INDIA NEEDS TO DEVELOP STRATEGIC CULTURE (Text of the Speech at Chandigarh on 25-11-12)

This conference is being organised on the occasion of 50 years of the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The outcome of that war was a sad national memory. We lost our territory, we lost our men and we lost of honour. It is for victors to celebrate, not for the vanquished. Then why are we organising this event? In fact in September this year, when we decided to pass a resolution at the national meet of the RSS on the 50 years after Sino-Indian War, some delegates took objection saying what is there to talk except to rake up the old wounds! Interestingly when I visit China and whenever the discussion turns to the 1962 War, the Chinese friends, without any malice, would advise sincerely that we should forget about that War and move on.

But do they themselves forget the Japanese aggression during the Second World War? Even to this day they protest loudly whenever a senior Japanese official visits the memorial for the Japanese soldiers who were kileed during the WW II. The Jews had not forgotten their defeat at the hands of the Romans in 1st Century AD for almost 2000 years until they reclaimed their land. No country forgets national failures and humiliations so easily. We also should not.
Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it”, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru used to say. We have to learn lessons from history and reform our present so that we shall enter into a brighter tomorrow. It is from that perspective that this event acquires great significance. Have we learnt any lessons from the debacle of the ’62 war? Are we any different from what we were 50 years ago? Sadly, the answers to such questions are not always encouraging.
Historians, political analysts and scholars may come out with any number of theses over the reasons for India’s defeat in that war. But the most critical failure of our nation was that we had not understood our enemy well. We continue to fail in that respect.
We Indians are fond of romanticism. We like slogans. Internationalism, world peace, global family – these lofty ideals attract us very much. They are genuinely very lofty ideals. But idealism and realism should go hand in hand, especially in diplomacy and international relations. Because diplomacy is not ideal-driven; it is interest-driven. It is often said that there are no permanent friends or foes in diplomacy; there are only permanent interests.
Sadly after Independence, our first Prime Minister Pt. Nehru remained a romanticist and surrealist. He ignored all the warnings about China, that came from such eminent people like Bipin Chandra Pal, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jayaprakash Narayan and many more. He even ignored the British and Indian Commanders of the Armed Forces. He not only ignored warnings; he turned a Nelson’s Eye to what was happening around him too. B.N. Mullick, his most trusted intelligence chief wrote in his memoirs ‘My Years with Nehru’ that the information about the Chinese building jeep tracks in Aksai Chin area was known to Nehru as early as in 1952-53. But Nehru never believed that there needed to be a cautious approach to handling our border security.
In fact when the Members of the Parliament pressed him for information he would only dodge the answer by saying he was not very clear as to whether a ‘particular post built by the Chinese was on on our side of the border or their side’; or whether a ‘particular road built by them was running through our territory completely’. It was this ambivalence that had resulted in our debacle in the ’62 War.
Nehru, irritated by the pestering of some Members of the House, shouted one day, ‘Not a blade of grass grows there’. He was suggesting that our insistence on reclaiming Aksai Chin was a ridiculous one. Almost 3 decades later, when the Chinese pushed forward several miles into our territory and built helipads in Sumdhorang Chu Valley in Aunachal Pradesh, the worthy grand son Rajiv Gandhi would inform the House in 1987 that ‘while it is easy to draw border lines on the maps, it is not that easy to draw them on the actual territory; it may go a few miles this way or that way’. Has it ever gone ‘that way’?
Nehru was so self-possessive that he would declare that he too ‘had studied the Chinese history and he too knew them well’. India and China can together march to author a new history of mankind, he used to exhort to Chou En-lai during those years prior to ’62 War with great elation. ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ had almost become an article of faith with him.
The ’62 War had taught us the biggest lesson that no amount of idealism and romanticism can secure our borders or interests. We need to develop a vision, outlook and culture that would safeguard and promote our strategic interests. Each country follows its own strategic doctrine; China has one, America has one, even Pakistan has one, but we have none. We are fond of living by slogans. That slogans had not yielded any results in ’62 hardly matter to us.
Look at the advise of our Government to Israel in the recent Gaza strife. ‘Don’t use disproportionate force’, our Government advised Israel. What does ‘disproportionate force’ mean? Should we first mutually agree upon the weapons that each one of us would use and then start the war? Does it happen that way? When the Chinese attacked us in 1962, did they use ‘proportionate power’? Our soldiers were outnumbered by 1:6. In a war it is not proportion or parity that matters; it is your capability to defeat the enemy that matters.
