Why 2017 is not 1962

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

When Chi­nese edi­to­ri­als of its con­trolled me­dia were bay­ing for Indian blood and sug­gest­ing that In­di­ans should ‘not for­get his­tory lessons’ of 1962, the sharp re­but­tal from de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jaitley that ‘the sit­u­a­tion in 1962 was dif­fer­ent, the In­dia of to­day is dif­fer­ent’, was not a po­lit­i­cal tit-for-tat but a cold re­al­ity that needs to be re­it­er­ated, stripped of any hy­per-na­tion­al­is­tic im­port. The de­fence forces of In­dia are spe­cially guarded and weigh each word thor­oughly through the prism of hard facts, as op­posed to any po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing. Herein, the un­der­pin­ning cal­cu­lus of the Indian Army Chief’s stoic com­ment that ‘In­dia was ready for a two-and-a-half-front-war’ this was a fur­ther con­fir­ma­tion of the Indian pre­pared­ness to­wards any even­tu­al­ity. This is a fact, de­spite the nu­mer­i­cal and ma­te­rial su­pe­ri­or­ity that China has main­tained over In­dia since the 1962 war, and even dur­ing the 1967 bor­der con­flict at Nathu La and Cho La, as in­deed now in 2017. It is equally true that China’s mil­i­tary in­vest­ments are ap­prox­i­mately thrice that of In­dia’s ($151 bil­lion as op­posed to $51 bil­lion for In­dia in 2017), and that its stand­ing Army is nearly twice that of In­dia’s (2.3 mil­lion to 1.3 mil­lion), or even that its es­ti­mated nu­clear war­heads are more than twice that of In­dia’s (260 to 110).

How­ever, none of th­ese statis­tics count in a re­stricted war in an iso­lated the­atre. In­trin­si­cally and per­versely, the re­al­ity of nu­clear war­heads at the dis­posal of both the Chi­nese and Indian regimes fun­da­men­tally al­ter the dy­nam­ics as com­pared to 1962. It acts as a de­ter­rent against es­ca­la­tion to a full-scale war — no two nu­cle­ar­armed coun­tries have ever gone to a full-scale war. Prin­ci­ples of ‘cal­cu­lated am­bi­gu­ity’ and ‘sec­ond-strike ca­pa­bil­ity’ in nu­clear doc­trines mil­i­tates against any uni­lat­eral ap­proach to un­der­take one de­ci­sive strike, us­ing both con­ven­tional and nu­clear arms. So, in essence, the equa­nim­ity af­forded by the joint nu­clear sta­tus con­strains con­flicts between war­ring na­tions to be re­stricted to a lim­ited the­atre, like Dok­lam. Ex­cerpts from the leaked Hen­der­son Brooks re­port, which stud­ied the de­ba­cle of 1962 in de­tail, plot the morass that af­flicted the Indian pre­pared­ness in 1962 at var­i­ous lev­els, like or­gan­i­sa­tional, pol­icy, plan­ning and over­all pre­pared­ness. From bla­tant po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence in key com­mand po­si­tions, lack of qual­ity in­tel­li­gence by the agen­cies, am­a­teur­ish ‘for­ward pol­icy’ (over­rul­ing pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary con­cerns from the field com­man­ders) and an over­all lack of in­vest­ment and equip­ment was re­versed and cor­rected as soon as 1965. For those who state that the 1965 war was an In­dia-Pak war and there­fore can­not be equated with the Sino-Indian war dy­nam­ics, the fol­low­ing 1967 con­flicts at Nathu La and Cho La en­tailed the Sino-Indian dy­nam­ics and the Indian forces came up vic­to­ri­ous fair and square in the ‘re­stricted’ the­atre. The high point of Indian mil­i­tary’s pro­fes­sion­al­ism was in 1971 and re­it­er­ated in ‘Kargil’ in 1999. So 1962 was a for­got­ten chap­ter by 1965 it­self, let alone 2017.

