31 October 2012

The New Reality of Cyber War

Contributor:  James Farwell and Rafal Rohozinski
Posted:  10/22/2012  

The June 2012 report by New York Times chief Washington correspondent David Sanger that the Stuxnet cyber worm was only part of a broader operation, Olympic Games, launched against Iran by the United States and Israel affirmed what many suspected: cyber attack is not a distant theoretical probability. (1)

Stuxnet was the first alleged identified instance of weaponised computer code or malware employed as a 'use of force'. But it was not alone. Two other targeted computer viruses for espionage have surfaced: Duqu in September 2011, followed by Flame in May 2012. Media reports allege that both also targeted Iran.(2) As tools of espionage, use of neither would qualify as a use of force, but reflect new emphasis on cyber tools. Of the two, Flame drew wider attention. Apparently 20 times more complex than Stuxnet, Flame affected computers in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank and Iran. It is said to have gathered intelligence by logging keyboard strokes, recording conversations by activating microphones, and taking screen shots. At Iran's oil ministry and oil-export terminal, the virus also erased information on hard discs while gathering information.(3) Many attribute it to the United States and Israel. These allegations remained unconfirmed by either government.

A new era

These developments put the spotlight on a new era of international engagement. Israeli sources have long boasted about Israel's involvement in Stuxnet. The US/Israeli use of Stuxnet as reported in detail by Sanger has arguably created a new de facto norm for the conduct of cyber engagements other nations can follow or imitate. Previously, a key constraint on the use of software as a weapon has been the potential for legal liability arising out of collateral damage inflicted upon innocent parties not targeted. In practice, software can be narrowly targeted to surmount that challenge.

What Stuxnet shows is that it is possible to have the specific intended effect while avoiding or minimising unplanned side effects by clearly differentiating between the propagator, or boost-phase code that disseminates the program, and the actual payload code that creates the physical effect on a target (the distinction between the gift wrapping and the gift). The reported operation did apparently limit the scope of damage. Stuxnet shows that one can surmount concerns that malware would take down the global network, not just a specific target. The lesson is that cyber weapons are in a different category from nuclear devices, which have little practical use except as a deterrent.

The rules of conduct for the use of code are evolving. As parties develop more sophisticated capabilities and acquire experience in their use, the picture will grow more complicated and nuanced. The strategic situation contains echoes of the period between the two world wars, when rapid developments in new technologies and domains of war-fighting preceded an understanding of how effectively to employ them operationally. Tanks changed the way armies engaged in battle. But despite British and German experimentation with armour in the inter-war period, armoured tactics could only be proven and fully developed on the battlefield from 1939 onwards. There are, moreover, significant differences of view about whether the Germans, renowned for their blitzkrieg tactics, properly understood the strategic use of armour for manoeuvre warfare.

Reports that two states have employed code against another state against which war has not been declared undercuts the common view that risks of escalation render state-to-state cyber war implausible. Sanger reported that President George W. Bush, under whom Olympic Games was apparently initiated, desired that use of Stuxnet not violate the rules of armed conflict.(4) The Law of Armed Conflict does not prohibit damage to such critical infrastructure. But a strength of using code is that the targeting process can manage the risks.

Stuxnet may appear as embryonic as the British Mk.1 tanks that made their debut at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. But technology moves quickly. Modern states rightly fear cyber war. Evolving technology is accelerating the flow of information, placing unique pressures on decision-making. Responding to cyber attack may require making decisions at network speed using systems that are themselves targeted. The potential for cascading effects is amplified by the interconnectedness of cyberspace. Stuxnet worked leisurely. Future combat in cyberspace may be more akin to the global trading system than existing forms of kinetic engagement, and present a different strategic calculus.

Active defence versus first strike

As described by Sanger, Olympic Games puts into question the existing discourse over US doctrines of active defence versus offensive use of malware and the strategic communication employed to explain US actions. Nations have been rightfully unwilling to disclose their doctrines for the offensive use of cyber weapons. Open-source discourse has centred on delineating passive and active defence. No nation has been willing to declare its intent to use cyber weapons offensively for a first strike. But Stuxnet blurs the lines between what might constitute active defence and offense. It also moves the impact from the strictly cyber realm to one that may entail mechanical or physical damage.

Passive cyber defence is easiest to grasp. The notion includes firewalls, cyber 'hygiene' that trains an educated workforce to guard against errors or transgressions that can lead to cyber intrusion,(5) detection technology, 'honey pots ' or decoys that serve as diversions, and managing cyberspace risk through collective defence, smart partnerships, information training, greater situation awareness, and establishing secure, resilient network environments.(6) Active cyber defence is a more elusive notion. Industry operates under different legal constraints than the military and they view the notion of active defence differently. For industry, the notion includes working actively with private-sector partners to identify and interdict cyber intrusions. Action beyond that raises real concerns. Under US law causing more than $5,000 of damage to another computer is a felony.(7) US anti-trust(8) and privacy laws(9) raise other concerns. Yet private industry owns and operates 90% of US civilian critical infrastructure. Its concerns will grow as future malware come into play, for current laws and operational capabilities provide inadequate defences.

The public sector operates under different rules. While private parties can take action unless prohibited by law, the military can act only within its prescribed authority. As a result, the military's notion of active defence remains unformed: no one is certain what it means or how to apply it. The Pentagon has made clear it would employ force to defend against cyber attacks.(10) But who has the authority to launch what actions, and under what circumstances? If a hostile force targets a naval cruiser for imminent attack, does the captain hold the authority to launch a preemptive attack? If he doesn't, who does? Should he try to move his vessel out of danger? What if he cannot? How can he 'actively' mount a defence?

US Cyber Command Chief General Keith Alexander has declared that 'a Commander's right to self-defence is clearly established in both U.S. and international law'.(11) He did not define what that entails. Would it include hot pursuit? Former US Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne has stated that

US law allows 'hot pursuit' of criminals, enabling law enforcement to track and address cyber crime through the digital world.(12) That doctrine is well accepted in crime fighting,(13) but where it applies may hang on the status of an attacker. What rules govern may depend upon the status of an event as criminal activity, a military attack or a terrorist action.

Hot pursuit may well apply in cyberspace. Many concur that the law of the sea sanctions the use of the doctrine in the maritime domain,(14) which along with air, land, and space is viewed as a global commons. President Barack Obama has declared that cyberspace is also a 'recognized strategic commons'.(15)

A use of force?

For the most part the US discussion on cyber war has revolved around these notions of defence. But Olympic Games has apparently shown that the United States and Israel will use cyber weapons offensively.

The United States has previously said that its cyber strategies would respect international law. The key normative standards nest in United Nations Charter articles 2(4) and 51. Article 2(4) prohibits the 'threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence of any state'. Article 51 states that nothing 'in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations'.

