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Declassified Documents Reveal How War with China Remade India's Military

Declassified Documents Reveal How War with China Remade India's Military

After the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nehru dropped benign internationalism for a robust military revival of the Indian state.

Did Nehru allow Seventh Fleet of US Navy to enter Indian Ocean?

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor came to New Delhi and held discussions at the Cabinet Secretariat in December 1963 on the proposed long term military assistance to India from the United States. The General informed Nehru that “President Johnson was greatly interested in the defense of the subcontinent.” The Indian assessment focused on the threat of the Chinese military’s entry through the “Darjeeling neck” leading through Assam given the concentration of Chinese troops on the NE border. Alternatively, Chinese troops could move from West Tibet through Sinkiang into Ladakh through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in order to cut off Leh. The Chinese were capable of sustaining a deployment of 175 thousand troops in active combat supplemented by improved road links in Tibet.

A historic moment came when Taylor informed Nehru about a “proposal” that was under consideration by the U.S. government. A Carrier task force of 4/5 vessels of the 7th Fleet would cruise the Indian Ocean. According to Taylor, “the cruise would give the U.S. Navy experience of the region.” Nehru “did not make any comments on the subject.” Acting Secretary George Ball discussed the above visit with Nehru and explained the “desire to maintain American presence in Indian Ocean or having a base there.” The U.S. official declared that there were no plans for stationing the fleet there or having a base in the region and that this was “only psychological.”

The Pragmatic and Realist Nehru

Choices made by Nehru immediately after 1962 Sino-Indian war reveal a new Nehru, one compelled by survival instinct into abandoning non-alignment and inviting a massive U.S. military commitment into South Asia. Nehru dropped benign internationalism for a robust military revival of the Indian state. In fact, India’s first five year defense plan from 1964-69 was a direct outcome of Indo-U.S discussions. Nehru emerged on the other side of the dark hour as the architect of India’s modern military.

Vivek Prahladan is a visiting researcher at Keio University, Japan.

Image: Indian T-72 tank. Flickr/Creative Commons/Jaskirat Singh Bawa