Austin Bay

Frozen war applies to the Sino-Indian conflict at a literal level. With the Himalayas as the 1962 battlefield and the still-disputed border winding over glacier and snowfields, Cold War-era gallows humorists described the Sino-Indian conflict as "the coldest war." China prepared for its 1962 attack by acclimating its assault troops to the high altitudes (14,000 feet) and training them for mountain infantry operations. China also timed its offensive to take advantage of the looming Himalayan winter. Launching the surprise attack in October meant any Indian counter-stroke would have to wait for the spring thaws.

In 1962 the war didn't quite fit the East Bloc-West Bloc paradigm. China was a nominal Soviet Russian ally. India, however, was no Western ally. India's leaders resented Great Britain and suspected the U.S. favored its rival, Pakistan. However, a Cold War echo followed the conflict: a nuclear arms race. In 1964, China detonated a nuclear device. Geo-strategists knew India would respond. India went nuclear in 1974.

The 1962 defeat still troubles the Indian military. Indian veterans of the war call it a humiliation that still stings. Several recent articles written by Indian defense analysts and a retired general or two have debated the Indian government's failure to use the Indian Air Force to stop the Chinese attack and strike Chinese support installations inside Tibet. After reading them, I was left with the distinct impression that any future Himalayan war won't be confined to border passes and garrison outposts.

Given China's and India's technological prowess, air could turn to space. In April 2012, India test-fired its new Agni intercontinental ballistic missile. If you think Pakistan was the primary audience, think again. Indian Air Force fighter-bombers already have Karachi within range. The Agni puts Beijing in the bull's-eye.

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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