But 'force' is not defined. There is no international convention that defines whether the use of software code should be deemed equivalent to the use of force. Cyber expert Herbert Lin has argued that the term almost certainly covers conventional-weapon attacks that injuring persons or irreparably damage property, but excludes economic or political acts (such as sanctions) that do not. In that view, Stuxnet would have constituted a use of force only if it had inflicted damage comparable to a kinetic attack, but it injured no one and the Iranians make no claim of irreparable physical damage.

But the US government apparently did view Olympic Games as a use of force. The strategic objective was not only to retard Iran's progress in developing nuclear weapons but to persuade Israel that using cyber weapons mooted the need for a kinetic attack on Tehran's nuclear institutions.(16) Both the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations strongly believed that Iran's nuclear-weapons programme had to be stopped. The United States has clearly felt a need to communicate that it would not tolerate Iranian intransigence. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden stated that:

This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction. And no matter what you think of the effects – and I think destroying a cascade of Iranian centrifuges is an unalloyed good – you can't help but describe it as an attack on critical infrastructure.(17)

This implies that the Obama administration was willing in this case to affirm G.W. Bush's policy of pre-emption to deal with a threat deemed vital to national security interests, was willing to act in concert with a 'coalition of the willing' (even if the United States and Israel were the sole partners) to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of rogue states,(18) and that this concern trumps commitments – including those expressed in the US 2011 Cyber Strategy,(19) to embrace multilateralism and partnership for cyber strategy.

It seems evident that the intent of Olympic Games was to irreparably damage critical infrastructure. The tenor of the operation and strategic intent – and Hayden's words – strongly imply that White House and Department of Defense lawyers considered the operation a use of force. The issue must have been considered. One can presume the answer the lawyers provided was affirmative.

Legally, did the White House exceed its jurisdiction either under the Constitution, which reserves to Congress the right to declare war, or under the War Powers Resolution of 1973?(20) It is hard to qualify Olympic Games as an act of war. US statute defines that as armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two more nations or between military forces of any origin.(21) It is significant that Iran has not suggested the use of Stuxnet constituted an act of war.

The War Powers Resolution offers a more nuanced issue. The resolution applies to the introduction of 'United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances'.(22) How does a nation use force except through military means? One can debate whether non-uniformed Stuxnet operations personnel qualify under the notion of distinction as combatants, but one can make a strong argument that Olympic Games fell under the ambit of the resolution. Presumably the response is that it constituted a covert action that did not trigger the operation of the law.

Given that the objective was to destroy an enemy's critical war-fighting capacity, though, one might wonder whether the logic in avoiding the jurisdiction of the resolution – or Congress's power to declare war – would apply to a modern Pearl Harbor. The air war in Libya may offer a clue to policy mindsets. Denying any obligation to ask Congress for authorisation to act, the Obama administration argued that 'U.S. operations do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve ground troops'.(23) Similarly, Stuxnet did not involve armed fighting or exchanges of fire with hostile forces, although future engagements may focus debate on what constitutes armed forces. That cyber weapons often do not entail uniformed individuals firing rockets, dropping bombs, or firing guns does not, looking over the horizon, inherently render its users non-combatants.

What if Iran decided to respond kinetically? How does that alter the authority of the White House to continue a programme? Stuxnet was a fire-and-forget weapon. Although code can be designed to hit a specific target, in practice, once launched, there was no control over the consequences it inflicted – or upon whom. Indeed, Sanger reported that American officials were quite unhappy when Stuxnet got loose on the Internet.(24) The operational environment in war is random. The collateral effects of a cyber weapon add a new dimension to that challenge. One must think beyond the Iranian situation. What if Congress wanted a president to cease an operation that could not be terminated? Olympic Games side-stepped the problem, but hardly obscures the need for future strategic thinking.

Whether there was use of force raises other issues. Olympic Games involved a pattern of engagements. One must consider the larger implications of an individual event. Does a pattern convert employment of cyber weapons into a use of force? The answer isn't clear. The unpredictable nature of damage that cyber attack can inflict may require a new definition of war.

Intent may also matter in determining whether an engagement constituted a use of force. Open-source reporting indicates that any damage inflicted on the Natanz uranium-enrichment facility was temporary and reparable. But that was not the intent. What if someone dropped a bomb on London or New York that failed to detonate? Isn't that a use of force – or possibly, depending on the facts, an act of war? Deciphering intent may pose a challenge, but in law it may be objectively inferred. The case of unexploded ordinance seems easier to grasp, but how deep is the distinction between that and a cyber worm that fails? This issue needs debate and should enter future strategic calculations.

Finally, did Article 51 of the UN Charter justify Olympic Games? Like 'force', 'armed attack' remains undefined, even where force is clearly employed. Certainly the implications of new technologies for Article 51 or other international conventions remain unclear. This consideration matters enormously to Israel, which contends that a nuclear first strike would destroy the nation, preventing or mooting a response. Washington worries about Israeli security, but also a potential and de-stabilising Middle East arms race should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.

Strategic implications

The use of malware by state actors has altered the realities of cyber attack. History teaches that once weapons technology becomes feasible, states deploy it. Today the world may confront a dangerous technology race characterised by rapidly evolving and lethal weapons.

Clausewitz believed that in warfare, the advantage rested with the defence. Cyber reverses that equation. It also offers the potential to build the fog of war through the ability to effect disruption, deception, confusion and surprise. We are only beginning to envisage the potential for different forms of malware, or the strategies or tactics employed to use it.

A cyber-security tool may require millions of lines of code and a complex system to track and identify events. Malware requires a lot less. Computer code can be designed to evolve rapidly, mutating faster than defences can be mustered. Code can be highly targeted. It can leverage social and technological vectors. It can render a cyber defence obsolete within seconds. It can overwhelm a system that may have taken years to construct. Clausewitz believed that the advantages enjoyed by defence required that an offense employ greater resources. Cyber reverses that equation. Nations may now shift away from a refusal to use cyber weapons for first strike. That in and of itself complicates both offensive and defensive strategies.

Although some have argued that Olympic Games lowered the threshold for the use of cyber weapons, it may in fact actually raise it. States may recognise a higher responsibility to design weapons that offer strong assurance of striking only the intended targets. That was the intent of Stuxnet's planners and designers. But matters could have worked out much differently. Robert Burns was right: the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Stuxnet shows that creating effective malware turns on imagination, technical expertise and ingenuity. But to deliver code as a warhead also requires highly specific domain experience and superior intelligence capabilities that often only states possess. Our view is that malware is not a wide-area weapon. As it evolves, it will be used narrowly to attack particular targets and to generate specific shaping effects.

