1962 War: A Critical Analysis
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 30 Mar , 2018

Indian troops forming a man-tow for artillery over rough mountain terrain during 1962 War

We in India are perhaps perplexed to this day, over half a century later, as to why the Chinese attacked us in October–November 1962 despite our continued efforts to befriend. Both India and China were ancient civilisations, although with little interaction over centuries. In addition, both had thrown off colonial masters and were focused on improving the lot of their teeming millions. Perhaps it was our idealism and lack of understanding of real politic that was responsible for the humiliating debacle in 1962, a trauma that continues to haunt many in India.

During the 1962 war, India was left isolated. Barring Western countries like USA and UK, none came to India’s aid, though India considered herself as the leader of the Non-aligned Movement. The need therefore is to build strong alliances.

The Sequence of Events leading up to the War

When the Chinese People’s Republic came into being on 1st October, 1949,India was among the first and very few countries to recognise it.  In Nehru’s worldview, these two Asian giants could together start a new Asian era. Indeed, at that time, no differences existed between the two countries, which could lead to hostility. However, that did not take into account the devious and complex Chinese mind, which even at that early stage had rationalised that only one of the two countries could be an Asian power. It was China’s goal to see that India remained confined to South Asia. Pandit Nehru, who was both the Prime Minister as well as External Affairs Minister, could not read the Chinese intention. His colleagues in the Congress party, although men of stature themselves, were content to leave foreign policy solely in Nehru’s hands, which proved detrimental to national interests.

The first sign of discord between India and China came in 1950 when Chinainvaded Tibet. This was blatant aggression as historically, Tibet has never been a part of China. The Tibetans looked up to India for help but India’s feeble protest merely antagonised the Chinese without helping the Tibetans.India now had to contend with China on its Northern and Eastern border. Though not demarcated, these borders were well defined by various treaties and usage right from seventeenth century. Opportunities to negotiate a border settlement in the fifties existed, but were not seized. India entered into the Panchsheel Agreement with China in 1954, hoping to put an end to Chinese provocations but that was not to be. On the contrary, China illegally occupied the Aksai Chin and completed construction of their Western Highwaythrough it in 1957. To counter continued Chinese aggression, India embarked on a policy of establishing a series of small posts all along its Northern and Eastern borders with China, to prevent further incursions. Called the ‘Forward policy’, most posts were not capable of giving a fight to the Chinese and were logistically unsustainable. Coupled with this, India neglected the improvement of infrastructure in the border areas, which was to cost the country dear when the conflict started in 1962.

Around 1959-60, the Army was ill prepared to fight a war with China, but the army leadership still went along with the disastrous Forward Policy.  Nothing illustrates this better than deploying a brigade on a river line in Namka Chu against all tactical norms. The outcome was a foregone conclusion – a debacle. By now the Chinese had made up their mind that since India was not negotiating the border issue to their satisfaction, which was basically  bartering the Aksai Chin in Ladakh for Chinese acceptance of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh, they would “teach India a lesson”.

India and China are two growing Asian powers and hence a clash of interests is inevitable.  The key is to keep it manageable and not allow it to flare up into another border war.

On 20 October, 1962, they overwhelmed 7 infantry Brigade deployed on Namka Chu River in Western Arunachal Pradesh and launched massive offensives both in Ladakh as well as Arunachal Pradesh.  After gaining their initial objectives, the Chinese took a tactical and logistic pause for three weeks before renewing their offensives. On achieving their objectives, they announced a dramatic unilateral ceasefire on 20 Nov 1962 completing India’s humiliation.

