Austin Bay

On Nov. 21, 1962, as the Indian Army continued a chaotic retreat from its high altitude positions in the Himalayan Mountains, Communist China's victorious forces halted their advance and implemented a unilateral ceasefire.

That ceasefire stopped combat operations in what we now call the 1962 Sino-Indian Border War.

That mid-20th century war, however, isn't ancient history. In fact, as East Asian and Southeast Asian maritime border quarrels escalate from rhetorical sparring to naval confrontations, the war has a frightening contemporary resonance. China is involved in the most contentious maritime border disagreements. China claims roughly 80 percent of the South China Sea and its seabed's potentially enormous mineral wealth. China's southern neighbors, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, deny China's broad assertion of sovereignty. In September 2012, a hot-blooded, and quite senior, Chinese general said his country should prepare for war with Japan over a string of islets China calls the Diaoyus and Japan the Senkakus.

China's naval buildup and its maritime claims have drawn American media attention, but it is in the high Himalayas, in some of the world's most forbidding mountainous terrain, where Asia's nuclear-armed giants collide. Indeed, in the edgy Asia of 2012, China and India, two competitive military and economic powers with global influence, remain locked in a frozen war over a disputed border.

Optimists argue that, except for an alleged skirmish or two in the late 1960s, the fact that the Sino-Indian ceasefire has remained in effect for 50 years indicates stability. However, a ceasefire is not a negotiated, signed and ratified peace treaty. Hardline nationalists in Beijing and New Delhi continue to use different names for the disputed territory. The Chinese refer to the region as Southern Tibet. Indians call it the northern frontier of what is now Arunachal Pradesh state.

"Frozen conflict" is diplomatic slang for an unsettled but relatively localized conflict where the antagonists remain "frozen" in their political positions and neither side has the military resources or diplomatic influence to resolve the conflict on its terms. Divided Cyprus is one example. The Korean War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are frozen conflicts with regional and international dimensions.

Frozen conflicts may have the veneer of stability, but they are, in reality, slow wars waged by diplomatic, economic and cultural means, or hot wars on simmer, awaiting re-ignition.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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