Olympic Games raises the veil on key strategic implications. Stuxnet aimed to destroy a specific capability. But it importantly illustrates the political nature of war. Achieving a strategic political objective does not necessarily require destroying an enemy. Olympic Games was devised when G.W. Bush pushed for an alternative to the unpleasant choice between allowing Iran to develop a nuclear-weapons capability or halting the programme through kinetic attack. The cyber programme bought time in which to employ punishing sanctions and to signal to Iran that other nations would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear-arms programme. The lesson is that cyber weapons may offer non-kinetic ways to disrupt an operational capability of an adversary.

Future cyber weapons will similarly aim to constrain the ability of an adversary to manoeuvre, coordinate or synchronise, and to divert enemy commanders from focusing on the achievement of their own objectives. Stuxnet succeeded splendidly in creating confusion. Sanger reports that Iranians came to distrust their own instruments. The idea, he quotes one source, 'was to mess with Iran's best scientific minds' and 'make them feel they were stupid'.(25)

Conceptually, unsettling the consciousness of an adversarial commander, or a CEO or government official, causing a loss of belief in his ability to control events and depriving him of control, helps disrupt an adversary's ability to fulfil its objectives. Stuxnet's creators merit high marks for recognising the value of that goal. While the final result fell short, open-source reporting indicates that Stuxnet did retard Iranian progress.

As reported in open sources, Olympic Games exemplified an operation intended to reduce the resistance of a rival system and to inflict attrition upon its resources. Destruction of an asset is one of many potential objectives that cyber weapons can achieve. Future cyber weapons may disrupt communications systems or the ability of adversaries to cohesively operate air, naval or ground forces. They could slow the speed at which an adversary is able to mass forces or deploy assets, destroying precious momentum vital for an adversary's offense.(26) Indeed, smart strategy is often less about destroying an enemy than paralysing command and control, and neutralising an adversary's operational ability.

One unfortunate development has been the leaks from Washington and Israel (where sources have long claimed credit for Stuxnet) about Olympic Games. These present a strategic challenge. An obstacle confronting any nation that wishes to retaliate against a cyber intrusion is the need to identify the intruder. The leaks solved that problem for Iran, and opened the United States and Israel to potential counterpunches that would entail far less stigma for Tehran than action against a putative attacker whose guilt could not be confirmed.

Finally, it is worth noting that the weapons employed by Olympic Games are largely indistinguishable from the technology that cyber criminals employ. That will make international treaties and conventions aimed at limiting cyber crime more difficult to secure. The utility and effectiveness of these weapons for national-security interests may trump policy considerations that favour better global policing of cyber crime.

There has been a widespread view that criminal entrepreneurs or state-sponsored proxies, acting at arm's length to insulate states from culpability for their policies, would emerge as the real challenges in a cyber era in which one individual can change the way the world does business. But now it seems that state-to-state engagement, whether or not it meets the conventional definitions of the use of force or an act of war, will define a new reality and require new strategic calculations. The discourse arising out of reports about Olympic Games underscores why the United States and other countries should engage in a transparent debate over whether or how cyber weapons should be employed. Every nation – including civilian as well as government institutions – must develop strategies to address these new realities.






The war against China may have had a different ending had India taken lessons from an ancient text, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya

The defence minister, A.K. Antony, pays tribute to the war heroes on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Indo-China war

Fifty years ago, on October 20, 1962, the Chinese army routed its Indian counterpart in the valley of a small Himalayan rivulet called Namka Chu in the Kameng sector of what was then the North-East Frontier Agency (present-day Arunachal Pradesh) where Bhutan, India and China meet. The fight for the Dhola post was over in less than half a day, thereby signalling the beginning of an unprecedented military deluge which left every Indian wondering as to how everything had gone wrong with them and right for the Chinese. So swift and agile was the Chinese attack that it virtually wrecked the spirit of the Indian defenders, the sporadic incidents of bravado notwithstanding.

Understandably, the conflict automatically generated an intense curiosity about China’s People’s Liberation Army, its history, traditions, art of war and protagonists. One was forced to turn the pages of history of the Hans and the search led to the The Art of War by Sun Tzu, the celebrated philosopher-general of sixth century BC. It is believed to be the oldest military treatise in the world. The Chinese army led by Mao Zedong is often referred to as the torchbearer of Sun Tzu’s philosophical and military doctrines. The Chinese owed their success in the battlefield in 1962 to The Art of War. This was evident in the precision and the efficiency with which it launched an early morning assault on the valley of Namka Chu.

It may be pertinent to recapitulate Captain B.H. Liddell Hart’s thought-provoking words in this context. “That short book was embodied almost as much about the fundamentals of strategy and tactics as I had covered in more than twenty books.” That indeed is a rich tribute by a “Captain who taught the Generals”. It reaffirms the eternal utility of Sun Tzu’s principles of war.

The seeds of India’s military disaster were sown on account of the army’s unprofessional kowtowing to the we-know-it-all attitude of the bureaucracy and the political establishment. The army shared an uneasy relationship with these two institutions. The Indians fought, but without the psychological preparation that was needed to take on the might of the Chinese army.

Consequently, the inevitable did not take long to occur. Significantly, the pattern of the conflict seemed to echo Sun Tzu’s dictum in letter and spirit. “Generally, he who occupies the field of battle first and awaits his enemy is at ease; he who comes later to the scene and rushes into the fight is weary. And therefore, those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him”.

The Chinese occupied the field of battle (across the Namka Chu) first and held on to their elevated terrain from before. The Indians, coming late into battle from the plains of India’s heartland, rushed in without acclimatising themselves and soon became weary. The Chinese had laid the bait with precision. With an exhausted bunch of soldiers, overstretched and rickety lines of supply, archaic communication systems and limited ammunition, the Indian battalions, including those of the 1st Sikh, 2nd Rajput, 1/9 Gurkha, and 9 Punjab were decimated in a matter of few hours in the valley of death. The debacle mirrored another rout, that of Lord Auckland’s British Indian army in the first Anglo-Afghan war.

The 7th infantry brigade ceased to exist with the capture of its commander by the Chinese. The glorious fighting record and reputation of the 4th Indian infantry division — which had faced, and fought against, the might of the German Panzer division under the legendary Erwin Rommel in North Africa — lay in tatters in the course of the war with the Chinese.

The aftershocks of the debacle also shattered the perceived invincibility and credibility of Jawaharlal Nehru. Be it the prime minister or the army general, none could escape the public fury. Ironically, ‘intelligence failure’ emerged as one of the foremost villains behind the crushing defeat. The steady supply of erroneous information jeopardized the plans of the Indian army on the border with China.

