If you are like me you have a certain degree of snugness, admit it. And so when, be honest, the unexpected surprises you and you have that “uuunnnhh” moment, you are not so smug. Recently, in January this year, that was me with a new book by Bruce Riedel, about the Sino-India war of 1962.
This was as big a situation for about one half of humanity as was the Cuban missile crisis was for the other half. And it is as the title reminds us fifty-three years on, it is forgotten. Bruce Riedel is an excellent writer who in one slim volume takes us back in time to the fall of 1962. And in India, Pakistan, Peking, Moscow, Washington and London and reintroduces us to Nehru, Mao, Khrushchev and last but hardly least, that most excellent diplomat and Canadian born Harvard faculty member John Kenneth Galbraith who as American ambassador to India almost singlehandedly maneuvered to extricate the United States as well as India form an almost certainly fatal situation for the world’s most populous democracy.
Proving true the observation that French President Charles de Gaulle had made in a conversation to JFK in 1962, that it was not Soviet Russia which was the greatest threat to the West, it was Communist China. I believe that De Gaulle was [and still is] correct. The PCR, that paradoxically fascist / communist / state capitalist / single party state whose single minded obsession remains the wiping away of the stains of the “century of shame”, of its weakness in the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries and to return China as the great power of the world, that of “The Middle Kingdom”, as China once was. This obsession has brought the PRC to a within whisker of that dream, but at a fearful cost in pollution, overcapacity, and the equal danger of an unsustainable shrinking population.
These events are fifty years into the future, and in 1962 China could [and did] challenge India. But it could not challenge the USA. In 2016 I am not so sure. This is the story of how Mao sought to and succeeded in humiliating Nehru and India, by proving with this war, that it was China and thus communism which was superior and thus not India and thus not democracy. And he did just that.
1962, a mere six years after the Suez Crisis, the humiliation of Britain, France and Israel by the mere hint of the displeasure of the USA had changed the geopolitical calculus. Those countries were then far too weak to present an effective opposition to what was then thought to be a monolithic communist bloc. With fifty-four years of hindsight we now know better, this bloc was anything but monolithic. And the antipathy between Soviet and Chinese communism would soon result in a rapprochement between American and China against Soviet Russia in 1972, but not just yet.
This lack of appreciation of Asian power politics continues to have implication today. As the American misconception of a binary world order would today seem to be almost touchingly simplistic, bordering on naiveté, British and French diplomacy excepted.
This is an excellent book with a great deal of useful information and it is well written, I recommend it highly. And it is here at the WML for you to enjoy.