October 31, 2009

India,China and 62

Looking Back at 1962

The Sino-Indian war of 1962 had the following lessons for India:

1. While we had a good capability for the collection of tactical and topographical intelligence about Tibet, we lacked a similar capability relating to Yunnan.

  • Our threat perceptions were largely, if not exclusively, focussed northwards towards Tibet and likely Chinese threats from Yunnan in the East through North Myanmar, by taking advantage of the lack of control and presence of the Yangon Government over vast areas of the Kachin State of Myanmar, were not adequately anticipated. Consequently, a disturbing increase in Chinese intelligence operations directed at India's North-East mounted from Yunnan and clandestine intrusions and movements of Chinese troops from Yunnan through Myanmarese territory to the North of Putao in the Kachin State remained either unnoticed or ill-assessed, if noticed. After the war, there were valid grounds for suspecting that some of the Chinese troops, which took the Indian Army by surprise in the North-East, had moved unnoticed by the Indian intelligence from Yunnan through unadministered Kachin territory.

  • While we had a certain capability for the collection of human intelligence (HUMINT) from Tibet, our capability for the collection of technical intelligence (TECHINT) was woefully inadequate. So was our capability for the collection of strategic intelligence indicating Chinese intentions, mindset, perceptions, medium and long-term planning etc. Our capability for the collection of strategic intelligence was badly affected by the failure of the intelligence community since India's independence in 1947 to build up a high-level of knowledge of the Chinese language and by the difficulties faced by all countries in interacting with Chinese leaders and officials at policy-making levels in Beijing. The rigorous restrictions imposed by Beijing on their citizens, whether in the Government or outside, interacting with foreigners drastically reduced opportunities for strategic intelligence collection. While Chinese officials posted in New Delhi were freely able to interact with Indian leaders, officials and non-governmental analysts and collect strategic intelligence by picking their brains and other means, Indian officials found themselves denied similar opportunities in Beijing.
  • Even though arrangements for the sharing of China-related intelligence between India and the US existed in a rudimentary form even before October,1962, the US intelligence chose not to share with India its knowledge of the Chinese military-build up in Tibet and the goings-on in Yunnan. The John F.Kennedy Administration in Washington DC, though well-disposed towards India, had apparently calculated that an Indian set-back at the hands of the Chinese would make New Delhi more amenable to US influence in strategic policy-making. (A similar failure to alert New Delhi about the movement of Pakistani troops to occupy the Kargil heights was discernible before the Indo-Pakistan Kargil military conflict of 1999. Again, the US calculatioin apparently was that an Indian surprise at the hands of Pakistan, even if temporary, would serve the USA's long-term policy interests).
  • Our capability for a meaningful analysis and assessment of even the available intelligence, open as well as secret, was very poor. Consequently, policy-making was based more on wishful-thinking and personal hunches than on well-analysed and assessed likely scenarios.
  • We had failed to foresee the likelihood of a military confrontation with China resulting in the occupation of some of our territory by the Chinese. As a result, we had not developed a stay-behind capability for the continued collection of intelligence and covert harassing operations against the Chiese troops in our territory occupied by them. Once the Chinese occupied portions of our territory, we hardly knew what was happening there and watched helplessly.

2. The painful experience of 1962 led New Delhi, for the first time since 1947, to have a comprehensive look at our intelligence collection, analysis and assessment and stay-behind operational capabilities with regard to China. Certain long-neglected measures were taken such as:
Giving priority to the collection of intelligence about North Myanmar and Yunnan.

Improving our HUMINT capability in Tibet.

Strengthening our TECHINT capability.

Improving the knowledge of the Chinese language in the intelligence community as well as outside.

Creating a stay-behind intelligence collection and operational capability in our territory claimed by the Chinese so that if the Chinese again occupied it in future, we would not be as helpless as we were in 1962.

Improving arrangements for intelligence and assessment barter with countries sharing India's concerns relating to China, while not developing a dependence on them to meet our needs.

Improving our analysis and assessment capability through the Joint Intelligence Community (JIC) at the Governmental level (since converted into the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in 1998) and the Institute for Defence Studies And Analyses (IDSA) at the non-governmental level. The creation of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) in 1998 was meant to further strengthen the assessment capability at the non-governmental level.

3. The benign face of the post-1978 Chinese policy-making as illustrated by Beijing's discontinuance of its assistance to insurgent groups in India's North-East since 1979 and its keenness for the improvement of bilateral relations at various levels without letting them become a hostage to the long-pending border dispute have led to a certain complacency in policy-making in matters relating to National Security Management (NSM) and China. India continues to have serious concerns over the modernisation of China's Armed Forces, its nuclear and missile capability, its military assistance to Pakistan in the nuclear as well as conventional fields, its intentions in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal etc. Despite these concerns, Indian attitude towards China seems to be more relaxed and more trusting than in the past. This is evident from the following:
  • The gradual erosion of our stay-behind intelligence collection and operational capabilities.

  • The almost exclusive focus of the Special Task Force on the revamping of the intelligence apparatus set up by the Government in 2000 on strengthening our capabilities vis-a-vis Pakistan without a similar exercise relating to China.

4. This relaxed attitude was also evident during the Asian Security Conference with a focus on China organised by the IDSA at New Delhi from January 27 to 29, 2003. Though well-organised with a large participation from abroad, its focus was too dispersed and too diffused to enable any meaningful assessment. There was hardly any participation of Indian experts with insights, knowledge and the painful experience of dealing with China before and after 1962, who have already started fading away and will do so completely in another few years. Foreign perceptions-- particularly American, Israeli and Taiwanese--- received greater prominence and attention than Indian. One got the impression that the emphasis was more on quantity (so many foreign participants, so many papers, so many pages etc) than on quality.

5. This was reflective of the lack of attention to details and the superficiality, which have again come to mark our China analysis and assessment. It is important that we continue to move forward in improving our relations with China, but our keenness to move forward should not make us forget the painful lessons of the past. We cannot afford another traumatic experience in our relations with China.

Sidharth K Menon
Defence and Intelligence Analyst
South Asia Analysis Group.