One wonders whether the Indians possessed any idea of Sun Tzu’s important treatise? After examining relevant literary, oral and other accounts, it transpires that the oft-quoted military dictum, ‘forewarned is forearmed’, was conspicuous by its absence on the Indian side. It would, however, be incorrect to blame the Indian army for this sorry state of affairs. The role of the then redoubtable chief of the Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullick, too deserves a fresh look. All the more, because the IB chief virtually constituted the eyes and ears of Nehru. And what was Mullick’s intelligence input on the Sino-Indian boundary in the Ladakh sector? In his The Chinese betrayal (page 278), he writes, “The Karakash river, which had its origin north of Kuen Lun mountain and flowed into Shyok and finally into Indus, and the Chang Chenmo river, which took its rise in the lakes in western Tibet and followed a similar course, were both north and east of the Karakorum range, which therefore was not the watershed”.

There has been a gross misrepresentation of geographical facts in this context. The Karakash river does not “flow into Shyok and finally into Indus”. Strictly speaking, the origin of the Karakash river is a glacier east of the Karakoram Pass, north of the main Karakoram range and west of the Kuen Lun mountain. The Karakash flows from south to north — north of the Karakoram range and not north to south as that would mean that the river flows through the the main Karakoram range. In fact, the Karakash is the only important river originating from the north of the Karakoram range. Almost all other rivers in the region (Chip Chap, Galwan and Chang Chenmo) flow in the north-south direction.

The next point is that the Chang Chenmo, unlike the Indus, does not rise in the lakes around the Kailash-Mansarovar axis. It has its origins in western Tibet. Thus, after taking into account the picture of the region around the Karakoram mountain system, it would not be wrong to state that the Karakoram does form the natural watershed between Ladakh and the extreme western part of Tibet (China).

According to the noted geographer, O.H.K. Spate, “The divergence of Himalayan and Karakoram trends is most clearly seen north of the Shyok”. Thus, there is no way that the Karakash river can cross the watershed called the Karakoram range and flow into Shyok and finally into the Indus.

One bumped into several other gross inaccuracies pertaining to the information revealed by the then IB chief on the Sino-Indian border dispute. One, however, does not claim that the IB erred in its information entirely in the 1960s. One can be wrong, however, if only a host of maps such as ‘The Time Atlas’ (1967 edition, page 31), ‘The Canadian Oxford Atlas of the World’ (1957 edition, page 58-59), ‘The Citizen’s Atlas of the World’ (1952 Edinburgh edition, page 90-91) and the ‘Royal Geographical Society Map Of The Karakoram (I/750,000, 1939)’ are in the wrong. Nevertheless documentary records show a lamentable lack of correct information of the terrain where Sino-Indian forces fought in 1962.

One drew attention to the above mentioned aspects to make an important point. There is credible evidence to draw a connection among Sun Tzu’s theory, the 1962 war and the failure of Indian intelligence, both civil and military. Given the gravity of the errors that had been committed, there was no way in which India could have done justice to its soldiers and prove Sun Tzu wrong in the process. “War is a matter of vital importance to the state; the province of life and death; the road to survival and ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied”. China studied Sun Tzu’s text carefully. India chose not to do it and paid a heavy price.

How China Fights: Lessons From the 1962 Sino-Indian War

Oct 29, 2012

China gave India a “lesson” in 1962. 

The rest of the world may have forgotten the anniversary, but a neglected border war that took place 50 years ago is now more pertinent than ever. Before dawn on the morning of Oct. 20, 1962, the People’s Liberation Army launched a surprise attack, driving with overwhelming force through the eastern and western sections of the Himalayas, deep into northeastern India. On the 32nd day of fighting, Beijing announced a unilateral ceasefire, and the war ended as abruptly as it had begun. Ten days later, the Chinese began withdrawing from the areas they had penetrated on India’s eastern flank, between Bhutan and Burma, but they kept their territorial gains in the West—part of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. India had suffered a humiliating rout, and China’s international stature had grown substantially.

The blitzkrieg sent crowds of men, women, and children running for sanctuary. (Larry Burrows / Time & Life Pictures-Getty Images)

Today, half a century after the Sino-Indian War, the geopolitical rivalry between the world’s two main demographic titans is again sharpening, as new disputes deepen old rifts. Booming bilateral trade has failed to subdue their rivalry and military tensions, and China has largely frittered away the political gains of its long-ago victory. But the war’s continuing significance extends far beyond China and India. By baring key elements of Beijing’s strategic doctrine, it offers important lessons, not only to China’s neighbors but also to the U.S. military. Here are just six of the principles the People’s Republic of China relied on in attacking India—and will undoubtedly use again in the future.

SURPRISE China places immense value on blindsiding its adversaries. The idea is to inflict political and psychological shock on the enemy while scoring early battlefield victories. This emphasis on tactical surprise dates back more than 2,000 years, to the classic Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who argued that all warfare is “based on deception” and offered this advice on how to take on an opponent: “Attack where he is unprepared; sally out when he does not expect you. These are the strategist’s keys to victory.” The Chinese started and ended the 1962 war when India least expected it. They did much the same thing when they invaded Vietnam in 1979.

CONCENTRATE China’s generals believe in hitting as fast and as hard as possible, a style of warfare they demonstrated in their 1962 blitzkrieg against India. The aim is to wage “battles with swift outcome” (su jue zhan). This laser focus has been a hallmark of every military action Communist China has undertaken since 1949.

STRIKE FIRST Beijing doesn’t balk at using military force for political ends. On the contrary, China has repeatedly set out to “teach a lesson” to adversaries so they will dare not challenge Beijing’s interests in the future. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai explained that the 1962 war was meant to “teach India a lesson.” Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping used the same formulation in 1979 when he became the first Chinese Communist leader to visit Washington and told America’s then-president Jimmy Carter that “Vietnam must be taught a lesson, like India.” China invaded its Southeast Asian neighbor just days later. (India’s foreign minister happened to be in China at the time of the invasion, seeking to revive the bilateral relationship that had been frozen since 1962.) China ended its Vietnam invasion and withdrew from Vietnam after 29 days, declaring that Hanoi had been sufficiently chastised.

WAIT FOR IT Choose the most opportune moment. The 1962 war was a classic case: the attack coincided with the Cuban missile crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon and thereby distracted potential sources of international support for India. No sooner had the U.S. signaled an end to the face-off with Moscow than China declared a unilateral ceasefire in its invasion of India. During the war, the international spotlight remained on the U.S.-Soviet showdown, not on China’s bloody invasion of a country that then had good relations with both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

The pattern has persisted. After America pulled out of South Vietnam, China seized the Paracel Islands. In 1988, when Moscow’s support for Vietnam had faded and Afghanistan had killed the Soviets’ enthusiasm for foreign adventures, China occupied the disputed Johnson Reef in the Spratlys. And in 1995, when the Philippines stood isolated after having forced the U.S. to close its major military bases at Subic Bay and elsewhere on the archipelago, China seized Mischief Reef.