The on­go­ing steely stare down that is play­ing out in Dok­lam sec­tor to­day, in­volv­ing 6,000 foot sol­diers, has more in com­mon with a sim­i­lar stand­off in 1967, when a Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army at­tack on Nathu La was suc­cess­fully re­pulsed, lead­ing to a bloody nose for the PLA. No amount of nu­mer­i­cal ‘pa­per strength’ mat­tered for much in the even­tual out­come that led to a hu­mil­i­at­ing fa­tal­ity count of 400 PLA sol­diers and an es­ti­mated 70 fa­tal ca­su­al­ties for the Indian in­fantry bat­tal­ions. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the Chi­nese are not obliv­i­ous to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the Indian sol­dier when they state in their col­umns, “In­dia’s mil­i­tary has more ex­pe­ri­ence in moun­tain com­bat”. Lo­calised log­jams like Dok­lam have their own dy­nam­ics and op­er­a­tional im­per­a­tives that are bereft of the ‘pa­per strengths’ of hy­po­thet­i­cal fullscale wars. Struc­turally also, the in­de­pen­dent PLA is a po­ten­tial threat to its own regime of the Com­mu­nist Party of China. Hence, the PLA swears its al­le­giance to the CPC and not to the coun­try! So the ‘party Army’ ne­ces­si­tates that all com­pany-level PLA of­fi­cers are also CPC mem­bers, and they have ‘po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cers’ as ap­pa­ratchiks to en­sure con­trol. The non-mil­i­tary ad­vi­sory CPC com­mit­tee mem­bers have ma­jor say on mil­i­tary mat­ters as op­posed to the PLA it­self. Amidst all this, ‘po­lit­i­cal work’ is a sig­nif­i­cant part of the PLA train­ing that en­tails waste­ful pro­pa­gan­dist in­doc­tri­na­tion of the CPC’s, civil­ian sen­si­bil­i­ties.

Un­like the Indian armed forces, who have been fre­quently in­volved in cross-bor­der wars and in­sur­gen­cies since 1962, the Chi­nese have had no ma­jor com­bat ex­pe­ri­ences. Its famed tech­no­log­i­cal prow­ess is ‘re­verse en­gi­neer­ing’ at best with un­proven ef­fi­cacy, whereas the bulk of Indian de­fence equip­ment and com­po­si­tion has ei­ther been blood­ied in com­bat or is of a cred­i­ble Western tech­no­log­i­cal ori­gin with proven ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Never mind In­dia, China’s peren­nial bug bear Tai­wan has de­fied all Chi­nese bel­liger­ence and mil­i­tary bul­ly­ing, three waves of ‘Tai­wan Strait Cri­sis’ have not al­tered Taipei’s re­silience or sovereignty. With all its nu­mer­i­cal strength, sup­posed ‘blue wa­ter’ Navy ca­pa­bil­i­ties, cut­ting-edge mil­i­tary plat­forms like the fifth gen­er­a­tion Chengdu J-20, bur­geon­ing nu­clear weaponry, world’s largest army of cy­ber war­riors and hack­ers, sec­ond largest fleet of drones and un­manned ae­rial ve­hi­cles, Chi­nese re­main un­suc­cess­ful in their quest to wrest Tai­wan, which is hardly 100 nau­ti­cal miles from their main­land, equipped at a frac­tion of China, but with just about enough to give the Chi­nese a bloody nose!

It is in this con­text and realm of hold­ing ground ap­proach of the Indian nar­ra­tive as op­posed to the ‘ex­pan­sion­ist’ in­stincts of the Chi­nese that the Dok­lam stand­off needs to be eval­u­ated and ap­pre­ci­ated. The Chi­nese are past mas­ters of both mus­cle-flex­ing and im­pres­sive pos­tur­ing. How­ever, it is with the care­ful anal­y­sis of the PLA track record, evo­lu­tion of the emerg­ing global dy­nam­ics (In­dia-US an­gu­lar­ity) and the in­her­ent bat­tle pre­pared­ness of the Indian armed forces that the state­ments made by the Indian de­fence min­is­ter and the Chief of Army Staff need to be de­coded. Like the last Sino-Indian skir­mish in 1987 in the Sum­dorong Chu Val­ley, it is ex­pected that the thaw will soon en­sue and diplo­macy will take over to de-es­ca­late ten­sions. How­ever, his­tory also sug­gests that the same hap­pens with the Chi­nese only when the op­pos­ing na­tion has re­cip­ro­cated the bul­ly­ing and ex­pan­sion­ist ten­den­cies, like in Dok­lam.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.