The Lessons of 1962 War:

  • Defence preparedness is mandatory if a nation aspires to be a world power.  Without military power, diplomacy will have no teeth as is the case with India today.
  • Armed Forces have to be an integral part of a nation’s foreign policy. Unfortunately we have failed to learn this lesson and continue to keep the Armed Forces away from the decision making loop. This is going to cost us dear in a future war.
  • War fighting is not only about weapons and ammunition. The crucial thing is infrastructure. If we are not able to put our forces swiftly into areas on the border where they are required to fight, we will lose the war in the beginning itself.  This lesson has not been learned. Successive governments have done little on this account as a result of which, even after fifty years, our infrastructure in border areas continues to be poor.
  • While the Chinese have made giant strides in the modernisation of their armed forces and their strategic capability, we are lagging behind in this respect.
  • During the 1962 war, India was left isolated. Barring Western countries like USA and UK, none came to India’s aid, though India considered herself as the leader of the Non-aligned Movement. The need therefore is to build strong alliances.

The Border Question and the Way Ahead

The India China War of 1962 erupted due to the different perceptions of the border.  This issue has defied any solution for the past six decades primarily because China uses this as a pressure point to keep India unbalanced. It has also developed its strategy of India’s encirclement by reducing India’s influence in the region. We must however, not make the mistake of solving the border issue on China’s terms. The issue can keep hanging fire for as long as it takes but it must not hinder our economic development.

Meanwhile, we need to proceed with our military modernisation and improvement of infrastructure in border areas, which has sadly been neglected for the last half a century. We must also continue our economic engagement with China and correct the trade imbalance.

India and China are two growing Asian powers and hence a clash of interests is inevitable.  The key is to keep it manageable and not allow it to flare up into another border war. It will be tough test for our diplomacy.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, PhD

served in the Regiment of Artillery and was awarded a Doctorate for his research & thesis on "Sino-Indian Relations".

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8 thoughts on “1962 War: A Critical Analysis

  1. The ignorance and incompetence of Indian Army appalling. Claims of “Tibet never being a part of China” are debatable but let’s leave it aside. Claim of “Tibetans looked up to India for help but India’s feeble protest merely antagonised the Chinese” does not explain what Nehru should have actually done. Is Maj Gen Thapliyal saying that Nehru should have invaded/liberated Tibet in 1950? Thapliyal as it is moans about “humiliating debacle in 1962, a trauma that continues to haunt” him. What could our Uttar Kumar army do 12 years earlier in 1950? He blames “our idealism and lack of understanding of real politic”. What “idealism”? What Nehru showed was “realism”. Does Thapliyal understand the “real politic” even today after 55 years? China lost 23 million people to WWII and then 4 million to their own Civil War. Without blinking Mao gave up another half-million to Korean War which was not even China’s war. Mao then challenged the West to nuke him. Compare that attitude with Indian Army which can’t stop crying over 3,000 deaths 55 years ago. The stupidity of claims of “none came to India’s aid, though India considered herself as the leader of the Non-aligned Movement” is baffling. Nobody in India (including current External Affairs Minister MJ Akbar) even knows what Non-alignment means. Non-alignment is not a Defense Agreement such as NATO or Warsaw Pact. It is in fact the anti-thesis. Did India ever go to the aid of any other Non-aligned country? Indeed it was because of our Non-alignment that we got help from USA, UK, USSR, Taiwan, Canada etc which forced China retreat. Claim of “unilateral ceasefire on 20 Nov 1962 completing India’s humiliation” is yet another shocker. When enemy retreats, any other nation claims victory. Only Indian Army can be clueless to feel humiliated. Would India retreat from Kashmir to humiliate Pakistan? He claims “China achieved their objectives”! Really? Then why did they vacate NEFA which they still claim?