What is the problem with us? Lack of strength or numbers? Lack of resources? In my view what we actually lack is the ‘strategic culture’. You need particular way of thinking, vision and approach to your security and sovereignty. This vision is demonstrated in your behaviour, which is shaped by your culture. Instinctively nations demonstrate their strategic cultures. Take the case of Israel. It is guided by a strong fight-back instinct. That is why in spite of being thrown out of their motherland for almost 1900 years, they never forgot it. We already forgot that Pakistan belonged to us. But the Israelis reclaimed their country after 1900 years. Even today, surrounded by an enemy 5 times stronger, what makes them not only survive but live with courage and honour is the instinct of fight-back. It has become the strategic culture of that country.
We have been guided by an instinct of compromise. The culture of strategic thinking has not evolved in our country. In fact the China War of ’62 is a classic illustration of the difference in the strategic culture of our two countries. Let me give you two examples.
India and China had signed Panchsheel agreement in 1954. Among other things it emphasised ‘peaceful coexistence’ of neighbors as a cherished objective. For Nehru, peaceful coexistence became a mantra for next several years and he even ignored the suggestions for equipping our Army well. In his own words, he genuinely used to believe that a “deliberate policy of friendship with other countries goes further in gaining security than almost anything else”. By ‘anything else’ he meant the Army, its weapons, preparedness etc. And he continued to believe that after Panchsheel we didn’t need any doctrine of defense. ‘Defense against whom?’, his loyal Defense Minister Mr. Krishna Menon was said to have famously asked when reminded about the pathetic situation on the India-Tibet border.
Nehru and all his loyalists had faith in Panchsheel as the best defense with China until Mao smirked at Chou En-lai and told that what we needed was not ‘peaceful coexistence but armed coexistence’. By then it was too late for India. This is the difference in strategic cultures of our countries.
We must remember that even today we are made to believe that trade is the best defense between India and China. We are given glorious figures like $ 70 billion trade between our two countries. But we seldom realize that out of the $ 70 billion, our exports to China are only $ 10 billion and the rest of $ 60 Billion are the Chinese exports into India. More importantly our exports to China are majorly the raw materials like iron ore while our imports are all finished goods. We are being sucked more and more into the Chinese economy through this uneven trade relationship. There is a joke that if you borrow a million rupees from a bank and don’t repay, it will be a problem for you; but if you borrow a few billion rupees from the bank and don’t repay, it will the bank’s problem. Excessive trade imbalance will be our major problem in future.
But on the other hand we have still been lagging behind in a big way in our border management. All our border infrastructure projects are running great delays. There is no need to mention here about the border infrastructure including missile-launching sites on the Chinese side all along the 4000-km Indo-Tibetan border.
Let me give another example to elaborate my point further. The Great Wall of China stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the walls roughly measure 8,850 km. They were built essentially to protect the Chinese kingdom from the nomadic invasions from the North.
Look at what happened in India. We were repeatedly invaded from the North-West. Most of the invasions from Greeks to Kushans to Moghuls came through just one mountain pass called the Khyber Pass. Have we ever thought of sealing that one mountain pass? The simple answer is that it defies our strategic thinking. Or we totally lack it.
China follows a meticulous strategic doctrine developed largely based on an ancient text called ‘The Art of war’ by Sun Tzu. Written some 2000 years ago, this small book of 100 pages gives great strategic insights into the art and craft of war. The Chinese tradition is mostly based on the teachings of this book. As Henry Kissinger points out in his book ‘On China’, “Where the Western tradition prized the decisive clash of forces emphasizing feats of heroism, the Chinese ideal stressed subtlety, indirection, and the patient accumulation of relative advantage”.
We play the war game Chess in our country. We are masters of the game and we pride in having a Grand Masters like Vishwanathan Anand in our country. The Russians too had their Grand Masters, so did the Americans. But not the Chinese. Why? Are they weak in war games? The real reason is the cultural difference. Chess is about total victory, decisive battle wherein the opposite king is totally defeated and all his men killed.
