Indo-china War 1962 Lessons and way for­ward

“Re­la­tions be­tween great pow­ers can­not be sus­tained by in­er­tia, com­merce or mere sen­ti­ments.” — Aaron Frei­d­burg in New Repub­lic, Au­gust 4, 2011


The In­dia-China War in 1962 was in­de­pen­dent In­dia’s most trau­matic and worst ever se­cu­rity fail­ure which left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on our his­tory and psy­che. This Oc­to­ber marks its 50th an­niver­sary: an ap­pro­pri­ate oc­ca­sion to re­flect on its strate­gic lessons and our cur­rent politico-mil­i­tary sta­tus vis-à-vis China.


It all started with China’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Ti­bet, and their sur­rep­ti­tious con­struc­tion of a strate­gic road through Ak­saichin, join­ing Ti­bet with Sinkiang. The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia took two-and-a-half years to con­firm the road con­struc­tion and an­other one year to dis­close it to the Par­lia­ment on Au­gust 31, 1959.

The up­ris­ing in Ti­bet caused fur­ther wors­en­ing of re­la­tions. In March 1959, Dalai Lama fled from Ti­bet and took shel­ter in In­dia. China sus­pected that In­dia was help­ing the Khampa re­bel­lion and had en­abled Dalai Lama’s es­cape to In­dia. This, along­side skir­mishes on sev­eral bor­der posts, re­sulted in the hard­en­ing of at­ti­tudes. In­dia adopted a strate­gi­cally flawed ‘For­ward Pol­icy’ of erect­ing iso­lated check posts with­out tak­ing any mea­sures to im­prove bor­der in­fra­struc­ture or the armed forces’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Fail­ure of the gov­ern­ment pol­icy put Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru un­der in­tense do­mes­tic pres­sure. He or­dered the mil­i­tary to throw out the Chi­nese from in­truded In­dian ter­ri­tory—a task that was well be­yond its ca­pa­bil­ity.

In Oc­to­ber 1962, the Chi­nese mil­i­tary launched pre­med­i­tated and cal­i­brated puni­tive at­tacks in In­dia’s North­west and North­east sec­tors of Ladakh and North-East Fron­tier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh). In­dia suf­fered its worst ever mil­i­tary de­feat, and a ge­o­graphic surgery that con­tin­ues to fes­ter in the form of Line of Ac­tual Con­trol (LAC) till date.

There are many lessons. My em­pha­sis is on strate­gic think­ing and plan­ning, civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions and ca­pa­bil­ity build­ing to tackle po­ten­tial se­cu­rity threats.

Grand Strat­egy

Ac­cord­ing to a Pen­tagon his­tor­i­cal study pa­per on the Sino-In­dia Bor­der Dis­pute, de­clas­si­fied in 2007, “Developments be­tween late 1950 and late 1959

Tawang War Memo­rial at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, for mar­tyrs of the 1962 Indo-China war

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