  2. Chinese were super powers even during 14th Century. The British author and retired submarine lieutenant-commander Gavin Menzies has written a book (1421: The Year China Discovered the World) in which he claims that the Chinese sailed to America before Columbus. There is another book from the same author titled “1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance”. Zheng He (Cheng Ho) voyages commanded a fleet of 317 ships, almost 28,000 men, their arms and supplies. The Malabar port of Calicut was a stop over in medieval times and was the key link in the Indian Ocean. He oversaw seven voyages that touched upon Calicut between 1405 -1433. The Chinese had discontinued voyages around the early 16th century? China was prosperous, self-complacent, self-sufficient and isolated until the European arrived. Initially the Chinese emperor banned the European products. Hence Opium provided the perfect product in building a customer base through use, abuse, and addiction. It was cheaply produced in India. China lost two opium wars against Britain because the drug addicted chinese army was no match for the British. The Japanese had a free walkover during WWII. The west was clever in playing the double agents game with China. The communist revolution in China was planned by CIA and the Western elites at Yale. CIA trained Mao Zedong’s Red Army in China and the Viet Minh in French Indochina. The west found it easy to control china further using the same opium strategy combined with eugenics under Mao. The present China is a family-run business. The best way to gain a foothold in China is through princelings or revolutionary families that constitute the political elite and dominates the Chinese economy and wealth. Greed is the driving force behind the protectionist walls of the state-owned economy and money is the language. India should handle China more diplomatically than military strength. Understand and learn from the tactics used by Brits

  3. China is India’s natural neighbor. In 1962, some unwanted incidents occurred in India-china border, which could have been avoided by proper diplomatic intelligence. However, in 1965, when Indian army reached Lahore, an important city of Pakistan, India-china border remained peaceful. In 1971, when Indian army reached Dhaka, the then capital of East Pakistan, India-china border remained peaceful. In 1993 India-china border agreement is signed. The agreement is such that both sides are supposed to continue with their “claim”, but nobody will take any “action” and status quo will be maintained. So, presently India-china border is peaceful calm and quiet. One should be realistic before fabrication of fictions and unrealistic story of “probable attack from north” or story of “Sino – Pakistan axis”.

    • Asit guin! Your contention has been proven wrong. Are you you amused? During 1962, China invaded India, not incidental. It was premeditated and well thought out. The discord had been building up since Chinese annexed Tibet and claimed Akshaichin. Also China did threaten India during 1971.

  4. Well someone blundered from 1950 to 1962. India and Indians today are bearing the brunt of those policy blunders. But instead of setting things straight, the Army unfortunately has not been able to stand up to the nincompoop Troika (PM, RM and FM) while dealing with the intrusions by PLA. Why? The COAS should some spine and threaten to step down if he or his Army Commanders are not given a free hand in dealing with the incursions. The FM from the comfort of his air conditioned office in South Bloc cannot dictate in what manner the Army should respond on the borders; it is an army problem, and his foot in the mouth disease statements cannot resolve this issue.

  5. Well there is nothing new in what the General here is saying. Who is responsible? These generals themselves. How many have been able to stand their ground on the issue of infrastructure against the government? The Indian Army in the border areas lives in shabby conditions and these generals just turn a blind eye to it. Who has cared to raise their voice against it. If the Commanding Officer asks for facitilies for his troops he is likely to get sacked in the Indian Army. Where the troops are drinking water from the free flowing streams in the mountains the senior lot is drinking bisleri water. The higher headquarters live in warm comfort where as troops are living in makeshift shelters and tents in sub-zero condition. There is rot and baggage at the top that needs to be cleaned up.

  6. A very well written article sir. The need of the hour is to rapidly modernize the military, both physically and mentally. We should induct weapon systems rapidly based on superior technology rather than lowest cost basis. We also have to make our military work in theater environment if we have to win a war, rather than working in silos. We should appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and appoint theater commanders take utilize the capability of all the 3 wings of the military. We should have a single person incharge, incase of a war with China. He should be directly reporting to the CDS. Further, we should be more aggressive in our border patrolling and establish permanent bases and posts near the border manned by army. The troops should be deployed permanently so that they are acclimatized to the weather. The ITBP should be under the command of army all the times. We should also improve the infrastructure all across India and not just the borders. We should be able to transport supplies and troops from any part of India, if a good road and rail network is developed. We should also develop massive airlift capability, to transport troops and supplies in a short period to any part of the country and further. Most importantly, the politicians need a paradigm shift in their thinking on matters of national security.

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