Caught napping by the invasion, India frantically began training new recruits. (Terry Fincher / Express-Getty Images)

RATIONALIZE Beijing likes to camouflage offense as defense. “The history of modern Chinese warfare provides numerous case studies in which China’s leaders have claimed military preemption as a strategically defensive act,” the Pentagon said in a 2010 report to Congress. The report cited a long list of examples, including the 1962 war, 1969 (when China provoked border clashes with the Soviet Union), the 1979 invasion of Vietnam, and even 1950, when China intervened in the Korean War. Beijing called its 1962 invasion a “defensive counterattack,” a term it subsequently used for the invasion of Vietnam and the seizure of the Paracel Islands, Johnson Reef, and Mischief Reef.

DARE Risk-taking has long been an integral feature of Chinese strategy. Willingness to take military gambles was evident not only under Mao Zedong’s zigzag helmsmanship but even when the rigorously pragmatic Deng invaded Vietnam, disregarding the possibility of Soviet intervention. And the risk-taking paid off each time. The past success may give Beijing confidence to take even more chances in the future, especially now that China has second-strike nuclear capability and unprecedented economic and conventional military strength.

The 1962 war took place at a time when the People’s Republic was poor, internally troubled, and without nuclear weapons. But it showed the world how China’s generals think. And it helps explain why Beijing’s rapidly growing military power is raising serious concern.

Can Tibet be defended?

One often hears in Indian military circles that the ‘next war’ with Pakistan will be on Pakistani territory, though unfortunately, the ‘next’ one with China will be on Indian soil.

With the successful launch of Agni V, it might not now be entirely true; the Chinese have realized the change.

Beijing then threatened: “India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China…”

Soon after the test, the Chinese Government saw that the game might be different hereafter. The Global Times elaborated: “It seems India’s path for boosting its military strength has not met too many obstacles. India is still poor and lags behind in infrastructure construction, but its society is highly supportive of developing nuclear power and the West chooses to overlook India’s disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties.”

Beijing then threatened: “India should not overestimate its strength. Even if it has missiles that could reach most parts of China that does not mean it will gain anything from being arrogant during disputes with China. India should be clear that China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable. For the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.”

The point is that for the first time, India had the capacity to carry out a war on the territory of China.

Was it the first time?

No, as we will show in this chapter based on the British Archives.

But let us look first at the historical background.

A few months before India’s Independence, not only was Tibet a de facto independent State and the British wanted it to remain so, but they were ready to carry out a military action to protect Tibet’s status.

For this, a detailed military intervention plan was prepared by the General Staff of the British Army.

A few months before India’s Independence, not only was Tibet a de facto independent State and the British wanted it to remain so, but they were ready to carry out a military action to protect Tibet’s status.

In early 1946, in a Top Secret Memo,1 the General Staff sent an “Appreciation of the scale of direct military assistance which could be provided in support of Tibet.”2

The Objectives

The purpose of the Memo was to find a solution in case of “domination of Tibet by a potentially hostile major power [which] would constitute a direct threat to the security of India.”

India’s objectives were clearly expressed: “The Government of India are therefore, vitally interested in maintaining friendly relations with Tibet and in preserving for Tibet at least that measure of autonomy she now enjoys.”

The objective of the study was unambiguous, London (and Delhi) did not want to have a new neighbour on its borders, particularly not the Soviet Union or China.

Once again the ‘autonomy’ envisaged by the Government of India was different from the one mentioned by Chiang Kai-Shek in his speech in the Chinese Assembly. The Memo thus defines the British perception: “The basis of Tibetan autonomy must rest in strong diplomatic support by HMG [His Majesty Government] and by India so that the Tibetans will not be subjected to pressure by any potential hostile power.”

The British Government did not think only in terms of an armed invasion (by Russia or China), but also about ‘infiltrations.’ As recently witnessed in Nepal, where local elements have encouraged a slow take-over of the country by the People’s Republic of China, infiltration has been a method recurrently used by successive Chinese leaders.

London thought that it could be a source of real danger for Tibet as some elements in the monasteries were not against a renewed ‘special’ relation with China to replace the defunct Choe-Yon (Priest-Patron) partnership.

The Memo states: “In particular Tibet must be supported against the methods of ‘peaceful penetration’ subversion which have been employed so successfully by Russia in Northern Persia and which China is very likely to employ against her [Tibet].”

From Two Directions

It is interesting to note that one year before India’s independence and a few months after the end of World War II, the British saw the threats coming from two directions, two former allies during the War, Russia and China.

…Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister declared: “India has neither the resources nor the inclination to send armed assistance to Tibet.

The Memo affirms: “Neither Russia nor China must be allowed to violate Tibetan autonomy by such methods, since it would then be possible for them to build roads and airfields to their own advantage, which would vitally affect India’s strategic position.”

Then the Memo comes to the crunch of the issue: “Should it prove impossible to preserve Tibetan autonomy by diplomatic methods alone or should Russia or China attack Tibet, it might to necessary for the Govt [Government] of India to provide direct military aid to Tibet which would involve war. The purpose of this paper is to study the extent and manner of direct military aid that could be given to Tibet in pursuance of the political object.”

The objectives of the military plan to defend Tibet make interesting reading. Over the centuries, Tibet had never been a military or strategic threat to India’s borders and this, for several reasons; the first one being that Tibetans were peaceful people and did not strive to acquire any large military means. The Land of Snows contented itself with basic means to defend itself.

The Memo asserts: “The object of military aid is to prevent a hostile power establishing itself in areas from which it can threaten India. In practice this means preventing the enemy from occupying those parts of Tibet from which air attack or rocket missiles can be launched on India.”

Five years later: a letter from Sardar Patel

This is what would happen soon after the entry of Chinese troops in Lhasa in September 1951, with disastrous consequences for India. Most of the leaders of independent India (with perhaps the exception of Patel) were too blind to see the menace looming above the Indian borders.

In this context, it is interesting to recall the well-known letter sent by Sardar Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru on November 7, 1950.

This raises a serious issue: was Tibet ready or willing to defend itself against an outside attack or even ‘incursions,’ during the time of the Minority of the Dalai Lama?

It was a good analysis, although it was already too late for Tibet.3 The People’s Liberation Army had already ‘liberated’ Tibet.

On November 1, 1950, a few weeks after Tibet was invaded, in an interview with United Press, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister declared: “India has neither the resources nor the inclination to send armed assistance to Tibet.4 He cited the case of the Dogra War when the Sikhs of Zorawar Singh were decimated during the winter in Tibet.

