing down for obvious reasons, this structure and associated societal implications have the potential to destabilize the country from within. China realizes this and hence it has been trying to increase the depth of its domestic market. To be stabilizing, this requires not only encouraging domestic private consumption but also release of surplus accumulated at the central level into the domestic economy. But this second part is tricky as it may fuel inflation (if not done in within limited options) in an increasingly disgruntled population. A war may be an excellent excuse to unite the society and to kick start the local economy and ensure employment and wages. I suspect China may even go out looking for a war if things don't improve globally. And India could be a simpler target. But with restricted possibility US intervention, they may even have limited engagement with Japan which would have much more popular support because of historical reasons.

2.You are right. Their doggedness on territorial integrity is a forewarning to be taken seriously. As for your perception of caution, probably there is more optimism there than you would like to believe.

3. I am sure you have better understanding of this issue, but i think you are gross overestimating the capabilities of our navy as compared to China. Our capability with respect to our other neighbors and Asian countries may be significant but my limited study shows that there sheer deployment would not leave much room in the Indian ocean for our ships to move (hyperbole - but an image that may be useful). Also, there capability to take losses and sustain is many many times greater than we can imagine.

What They don't Want You to Know said...

You're all missing the point if we are talking strategically: we are a nuclear power with the capability now or in the near future to inflict material damage to the Chinese and their trade hubs. The same arguments that prevent us launching a war against POK apply to the Chinese.

So Mr Raman is right to speculate that a Chinese 'invasion' is likely to be 'small' and helicopter borne. Therefore it is likely to be similar to our own supposed cold start doctrine. In the strategic context of the border issue, it is hard to see how this will benefit China except to inflict a humiliating blow on India.

I repeat an earlier argument: our air force was not used in 1962 and despite Chinese numerical superiority, India's Sukhois and armaments are arguably qualitatively better than the Chinese. (In this context the recent decision to go for Rafale and spurn the US offer of F35 Raptor is a colossal tactical blunder).

So while the Chinese have the advantage of superior infrastructure on their side of the border I think the military balance is less clear. Any action on their part will be based on their assessment of their cyber warfare capability, their satellite killing technology and above all on the will of India to launch a strong retaliation. What's lacking is our leaders talking and acting tough.

Which of our geriatric, money eating politicians has indicated indirectly that India would launch a missile attack on Shanghai in the event of a Chinese attack?