Our national trait for wishful-thinking often worries me
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This doggedness should forewarn us that if an opportunity presented itself they may not hesitate to seek a military solution to the border dispute.
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.
B. Raman 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
At 9/D-34 in my comment it should be read as 1971 wherever it was mistakenly written as 1972.
In wars , gamble always takes place.
In 1962 it was gamble of China and China realized this faster than us and immediately retreated from occupied areas in Arunachal after Mao declared a unilateral ceasefire. Had they tried to retain or consolidate these areas , Indian army with its artillery could have massacred Chinese army. And China knew this very clearly that it could not transport either heavy artillery or sustain a supply chain for its troops across great Himalayas and that is why to save its face and for international prestige it immediately declared a unilateral ceasefire which we did not ask and retreated from plains as quickly as possible. So Tawang was freed by itself !!
Leadership changed to General Maneckshaw and he started positioning heavy artillery on the plains bordering Himalayas to pulverize the Chinese PLA. Indeed a few hours before all this, Prime minister Nehru was on radio saying that we will throw out Chinese and take back our lands. But Mao very cleverly pre-empted all this and declared a unilateral ceasefire. We had no international clout to challenge this.
A gamble took place in 1965 war with Pakistan. Indeed Indian army went to the outskirts of Lahore city but stopped there. The field commanders felt that Pakistan was lying a trap there ( because it was free run without resistance ) and that we would be cut off from supply lines. But the blunder was that Pakistan had no wherewithal for a trap and Pakistan was least expecting that Indian army could move so fast as to reach Lahore. The point was it was bare open, it was a soft belly , so Indian forces penetrated deadly fast.
The same gamble could have paid for Pakistanis in 1972 at Longowal area.
Pakistani tank division expected an easy penetration because this sector was a soft underbelly and they could take entire Jaisalmer area to force a bargain on India to withdraw from East Pakistan. If they had succeeded , 1972 war could have been big failure for India.
What happened was at Longowal, ( area was famous for smuggling of “lavang” or clove) the Major of Indian army military post with just about 100 soldiers gave an impression that large forces were ready to take on them. So, Pakistan tanks only rumbled along the border but could not decide on a full scale penetration and hesitated. By the time they realised their mistake it was too late.
The Major appealed to war HQ in Delhi, but they said that it was only a tactic to fatigue Indian army . HQ argument was that they do not enter. In spite of all this one officer called Lt.Col Arif Khan at war HQ sent half- a dozen anti-tank guns posthaste.
The frustrated Major sent an SOS to Indian Air force. IAF HQ however considered the danger as real and immediately swung in to action at day break. What followed was a massacre . Pakistani tanks started blowing up like popcorn. Pakistan field commanders started sending SOS for an air cover. But Pakistan Air Force was not in a position to come in for a dog fight with IAF over the sky.
Pakistani big gamble finally flopped with a massacre of helpless Paki forces who started running after jumping out of their tanks. Thinking from their point of view, Pakistan was correct and could have proved correct if they took a sudden and swift action. Pakistan tank forces could have easily over run large areas up to Agra !! If they had run over large civilian areas then IAF action would have been limited or useless. Added to that a sense of shame could have been around our necks.
Now in 21century, sudden and swift action of China could only be done with apache type helicopters with laser guided bombs and rockets and transport helicopters following them on massive scale never witnessed before. A wishful thinking in HQ in Delhi, like the way it was during "operation Longewal" for example could prove to be a complete defeat at the hands of enemy again.
China in recent times has been acquiring helicopters on a very large scale. They could even develop their own version of Light attack helicopter. They are also modernising their artillery which is actually an obsolete junk. Another pile of junk is their fighter planes. There is not a single fighter plane which equals our own Sukhoi. Added to this are their pilots whose skills are far below Indian pilots.
Still due to numerical superiority , PLA dictatorship taking advantage of our own Indian laziness and wishful thinking they can indeed spring a surprise on us and can humiliate us again.
When defending, we just have to place troops where we think we will meet the enemy, and I don't say that China is an enemy. I have read very little about the Pacific War, between Imperial Japan, and the U. S. A., despite having the most interesting volumes on the subject. It seems, Japan and the U. S. A., were not enemies, until the commander of Kido Butai was given the direction to attack Pearl Harbour. Why? It seems the U. S. A. was seriously studying War Plan Orange, the Japanese never thought they were going to defeat the United States. The Pacific War was seppuku, it seems, ceremonised by the Japanese forces. The Japanese did not know, serious study of War Plan Orange did not mean, an attack on Japan was imminent. The Japanese did not even know what was outside the Japanese Islands. It turs out, they occupied Korea, and committed acts, even they thought were barbaric, and I am sure their Emperor did not know about them. About the Indian Navy, I think the sailors are significant, and the vessels are built for the sailors, and sailors are not built for the vessels. If you take a look at international navies, India is the fifth largest, it appears to me. The number and size is not significant. I think the personnel are perhaps very good, who man the ships. When in a conflict, no one thinks about winning and loosing, basically, it seems.
Arun, that's nice to hear about Arunachal, though depressing as usual regarding roads! More people have to get to these 8 'sister', states, perhaps particularly Arunachal, as much for their beauty and friendly people, as for their economic and political importance to India.
When it comes to defence, erring on the side of caution is always better than wishful thinking. Mr. Raman's cautionary note is prudent.
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