The same day Nehru cabled B.N. Rau:5 “Chinese military operations against Tibet have undoubtedly affected our friendly relations with China. But these developments do not affect our general policy or even our policy regarding admission of new China in United Nations.”6

This was 4 years after the Memo was written; Nehru probably did not know about its existence. The Appreciation/Memo continues: “The maintenance over these routes of hostile forces in Tibet will present grave difficulties, and will limit the size of the forces that can be deployed.”

A Buffer to protect British India; drawing a Line

London drew a line passing by Chamdo7-Nagchuka8-Garyarsa9-Leh.10 Any invasion or infiltration, south of this line was considered as dangerous for the defence of India’s borders by the General Staff.

The appreciation adds an important point; the Tibetans should contribute and participate in the defence of their own country: “Military aid must depend upon the goodwill of the Tibetans, and confidence in us both now and when direct military assistance is sent to them. It will therefore be essential to protect the capital and the wealthier provinces of the country.”

This raises a serious issue: was Tibet ready or willing to defend itself against an outside attack or even ‘incursions,’ during the time of the Minority11 of the Dalai Lama?

It is difficult to answer this question as between the will to protect its borders and the implementation of any plan, there was more often than not a large gap. In the Tibetan system of governance, between an old Regent, a conservative National Assembly and a practically powerless Kashag,12 chances to take Churchillian decisions were minute.

For the British Government, the ‘Military Object’ of the plan was defined after considering the geographical and other factors: “To prevent the enemy establishing himself south of general line Chamdo-Nagchuka-Garyarsa-Leh.”

It thus created a de facto buffer zone between the two expansionist powers (Russia and China) and India.

The Operations

Then follows the detailed study of possible military operations on the Roof of the World, as: “direct military aid is most likely to be required by Tibet at a time when a major war is imminent or in progress. Therefore only a small part of the resources of India and the Empire would be available to give aid to Tibet.”

The Memo starts by a study of the geography and ethnology of Tibet, pointing to different issues such as the “overall sparcity of population, groups and animals; the comparative wealth of South Eastern Tibet13 [Kham province or Xikang for the Chinese], the unique historical and religious importance of Lhasa, the non-existence of any roads for wheeled traffic, and the remoteness of the country from all possible enemy bases.”

All this had to be taken into account for preparing defence plans.

The Memo acknowledges the military importance of Nagchuka and Chamdo while: “the height and breadth of the mountains surrounding Tibet, and the height and character of the country: airborne operations will be hazardous and comparatively difficult; the present types of aircraft could only be operated from Tibetan airfields by the most experienced pilots, and even then the risks involved would be extremely high; gliders cannot be used; with present equipment it is not possible to use para troops at these heights.”

Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru being shown Zojila by Lt Col Sukhdev Singh, CO 1st Patiala

Strategic Changes due to new inventions

Another Memorandum14 from the War Department’s Joint Secretary to the External Affairs Department in Delhi explains:

In the past the physical difficulties of Tibet’s mountains and high altitude plateau have given India a valuable buffer against aggression. This however cannot be regarded as immutable. In the present war, the jungles on the N.E. [North East] Frontier and the deserts of Libya, previously considered to be military barriers have been overcome by modern equipment and modern inventions. We are faced with the increasingly rapid development of inventions such as rockets and jet-propelled bombs and also of rapid methods of road construction, air transportation and so on. These may reduce the value of the physical buffer: and make it all the more important to maintain as far as possible a political buffer. We do not think, therefore, that this is the moment to suggest giving up a hitherto useful barrier, still less let it fall into the hands of another nation capable of developing it into an offensive base in its own time.

As for the people of Tibet, the Memo describes them as “naturally brave and tough, though by religion pacifist and unmilitary…

An autonomous and backward Tibet had served to keep potential aggressors at a distance from a large part of India’s northern frontier. If a hostile power invaded Tibet, the undeveloped nature of the country would impose delay upon the aggressor, and so give India valuable time in which to make dispositions to meet the threat.

Despite many technical objections or hurdles that such a military exercise could face, the Army headquarters believed that all technical difficulties could be eventually overcome “if it is decided that preparation must be made to drop paratroops in Tibet.”

As for the people of Tibet, the Memo describes them as “naturally brave and tough, though by religion pacifist and unmilitary. They are wholly untrained and unequipped to oppose even the smallest of modern forces, and have never seen modern weapons and equipment, though this could be overcome by training and arousing interest in military matters.”

Though Tibet has no manufacturing resources to enable it to equip its own forces, “the smallness of the forces that can be put into Tibet by possible enemies, and the inefficiency of the Chinese,15 the training and equipping of a small Tibetan force on modern lines would have an effect on any campaign out of all proportion to the size of the force.”

This is an interesting consideration in any study of the 1962 War, though in the case of the Sino-Indian War, it was India which had not the will or the wisdom to be ready to defend itself and use its Air Force.

The Memo also points out another factor:”there is considerable scope for the activities of guerilla bands, preferably led by trained British or Indian officers, in some parts of the country e.g. the sparsely populated North and West.”

Postscript: British disagreements

After being accepted in the first instance, the detailed memo to defend Tibet was rejected by some Air Force Officer.

In a Top Secret letter,16 Brig R.W. McLeod wrote on March 2, 1946 to Maj. Gen. C. S. Sugden, Director of Military Operations (DMO) at the War Office in Whitehall:

I said that our paper on Tibet would be with you shortly. Unfortunately there has been a held-up. The original paper was written in full consultation with Air HQ India, and on the assumption that we should always have at least seven transport squadrons of aircrafts. When our paper, which had previously been approved by A.H.Q. (I) [Air Head Quarters India] was considered by the AOC-in-C [Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief] as one of the Chiefs of Staff, he disagreed (or rather his staff disagreed) with the conclusions regarding air maintenance and air support which had been reached by previous Air Advisors.

McLeod answered: “This may be so, but I say that if we do not have seven squadrons, we cannot go to Tibet at all, and that therefore if we have to consider operations in Tibet they should be based on our plan and additional aircraft from outside India must be placed at India’s disposal if she has to meet the Russians or China in Tibet.”

As a result the appreciation “was thrown back to the J.P.C. for revision and the Air Staff consider that they are too busy on other matters to pay much attention to Tibet, and wish the whole question to be postponed for six months. Personally, I do not agree with this view since I consider that the paper can be amended very slightly and it will then meet the requirements of the new Air Staff,” said Brig McLeod.

According to him, the main point that the Air Headquarters objected to was “we shall not have seven squadrons of transport aircraft and therefore the plan is unsound.” McLeod answered: “This may be so, but I say that if we do not have seven squadrons, we cannot go to Tibet at all, and that therefore if we have to consider operations in Tibet they should be based on our plan and additional aircraft from outside India must be placed at India’s disposal if she has to meet the Russians or China in Tibet.”

