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The dangerous cat-and-mouse game before 1962 War has lesson for counter-attack in 2020

The war in Eastern Ladakh in 1962 was fought in the same areas into which the Chinese PLA has intruded since May 2020.

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Fifty-eight years ago on 20 October 1962, the Chinese began their “Counterattack in Self Defense on the China-India Border” to simultaneously attack in Eastern Ladakh and North East Frontier Agency, or NEFA. The phase 1 of the war lasted from 20-24 October in the northeast and from 20-27 October in Eastern Ladakh.

This column is restricted to Phase 1 of the war in Eastern Ladakh. The account is based on data from the  The Official History of 1962 India China War and 1962 – War in the Western Sector (Ladakh) [ A View from Other Side of the Hill]


Until 1959, both India and China were pursuing the traditional forward policy to flag mark the frontier regions without coming in contact. In the northeast, we preempted the Chinese and had secured the area up to the McMahon Line using the Assam Rifles by 1951. In Ladakh, the Chinese preempted us to assert control over Aksai Chin and built the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, and set up posts to defend it. In response, we set up posts with subunits of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

After the violent clashes at Longju ( 25 August 1959) and Kongka La (21 October 1959), the Army was directed to take over the defence of the border and we adopted a new forward policy of establishing posts, beginning 5 December1961, as close to, to the flanks and behind the Chinese posts. The premise was that the Chinese will not initiate a conflict and we will flag mark additional territory. The Chinese did the same under their policy of “armed coexistence”.

The rival posts became interlocked. India’s strategy, based on the assessment by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) was that the Chinese were bluffing and would not resort to a large-scale military action. Hence, the Indian Army could establish posts in areas unoccupied by the Chinese to stake claims up to its boundary, and at times go behind the Chinese to force their withdrawal. The Chinese played along, doing the same to stalemate the situation until they were ready for decisive military action. This dangerous cat and mouse game continued until China launched military operations on 20 October 1962.

By the end of September, Indian Army had set up 77 posts in Eastern Ladakh, out of which 43 posts were considered as intrusions by the Chinese because these were east of the 1959 Claim Line.

Also read: China has taken LAC clock back to 1959. India not in a position to take back Aksai Chin

Indian Army deployment

The Army had deployed 114 Infantry Brigade consisting of four battalions, 14 J&K Militia, 5 JAT, 7 J&K Militia and 1/8 Gorkha Rifles for Ladakh’s defence. The headquarters of the brigade was at Leh and a tactical headquarter at Chushul. The brigade was later reinforced with two more battalions – 13 Kumaon and 1 JAT. However, these took part only in Phase 2 of the battle beginning 18 November 1962.

Interlocked posts as on 20 October 1962

Source – A History of the Counter Attack War in Self Defence along Sino-Indian Border, Academy of Military Science Publications 1994

The Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) Sector opposite the Chinese Tianwendian Sector was held by 14 J&K Militia and one company of 5 JAT. The battalion was holding 21 widely separated isolated posts. Out of these, seven were of a platoon strength (30-40 personnel) and 14 were of section strength (10 personnel). One company was in reserve at DBO.

Four posts each in the Galwan River Valley and Changchenmo River Valley were held by two companies of 5 JAT. The third company was manning the line of communication to Changchenmo Valley with six posts. On the Chinese  side, Hewetian Sector and Part of Kongka Pass Sector was opposite this area.

The Pangong Sector was held by 1/8 Gorkha Rifles with a company less a platoon on the north bank and a company on the south bank of Pangong Tso. There were two platoon posts in Sirijap and three posts on the south bank. Two companies were deployed on the Kailash Range, one each at Gurung Hill and Magar Hill to the north and south of the Spanggur Gap. The Chinese Kongka Pass Sector was opposite the north bank and Ali Sector responsible for the south bank.

In the Indus Valley Sector, 7 J&K Militia was stretched from Dungti to Demchok, a distance of 70 km. It had two posts on the Kailash Range at Chang La and Jara La, one at Dumchele and four posts at Demchok. The Chinese Ali Sector was responsible for this area.

Also read: In –35°C, the Indian soldier at LAC is 50% less efficient but 100% ready to fight China

The battle

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mustered one division consisting of three infantry regiments (equivalent to a brigade) with requisite supporting arms and some tanks. Some additional ad hoc units were also created for the operation.

Map showing first phase of operations 20-28 October 1962

Source – A History of the Counter Attack War in Self Defence along Sino-Indian Border, Academy of Military Science Publications 1994

Our thin deployment in penny packets stretched over 400 km was hardly conducive to defend the territory. Hence, the strategy was to conduct a planned withdrawal to depth areas for defence of Leh in event of a major attack. The PLA relied upon infiltration to get behind our isolated posts and in most cases, did not allow a planned withdrawal except from those posts that were not attacked.

