Misperception and Miscalculation During the Sino

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Misperception and Miscalculation during the Sino-Indian Conflict of 1962: An Analysis of the Indian Decision Making ProcessDeep Jyoti Barman PhD Candidate CIPOD/SIS Jawaharlal Nehru University 2011

India and Peoples Republic of China (PRC) fought a bitter war in the high Himalayan wastes in the winter of 1962. The genesis of this war lies in an unresolved border dispute between the two Asian neighbours. The aim of this dissertation is to explain the research puzzle: why did India, a relatively weaker power, pursue a provocative military strategy and an unyielding diplomatic stand against the more powerful PRC. This question is not a novel one as there have been many studies to understand wars among asymmetric powers. (Paul, 1994; Arregun-Toft, 2005; Sullivan, 2007) But most of the existing literature is geared towards understanding puzzle: why do strong states lose war against weaker states? This corpus of literature has its origin in understand American involvement and subsequent defeat (in some cases) in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, or Soviet Unions defeat in the hands of the mujahedeens in the Russo-Afghan war. This dissertation on the other hand is an attempt to understand the reason as to why a weaker state would enter into a military conflict with a stronger state. Sun Tsus Art of war a military classic had long ago stated that one should only enter into a war when it is sure about its victory. Did the Indian leadership fighting the Chinese in 1962 think that they would defeat the Chinese? A cursory reading of the memoirs of Palit (1992), Dalvi (1969), Mullik (1971), or secondary literature on the war by Maxwell (1970), and Hoffman (1990) would show that the Indian leaders were very pessimistic about the likely outcome of any military conflict with China. Why would a democratic country like India which was trying to become a normative power in the early years after its independence agree to fight with China? The core of this chapter is a detailed statement of the causal argument advanced in the dissertation. The theory proposed in this dissertation is: when a state (particularly a weaker one), is engaged in a crisis situation with another state, it bases its security not on the basis of

its military capability and resolve but rather on the reaction of the international order to the war which would deter the more powerful adversary. In other words, the weaker state believes that because of its unique situation in the international order, other states would have a stake in its survival. An underlying assumption of the weak state is that, the adversary has a world view consistent with its own, because of which it would be deterred from escalating the conflict to war. Bolstered by this belief, the weaker state is more likely to undertake certain policies which are non-reflective of its relative power, thereby impeding diplomacy, which is gravitates both states towards war. There are two stages to this causal argument, each expressed as a hypothesis below: the first portion links the belief about security to misperception; the second extends that to miscommunication and crisis outcome. The logic of each will be sketched out in turn, and then predictions are derived to allow for testing in the dissertations empirical work. The chapter also includes an attempt to place the research within the existing literature, and an explanation of the methodology of inquiry pursued in the remainder of the dissertation. The literature on misperception and miscalculation states that wars are the result of different expectations held by the belligerents about the outcome of a militarized conflict. (Blainey, 1988; Jervis, 1976; Johnson, 2004) According to them, war is the ultimate reality in which misperceptions about military superiority ends and a shared knowledge about the existing balance of power evolves, which brings the adversaries to the negotiating table to divide the issue of conflict according to the prevailing power differentials. This explanation is satisfactory for states with marginal power difference. But does this misperception and miscalculation about relative power exist between states with a wide gap in their power ratios? This question gets even more perplexing when we factor in the fact that the India and China were not natural rivals. There is a lack of ancient hatred and past wars to support explanations of war such as hyper-nationalism, etc. Moreover, India and China since their independence in late 1940s have been on very cordial relations. The Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954 has been the cornerstone of Sino-Indian relations which talks about the five principles of peaceful co-existence. Moreover, the Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru supported PRCs inclusion in the United Nations Security Council, and India did not react provocatively to the Chinese takeover of Tibet. These two policy examples bolster the view that India and China had a very cordial relation until the final months before the war. There is a strand of literature which points at a possible domestic politics angle originating from the failed the great leap forward movement of General Mao which made the Chinese

leadership to fight a war with India. (Garver, 2009) But this dissertation does not concern itself with the Chinese causes for the war but rather on Indias decision to enter into a military contest with the powerful PRC. In presenting the benign relationship between India and PRC we should not lose sight of certain irritants in their relationship such as India giving asylum to Dalai Lama who fled from Tibet after the Chinese occupation, the training and support of the Khampa revolutionaries by Indian intelligence agencies, etc. But these factors would impact the Chinese decision making process; a factor that does not concern this dissertation. Literature Review: The literature on misperception and miscalculation is exhaustive. For a systematic of this literature, it can be divided into two categories: the analytic-revisionists and the cognitiveperceptual categories. In most of their basic premises, the analytic-revisionists studies comprise an extension of the logic of the rational theory of decision making. These theorists are convinced that actions taken by the actors reflect purpose or intention, and are chosen as a calculated solution to the strategic problem. (Allison, 1971: 13) The proponents of this approach assume that statesmen accurately perceive external threats and opportunities, and select policies on the basis of costbenefit calculations in order to advance national interest. (Levy, 1983:76) This branch is committed to the notion of rationality and implies consistent value-maximizing choices, and generally ignores the possibility of chance, lack of coordination, unintended consequences and coincidences. Instead, it suspects that well laid out plans give events a coherence they would otherwise lack, and that hidden manipulations and conspiracies, rather than confusion and chaos, are the factors responsible for the failure of national actors to meet the challenge of an impending onslaught. (Jervis, 1976: 321) In short, the analytic-revisionists argue that wars are not accidental but an act of deliberation by both parties involved. This category refutes the concept of strategic surprise. Ben Zvi (1979) argues in his essay The study of strategic surprise argues that the analytic revisionists believe that when a country attacks another country, the initiators reaction is never a surprise to the national leadership of the victim state, since the attacker merely reacts to a deliberate posture on the part of the victim, who provoked the confrontation as a carefully thought-out means of maximizing a broad cluster of desired goals, whose importance far outweighs the losses anticipated in the course of the confrontation. According to him, these theorists perceive the outbreak of war as the

culmination of an elaborate scheme, intended to provoke the enemy into firing the first shot. (Ben Zvi, 1979: 130) The analytical revisionist category of research have been criticised for being predisposed to downgrade and obfuscate any conceptual, cultural, or communication impediments to a timely and accurate analysis of signals. They believe that states have a shared and homogeneous understanding of the world view, each others military capability and resolve. Moreover, they seem to have absolutely no problem with the concept of war which the rationalists such as Fearon, et al have categorised as ex post inefficient. James D. Fearon in his seminal work, The Rationalist Explanations of war (1995) argues that wars are accidental and the result of bargaining failure. According to him, states being rational actors should have an interest in resolving their disputes peacefully rather than through military contest since wars are ex post inefficient. He mentions three main causes of war: private information, commitment problem, and the problem of issue indivisibility. Private information simply refers to privileged information available to national leaders. The information could be secret military alliances with other nations, new technological or organizational innovation, motivational level of the troops, etc. In short, private information can be understood as any information that is exclusively available to national leaders that influences the probability of winning a military conflict. Fearon, in his essay, argues that private information can skew the accurate calculation of the military balance of power, thereby fostering misperceptions, which may lead to war. The commitment problem is another cause of war. Since the international order is anarchic, there is no guarantee that once the power transition happens, the adversary will not renege previous agreement. Therefore, states would rather fight a war when they have a greater probability of winning it, than consent to a negotiated solution which th