The Chinese don’t believe in such a war. They have a different game called Wei Chi. Wei Chi is not about winning the battle, but about protracted campaign. It is not about total victory; it is about relative advantage. In Chess the player always tries to occupy the center of the board; Wei Chi teaches the art of strategic encirclement. In Chess the players moves ahead in head-on clashes and eliminates the pawns of the adversary; whereas in Wei Chi the player moves into empty spaces on the board gradually mitigating the strategic potential of his opponent’s pieces. Chess produces single-mindedness; Wei Chi generates strategic flexibility.
We can analyse the entire India-China war and realise that China literally followed these principles. In the long history of independent India we too did it once when we perched up the peaks of Siachen. But we are so much at unease; we want to give it up.
Sun Tzu was a great strategic thinker. His book contains so many invaluable insights into how a war should not only be fought but also not fought. Normally for a strategist, victory is the benchmark of a war. But for Sun Tzu the objective is to have victory where battles become unnecessary.
Just look at one of his doctrines:
‘Ultimate excellence lies
Not in winning
Every battle
But in defeating the enemy
Without ever fighting.
The highest form of warfare
Is to attack (the enemy’s)
Strategy itself;
The next,
To attack (his)
The next,
To attack
The lowest form of war is
To attack
‘Engagement with containment’ and ‘strategic encirclement’ are the two maxims that the Chinese derive from the Sun Tzu text and apply to their strategic goals today. They continually engaged us until the 1962 war and suddenly executed a decisive blow. In stead of going for an all out war, they preferred to protract it and kept us engaged through all these decades. They continued their campaigns, by entering in Gilgit-Baltistan in ’60s, Sumdhorang Chu Valley in ’80s, Sikkim in 2000, and through innumerable border incursions and claims over Arunachal Pradesh in the last decade or so. But at the same time they kept us engaged all through.
They have a way in this engagement – ‘engagement with containment’. Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee visited China in 1979 as Foreign Minister. This was the first high level visit after the ’62 War. But the Chinese decided to launch their Vietnam campaign on that same day forcing Vajpayee to cancel his trip and come back. Shri Rajiv Gandhi was to go China in 1988 and they encroached into Sumdhorang Chu Valley in 1987 forcing Rajiv to alter his agenda. Shri Narasimha Rao went to China in 1993 and signed – what was described as a ‘historic agreement’ – the ‘Peace and Tranquility Agreement’. In just two years China revised its nuclear policy by stating that its ‘No First Use’ principle applies only to those countries that are signatories to the NPT regime. That means India is excluded from the No First Use doctrine. Shri Vajpayee visited China in 2003, this time as Prime Minister. This visit happened on the eve of the Chinese raking up Sikkim question once again. A settled question was settled once again ‘in India’s favour’, by extracting from India the phrase ‘the Tibetan Autonomous Province of China’.
Today China strategically encircles us. In the North they are on the Karakoram Highway; in the Arabian Sea the Gwadar Port has changed hands from the Singaporeans to the Chinese two years ago. They are building Hambanthotta port and docks in Sri Lanka and they have upgraded their Listening Posts at the Coco Islands in Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal. They are there in Chittagong in Bangladesh. China is the largest arms supplier to all our neighbours – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.
Most important final point that I wanted to make is with reference to the penetration of the Chinese in our country. Chinese have mastered a therapeutic system called the Acupressure, a derivative from the Acupuncture technique. It is a technique of gaining control of the body through certain nerve-centers in the body parts like hands, legs etc. The points or combinations of points are said to be used to manipulate or incapacitate an opponent. They are using such a technique on our body-politic too. They are entering vital areas like energy, communications, manufacturing industry, finished goods etc. They have mastered the art of cyber warfare. Some estimates suggest that China has developed some 150,000 hacker-strong Cyber Army.
All this is a product of a certain strategic culture that is derived mostly from the ancient Confucian and Sun Tzu wisdom. India needs to rethink about its strategic environment. We are described as a ‘Soft State’. Even that is not because it was out of any strategic thinking that we opted to be that way. It has become a sort of a culture with us.
The biggest lesson for India to learn from the 1962 debacle is that it should develop a new strategic culture in the country. Please note that I am not talking about the strategic doctrine. A strategic doctrine is a dynamic thing. But a strategic culture is a fundamental requirement for any nation; much more for India which is surrounded from all sides by forces inimical.
Thank you.

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