The attack commenced in the wee hours on the night of 19/20 October in all sectors. In the DBO Sector, the main focus was opposite DBO itself, north and south of the Chip Chap River The attack commenced at 0825 hours on Post Number 6 (as numbered by the PLA) held by 62 soldiers. The post was captured by 1045 hours. Forty soldiers were killed in action and 20 were taken as prisoners of war (POW). Over the next 30 hours, most of the posts defending the DBO Sector were captured. On the intervening night of 21-22 October, 14 J&K Militia was given permission to withdraw. The withdrawal was orderly and by 24 October, the entire sector was vacated. The PLA did not advance beyond 1959 Claim Line.

In the Galwan River, our main post close to Samzungling had been established by a platoon of 1/8 Gorkha Rifles using the route from Hot Springs along Kugrang River. The post had cut off the routes to three PLA posts. It had been under siege since 4 July 1962. A company of 5 JAT was inducted by helicopters from 4-12 October to relieve the platoon. It was attacked at 0825 hours on 20 October and captured in two hours. The intensity of fighting can be gauged from the fact that out of 68 all-rank soldiers, 36 were killed in action and 32 taken as POW.

In the Hot Springs sector, there was a sharp fight at the outpost near Kugrang River and Changlung Nala Junction. The PLA did not advance beyond this area. All other troops in Changchenmo Valley were withdrawn.

North of Pangong Tso, Sirijap 1 held by a Company headquarter and one platoon was attacked at 0900 hours on 21 October and was captured by 1100 hours. Fourteen soldiers were killed and 25 were taken as POW. The PLA suffered 21 casualties. The Company Commander, Major Dhan Singh Thapa, was wounded and taken as POW. He was later awarded Param Vir Chakra. The PLA pressed on the attack to Sirijap 2 and after a stiff fight captured it by 1700 hours. Our troops suffered 10 killed in action and 12 were taken as POW.

South of Pangong Tso there was not much of a fight and our three posts managed to withdraw.

In 48 hours, the PLA had secured the 1959 Claim Line up to Pangong Tso. It had to regroup to attack the Indus Valley Sector.  Ali Sector of the PLA  was responsible for the operation. Commencing operations on 27 October, the entire area up to the 1959 Claim Line was captured by 28 October.

Also read: PLA’s eye is on 1959 Claim Line. But Modi, Xi can get around it and make peace before winter

Striking similarities

The Chinese political aim in 1962 was simple – to “teach India a lesson”, neutralise it as a rival for position of preeminence in Asia and the world, and prevent it from challenging the perceived Chinese territorial integrity and sovereignty over Tibet. The military objective was to impose a crushing defeat on Indian armed forces operating in NEFA and Ladakh, and in so doing, completely annihilate the forces in NEFA, and secure territory up to the 1959 claim line in Ladakh.

The war in Eastern Ladakh in 1962 was fought in the same areas into which the PLA has intruded with effect from May 2020. Ironically, the military aim seems to be the same – to secure the territory up to its 1959 Claim Line and in the event of an escalation, impose a crushing defeat on India. As per the Chinese perception, over the years, India has creeped across its Claim Line, which it had secured in 1962 and was developing border infrastructure that threatens its territorial integrity.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. Oh! I guess two guys are handling this one natureTruth account. Or maybe you are doing it in shifts.

    Yes yes…wonderful news and all. Unfortunately, you should have worked harder when the mess began. Now, you are just stuck with the image.

    Hard luck.

  2. All China got to do is to wait for nature to teach India another painful lesson. But it may be the last lesson that could fragmented India permanently back to hundreds of princely states, usher in 100yrs of peace for rising Asia century.

    The harsh winter will greatly harm 200,000 poorly equipped IA in Ladakh if not culling these soldiers, while damaging heavy weapons like tanks & artillery that have no proper protection.

    After all access routes of Ladakh are sealed off by snow, Pak & PLA can crank up border tension on the Kashmir, and along whole long border from Himachal till eastern South Tibet(Anuracha) to force India surging more troops extending along 1000s km to further wear down India limited resources over winter.

    PLA can then easily use drones to pinpoint destroy IA fuel & food stockpiles at Ladakh and along whole border without killing soldier to avoid escalating into full border war. India has no means to counter China’s drones attack, as we have seen in Azerbaijan vs Armenia war. This will acutely pressure India leaders into draining whatever its few resources left to urgently resupply & evacuate the frozen-hungry soldiers. If India fire artillery as retaliation, China’s drones can pluck them out quickly. New Delhi will hesitate to escalate consider its within PLA artillery and multi rocket launchers 300km range from Arsai Chin border.

