New Delhi: The 1950-53 Korean War is on the whole a forgotten war. It was preceded by World War II and it was followed by the Vietnam War which left a terrible psychological scar on the United States. The Korean War is nevertheless important (as all wars are) for its revelations of the military psyches of the combatant nations, chiefly China on one side, which had emerged from a civil war no more than a year earlier full of revolutionary fervour, and the United States on the other, the mightiest and largely unrivalled nation on earth, and the leader of the victorious powers of the Second World War.

The Korean War ended in a stalemate with Korea partitioned as before roughly about the 38th parallel. India played a thankless role in the final Armistice although there was no formal peace agreement between the two Koreas. This still remains the situation. The Korean War put to test the “Containment theory” propounded some years previously by George Kennan and the US President at the time of the war was Harry Truman. The United States had its most brilliant general of the last century, Douglas MacArthur, leading the UN forces in Korea. MacArthur was so successful in his campaign that he got perilously close to the Yalu River marking North Korea’s frontier with China, at which point China intervened in the war.

The Chinese intervention upset American calculations. Not only were the UN troops unprepared for Chinese war tactics initially, US military commanders led by MacArthur were hampered by the sudden cold feet displayed by the Truman administration. President Truman suspected the North Korean invasion which triggered the war as Soviet design to keep America preoccupied and entangled in Asia while Joseph Stalin attacked Western Europe. As it later transpired, Truman was needlessly paranoid, but in the moment of war, it had an awful impact on the campaign. When MacArthur protested and wanted to carry the war to China, Truman sacked him. UN troops did recover lost positions in a long war of attrition, but China gained the upper hand psychologically, calling for armistice, and using the resultant slackening resolve of the American side to win more territory. The war ended in a stalemate; China never again participated in a direct confrontation with the United States; but China did impress the opposition in the war with its steely resolve and its basically expansionistic mindset.

Less than a decade after the end of the Korean War, China attacked India. The aggression was entirely one-sided. China set out to “teach India a lesson” and did so bloodily and thoroughly. The reason for the Chinese aggression has never been fully revealed or understood. Being a totalitarian state, China has felt no need to open its secrets to the world. India has stumbled at figuring the Chinese motives. Was it Jawaharlal Nehru’s “Forward Policy” without the smallest military preparedness that enraged and encouraged the Chinese to attack? Or was it granting asylum to the Dalai Lama in 1959 that produced a delayed and devastating action from China? This writer has always tied the 1962 war to the shelter afforded to the Dalai Lama which blew the lid of China’s annexation of Tibet and has kept the Tibet question alive all these years. Tibet and Taiwan hold the threat of unravelling the Chinese totalitarian state; and by keeping the Dalai Lama an honoured guest, India has made itself a permanent adversary of China. Not even the best India-China trade relations can change that.

The present Indian government has decided to permit a higher profile to the Dalai Lama than ever before. The Chinese protested when the Dalai Lama attended a public ceremony where the President, Pranab Mukherjee, was the chief guest. Most people do not know that Mukherjee is a hawk on China and well understands the Chinese psyche. The Dalai Lama is further due to attend other public receptions, including in Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese consider disputed. The Chinese will not take all this lying down. From indications available from the government in the media, the Indian side is prepared. The new Indian army chief has spoken of complete manageability of a two-front war, the second front understood to be with China. There are massive defensive preparations on that front. There have also been significant strategic missile testing by India, the declared aim being to proceed from “dissuasion” to “deterrence” to “credible deterrence”.

This writer has not the smallest objection to any of these measures taken to secure India against an implacable adversary like China. A word of caution on raising the profile of the Dalai Lama is in order, however. This touches at the core of Chinese interests. The 1962 war was triggered by the 1959 asylum to the Dalai Lama. In similar fashion, the Chinese intervened in the Korean War when General MacArthur marched towards the Yalu River, although he had no intention of attacking China. To give the devil its due, the Chinese fought well in Korea, although they took more casualties than the UN side and more than what was comfortable to Mao Tse Tung and the new Communist leadership of China. The bloody history of 1962 is too well known on the Indian side to bear repetition.

The point is this. India must be prepared for confronting Chinese nationalism at its most warlike when a more visible Dalai Lama returns to world focus China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. India must be prepared for another Chinese aggression. The government will know best if it is. This writer cannot foresee what form this aggression will take or where it will occur. But its inevitability is as certain as the sun rises every morning.

Addendum: The Baluch people feel let down in the months since after the Prime Minister’s mention of their homeland in the 2016 Independence Day address. This should not be repeated with the Tibetans, who have a longer association with India, and are integrated with Indian society. The Dalai Lama cannot be played like a card. He is revered and close to the heart of Indians. If India has the object to reopen the Tibetan question, it has to go all the way, and going all the way means a head-on confrontation with China. If India chickens out after starting something, it will lose the respect of the world as a strategic power. As they said in wiser times, look before you leap.