The second point was about the impossibility to drop parachutists over 5,000 feet. The General Staff’s officer said: “I entirely agree with this, but I am convinced that it is not an impossible technical problem to drop them at altitude of 12,000 feet. It is in fact simply a question of a larger canopy which is merely a matter of mathematical calculation. If the air is so much thinner, then for any given weight there must be an increased area of canopy in order that the rate of descent is slower. I discussed this question with Raymond Quilter who makes parachutes, when I was commanding the S.A.S. troops in England, and I am sure I am right.”

The last objection was about the technical difficulty of landing and taking off from strips at the height of the Tibetan plateau. Brig McLeod who had a great experience in “Special Operations” commented: “I fully appreciate that this will entail larger strips of increased skills, but I feel certain that the question of length of strips can be overcome by technical developments such as a rocket assisted take off and the converse of rocket acceleration.”

His recommendations were: “I therefore consider that with minor rewording the paper can stand as it is but I am having some difficulty in persuading the Air Staff of this. We have, however, delayed so long that I am sending you a copy of the paper in its present form in order that you may see the general conclusions at which we have arrived and that you will agree that although some alterations may be required to meet the Air Staff, a the majority of the paper can remain unaltered.”

Nehru remarked: “Rubbish. Total Rubbish. We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.”

Despite the Air Force objections, the paper was accepted by the Commander-in-Chief with some restrictions, as it was impracticable “until such time as the Russians or the Chinese have such aircrafts or rockets it would be extremely difficult for them to operate from Tibet against India.”

The conclusion was therefore: “From a short term point of view the Committee do not consider that there is any practicable means of aiding Tibet against a major enemy or that there is any real threat to India from that direction.”

It however added: “When and if it becomes possible to operate aircraft to and from Tibet, the Committee consider that a plan of the nature of the one under consideration would seem to be the only method by which Aid to Tibet could be given.”

The situation was soon evolving very fast in the subcontinent. On 2 September 1946, an Interim Government of India was formed from the newly elected Constituent Assembly of India; its task was to assist the transition to complete independence.

This council of ministers had most of the powers of a government a Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) designated as the Vice president of the Council.

But the mood had changed.

Let us remember the reaction of the Prime Minister when the first paper on the threats to India’s security was prepared by the Chief of Staff.

The paper contained recommendations for dealing with the newly independent nation’s security and asked for a government directive on defence policy. When General Sir Robert Lokhart, the Commander-in-Chief took this paper to the Indian Prime Minister, Nehru remarked: “Rubbish. Total Rubbish. We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.17”

The new Indian government had decided to be the champion of non-violence; Nehru thought he could prove to the world that problems and crises could be solved without recourse to force. The first casualty would be Kashmir, the second was Tibet.

Postscript: after India’s Independence

Ten years later, the guerrilla warfare started in Eastern Tibet, with the support of the CIA. But by that time, the Government of India was not ready to get involved in a full-fledged military operation in Tibet.

However, in the summer of 1949, the Chief of Army Staff sent a young intelligence officer to survey the eventual routes that could be used to bring troops and ammunition in the event of a ‘political’ decision to defend Tibet.

The fact that this covert mission took place and this with the knowledge of K.P.S. Menon, the Foreign Secretary, is proof that in the summer of 1949, the Government of India was still keeping all its options open. In the words of this officer who later became one of the most decorated Generals of the Indian army: “My mission was very simple. It was to see the routes in these areas. In the Army, we always prepared for eventualities. The Army does not decide to go anywhere, but when we are asked to go anywhere, we must know where the routes are.”18

He made his recommendations, nothing was impossible, after all Younghusband had done it 45 years earlier under much more demanding conditions, but it was a ‘political’ choice.

Following the visit to Tibet of the young Army officer, a meeting was held in the Foreign Secretary’s Office. We have only the report of B.N. Mullik, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Though Mullik has a tendency to rewrite history in a manner favorable to his image, in this case, his version is probably accurate. He recalls:

I was present at a meeting held in 1950 by the Foreign Secretary, at which K.M. Panikkar, our Ambassador in China, and the Chief of the Army Staff, General Cariappa, were present. At this meeting Panikkar gave a long dissertation on Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and tried to make out that it really meant no more than acknowledging the titular overlordship of China but did not in any way interfere with the practical independence and internal autonomy of Tibet. No one else at the meeting was convinced by the argument. We accepted that the Indian Government as a successor government had to recognise Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, and there could be at this stage no going back on that position. But whilst Great Britain earlier and now India were talking of Chinese suzerainty and Tibetan autonomy, the Chinese had always claimed sovereignty and were doing so now. Moreover, ‘liberation’ in Communist language meant nothing but conquest and depriving Tibet of her status by force.

We have only the report of B.N. Mullik, the Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Though Mullik has a tendency to rewrite history in a manner favorable to his image, in this case, his version is probably accurate.

The fact that Pannikar, the Indian Ambassador to China participated in this meeting, could only prevent a decision to be taken.

A few months later, Sardar Patel had written: “I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favorably to our Ambassador and the Chinese Government as possible, but I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study.”

The Intelligence Bureau Chief continues:

The question then was asked as to what should be done to prevent the Chinese from pressing their claim of sovereignty by armed invasion. On the question of India sending troops to stop the Chinese, Panikkar explained that legally India’s action would be indefensible. However, when the question was put to General Cariappa, he quite categorically said that he could not spare any troops or could spare no more than a battalion for Tibet, so hard-pressed was he with his commitments on the Pakistan front and with the internal troubles raised both by communal and Communist forces. He was also clear that this battalion could not go much farther than Yatung or at the most might be able to place a company at Gyantse. Moreover, he explained that the Indian army was not equipped or trained to operate at such heights and would be at a serious disadvantage against the Chinese army which had much better training and experience in fighting in this extremely cold plateau and were even better armed, having acquired the arms which the USA had poured into China to bolster the KMT army.

Mullik pretends that he was disappointed by Cariappa, but it is probably an after-thought. In any case he does not mentions the British plan or any similar scheme to extensively use the Air Force to airlift troops in Tibetan plateau. Mullik affirms:

What Cariappa said at that time was indeed very discouraging and disappointing because I had also favoured military intervention in Tibet to save it from China. But the General gave the correct and realistic position, the sum total of which was that India was in no position whatsoever at that time to intervene militarily in Tibet to prevent Chinese aggression. And he was right. It would have been suicidal for India to send a couple of battalions-and that was all that could have been spared which were then neither trained nor equipped for operations at such heights against the vast battle-poised Chinese army of two and a half millions, larger than even the Russian and the American armies put together.