    By the end of 6mths winter, all IA manpower, equipments & transport will have fully worn out, with no resource left to fight any war.

    Meanwhile, as counter to India alliance with US to play Taiwan-Tibet-HK-Uyghur cards, China with moral high ground may consider to retaliate by opening another 0.5 war front, equipping freedom fighters of Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Goa, …Maoist, etc. to struggle their independent from India’s illegal cruel occupation.

    Inferior ageing & under equipped IAF can’t survive onslaught of overwhelming superior PAAF & PAF. So IAF will hesitate to initiate any air fight. Even it tries, after a few disastrous defeats at borders, IAF will be self grounded. India has no credible air defense to protect its airspace, while stealthy J20 can easily penetrate to decimate whatever few air defense India has. Five newly incorporated Rafael fighters can’t help.

    If China wish, it can now devastate all India main infrastructures to further tank its economy & shock India people into mass social unrest, expediting many angry states to secede from Delhi control. If need to, although not humane, China can also flood India by opening up its dams, making India freezing winter even more unbearable.

    A flotilla of PLAN submarines and warships can also sent to Andaman to seize India Nicobar islands, and set up permanent navy base to counter India-US QUAD existential threat at Malacca Straits. Poorly equipped India Navy is too weak & small to resist, while USN will not risk a disastrous hot war with China for India. Thereafter, PLAN can move on with Pak Navy to destroy all the India Navy assets, sunk all its a/carriers & vessels if resist, destroy all bases and seaports, blockade India oil supply & sea trades along Gulf & India ocean. Iran can be incenticized to help choke off India bound oil tankers at Strait of Homlz since US led QUAD & mini Asia-Gulf Nato is also seriously threatening Iran’s security. This will paralyze whole India quickly as India has only few weeks fuel stockpile.

    India limited hypersonic & cruise missile system mainly import from Russia has yet to put on reliable field test. Its number and fire power pale in comparison to China’s vast arsenal. So India will avoid to start a missile exchange that will guarantee its quick wipeout.

    A nuclear war is remote, consider India has very limited reliable delivery means & few intercontinental missiles to mount its unproven small 50kt warheads, not able to guarantee penetrating China multilayer dense air defense to inflict sufficient damage. Whereas China nuclear retaliation will spell instant extinction of India with dozens of 3Mtons hydrogen bombs.

    India foolish leaders have brought upon this catastrophic calamity for its people by war mongering with US, while invading all neighbors lands since 1947. Instead of joining China & Asia to cultivate a prosperous & peaceful Asia century, freeing the world from West colonists hegemon, India has chosen to be part of USNato-Israel-Jp evil axis to threaten the world. Karma will haunt India.

    • The Chinese bully, NatureTruth forgets that we comprehensively beat them in Sept 1967 in Nathu La pass. He also needs to be reminded of the fate of China Vietnam war of 1979. The overrated and overambitious Chinese dictator cannot threaten India. India is well prepared and would retaliate any Chinese misadventure. So moderate your pen Mr.NaturTruth. You are not welcome in India.

      • These China aggressions & loses in 1967 + Vietnam 1979 war stories are foolish lies propagated by India Congress gov, who was so utterly humiliated in Nehru’s misadventure 1962 border invasion.

        Study neutral history from non India sources to understand better. Ask why India gov still refuse to declassify 1962 war documents, and read Neville Maxwell reports.

        Singapore 1st PM Lee Kuan Yew memoirs had revealed how he personally pleaded China DengXP to stop invincible Vietnam-Soviet axis (who defeated US allies) from over run whole Asia. Entire Asean armies were gathered at Thai border awaiting war hardened vietcon onslaught.

        Deng asked for 3wks to reply, which he decisively launched punitive attack deep into Vietnam destroying all its war capability, so damaging that it took 30yrs for Vietnam to recover. China also used this attack to completely damaged Soviet global standing after it failed to defend Vietcon by honoring its mutual defense pact. This brought in the beginning of Soviet down fall, and a 30yrs peace for Asia fast development.

        West fearing CCP expanding influence in Asia & world standing, had denied China this great honor by not reporting it. US ex-State Secretary Kissinger memoir had further verified LYK statements. But Spore current PM has refused to declassified these history after been approached by historians.