Then, the intelligence officer mentions historical precedents. Obviously, Mullik has not gone into the British appreciations and the technological changes which had occurred since Younghusband marched into Tibet and particularly the advent of aviation. His narrative continues thus:

India was not ready to “become involved in any military adventures in Tibet.” It was understandable and in conformity with the logic of Nehru’s philosophy of non-violence.

Critics who cite the example of the Younghusband expedition to argue what India should have done, forget that when on the heels of Younghusband’s withdrawal, the Chinese Army under the Manchu General, Chao Erh-feng, attacked Tibet, in spite of the repeated appeals of the Dalai Lama, the mighty British Government of those days did not raise a finger to stop the Chinese invasion and for the first time in its history, in 1908, Tibet was militarily conquered by the Chinese and reduced to the position of a Chinese province. The British even had to accept the dismissal of those Tibetan ministers who had negotiated the treaty with Younghusband and tolerate the presence of Chinese Officers at Phari and Yatung and deal with them in all trade matters. Except for giving the thirteenth Dalai Lama shelter in Indian territory, the British refused to give him any other assistance. And as mentioned earlier Great Britain was then the mightiest power in the world. Again, in 1919, and also in 1931, when the Chinese attacked Inner Tibet and took away parts of that territory from the Dalai Lama’s control, the British did not intervene physically and even the meagre arms supply to the Dalai Lama was made most reluctantly and was conditional on Tibet not taking the offensive.

It is strange that General Cariappa does not seem to be aware of the British plans to military defend Tibet and of the possibility of using airborne troops.

Around that time, while the Governments of the US and UK discussed the strategic considerations regarding an attack on Tibet, their main concern seems to have been the tendency on the part of Government of India to “throw up its hands and say nothing could be done and retire to its own frontiers.” The Western diplomats felt that there was “too much of a tendency in that direction” on India’s part.19

According to the US Archives, a few months later, the American Chargé d’Affaires was told by San Jevi,20 senior Indian intelligence official that at an “interdepartmental meeting held to discuss Tibet it was decided [that the] most GOI could do was send moderate supply [of] small arms plus a few officers to instruct Tibetans how to use them.”India was not ready to “become involved in any military adventures in Tibet.”21 It was understandable and in conformity with the logic of Nehru’s philosophy of non-violence.

Guerrilla warfare in Tibet

Though the memo had mentioned the importance to organize a guerilla movement within Tibet, it took a few years for the Tibetans to organize such a force. It happened in the mid-1950’s under the Chushi-Gangdruk (Four Rivers, Six Ranges) outfit which fought against Chinese rule and played a key role in the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in March 1959.

The guerilla warfare continued even after the Dalai Lama took refuge in India in 1959, though the military operations planned by the General Staff and the Air Headquarters never took place.

A few years ago, we interviewed Ratuk Ngawang22 who commanded the Tibetan secret regiment, known as the Special Frontier Forces, based in Uttar Pradesh. In the 1950’s, he was one of the Commanders of the Tibetan Force. When we asked him how the guerilla force came into existence, he explained the situation in Kham province in 1954/1955: “The situation became bad and dangerous at that time. For the initial two/three years, the Chinese were good and accepted whatever we asked of them. Our demands were approved, even sometime with a signature from Mao Zedong. They had promised religious freedom and also agreed not to break any laws of the land. But in 1954, the Chinese decided to establish a school for the poor. They began to assemble all poor and needy people and spend a lot of money on teaching them farming, nomadic works and other skills. They would also give them and their family money. But soon, these poor Tibetans were told that lamas were yellow robbers and monks were red thieves. The situation began to turn from bad to worse.”

It is then that the population from Eastern Tibet started to rebel.

Ngawang recalled: “From 1955, the Chinese began to brainwash the poor Tibetans. They told them that it was meaningless to offer money to ‘yellow robbers and the red thieves.’ The Chinese told them that their poverty was the result of their offerings to the religious community. This was the beginning of the so-called ‘Democratic Reforms.’ The well-off families, who had guns and knives, were ordered to hand-over their weapons to the Chinese authorities.”

The guerilla warfare continued even after the Dalai Lama took refuge in India in 1959, though the military operations planned by the General Staff and the Air Headquarters never took place.

The Air Force was not used even during the 1962 operations for the foolish reason that China could have bombarded Kolkata in retaliation.


  1. Top secret, 6904/94/1801, General Staff Appreciation of the scale of direct military assistance which could be provided in support of Tibet.
  2. Documents from British Archives: Tibet, Government of India policy; military aid to Tibet, Sep 1945-May 1946 Original File no: L/WS/1/1042 File WS.17058 54p map.
  3. In any case, Sardar Patel passed away a month later.
  4. Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II (New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 46 volumes published so far, 1946-1959), after SWJN , Series II, Vol. 15 (2), p. 335. Tibetans Free to Appeal to the United Nations.
  5. Sir Benagal N. Rau, the Indian Representative to the UN.
  6. SWJN, Series II, Vol. 15 (2), p. 339.
  7. Traditional capital of Kham province of Eastern Tibet.
  8. Nagchuka is a small town in northern Tibet approximately 250 kilometers north-east of the capital Lhasa.
  9. In Western Tibet, near the Indian Trade Mart of Gartok, north-east of Ladakh.
  10. Capital of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir State.
  11. British notes often speak of the ‘Minority’ to indicate the period of the minority of the Dalai Lama during which no decision could be taken by the Tibetan government in Lhasa.
  12. Cabinet of ministers.
  13. The closest to India’s North-eastern border.
  14. No.6904/I/MDI, dated the 18th May 1945.
  15. Since the beginning of the 1980’s, there has been a sea of changes in China and Beijing despite its ‘peaceful rise’ published intentions, now has a formidable modern Army, Navy and Air Force to which should be added its ballistic capabilities.
  16. Top Secret Letter DO 2505/196/151 from the General Headquarters, General Staff Branch of the India Command.
  17. Quoted by K. Subrahmanyam in an article in The Times of India (8 May 1997) “Arms & the Mahatma.” This is extracted from the biography in Maj. Gen. A.A. Rudra written by Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit.
  18. Personal Interview.
  19. Foreign Relations of the United States, (Office of the Historian, Department of State Publication, Washington) or USFR, Telegram 893.00 Tibet/11- 2249 from The Chargé in India (Donovan) to the Secretary of State New Delhi, November 22, 1949.
  20. T.G. Sanjeevi Pillai, Director, Intelligence Bureau.
  21. USFR, Telegram 893.00/11-2149 from The Chargé in India (Donovan) to the Secretary of State, New Delhi, November 21, 1949.
  22. For interview, see: http://www.sify.com/news/we-killed-all-chinese-soldiers-along-the-route-news-columns-jehaMKiicad.html