        China leaders are consistently found to be very rational, pragmatic and long sighted historically. China had time tested proven itself not interested in unproductive expansionism, as advocated by all its ancient strategists that expansionism brought to collapse of all empires. This can be seen when it didn’t cross over 1959 LAC even after defeated India decisively. Similarly for Vietnam in 1979 attack. It also rejected Philippines & Sikkim open request to integrate into China. Xinjiang & Tibet were occupied by Mongolian(Yuan Dynasty) & Manchu(Qing Dynasty) who themselves had invaded China. That’s how these territory become part of China historically.

        PLA had proven its fighting capability in defeating excessively superior US Allied in both Korea & Vietnam wars, beating invincible Vietnam-Soviet axis and India of course.

        India most famous mountain troops were equipped with Brits superior weapons & well trained in fighting Brits Raj global wars, fully back by Soviet, US, UK, Canada & Australia, had themselves tested PLA capability in 1962 border war.

        Then China was still nurturing wounds from devastated Jp invasion & civil war, pragued with widespread poverty and hunger. Today China is completely different from 1962, with a 5x larger GDP of India, world’s strongest mfg capacity and a well modernize PLA. In addition of Pak and insurgents fronts, any war will be catastrophic for India.

    • Karma will haunt India? Do you even understand Karma?

      Evil axis? Evil is not telling people about a dangerous Untreatable virus in time. That one decision has led to deaths in every country in the world. Go and ask people in any part of the world about you and the first thing they say is Covid. Go ask your own people about how they feel about your local bosses trying to whitewash your pandemic response.

      And the Thai, Malaysians, Indonesians, Australians. All of them feel threatened by ________. Fill in the blank.

      No amount of armed jingoism is going to
      change the ground scenario. Neither for you, nor for us. If it comes to war, then it comes to war. If you want to do tourism to Andaman, you are welcome to try. We have been waiting for a chance to go “pearl” smashing in Bangladesh and SL anyways. Might have a look in at Feydoo too while we are at it.

      Our leaders aren’t exactly a God-send but when it comes to an attack by an outsider, don’t worry, Mr. Re-education School, you won’t know the difference. If we don’t like them, we will change them. You should try that sometime.

      Go and use your genuine ingenuity to create a cheap vaccine for all humanity. That karma you speak off might just go a little easy on you.

      • Ishan,
        COVID was found long before China was attacked by it in E/Dec19? US & EU sewage samples have found COVID virus tracing up to early 2019. Just Google yourself, plenty reports. West & India MSM won’t report them.

        In fact, COVID was lab made by US, funded & patented by Pentagon in 2015. It was published in UK Nature magazine.
        “Gordon Duff, Documentary Proof: University of North Carolina Generated COVID-19”

        US reported COVID-like outbreak since Jan19 under E-cigarette Vaping Associated Lung Injury, when whole world has no trouble with Vaping. An outbreak of 10,000 cases around Maryland in Jul’19 had US CDC shut down its Ft Detrick bioweapon lab in Maryland.

        ABCnews & TimesofIsrael had reported that US intelligence alerted all its allies Nato, Israel, (Jp, SK, India?…) in Nov19 that China will be attacked by deadly virus, before China CDC even detected its first case. SK conducted a large scale China-conoravirus prevention exercise in 18Dec19 to prepare.

        “ABC: Intelligence report warned of coronavirus crisis as early as November: Sources
        Analysts concluded it could be a cataclysmic event.”

        “TimesofIsrael: US alerted Israel, NATO to disease outbreak in China in November — report”

        “USNews: South Korea’s Emergency Exercise in December Facilitated Coronavirus Testing, Containment”

        In fact, India was waging media war to smear China on COVID since Mar2019, using GreatgameIndia & Zerohedge, pointing that India was known partner of USNato COVID bioweapon attacked on Wuhan. Kamma is a bitch, it has biten back USNato-India the hardest after it mutated to strains”C” that USNato prepared vaccines & herd immunity program using mild strains “A” failed.

        “Coronavirus Bioweapon – How China Stole Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponized It
        By GreatGameIndia – January 26, 2020”

        US Pentagon, NSA, Pharma giants, CDC, Nato… had conducted COVID global pandemic simulation on Oct19.
        “Event 201, hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, envisions a fast-spreading coronavirus with a devastating impact”

        “Was the 2020 Wuhan Coronavirus (COVID-19) an engineered biological attack on China by America for geopolitical advantage?”

        “China’s Coronavirus: A Shocking Update. Did The Virus Originate in the US?
        Japan, China and Taiwan Reports on the Origin of the Virus to US”. Scientific genome mapping traced it to US.
        By Larry Romanoff”

    • Im not advocating China & Pak to go to war with India. They must avoid this US trap wisely by all means.

      What Im pointing out here is India is in no position to challenge China & Pak for a 2.5 fronts war hyped by India leaders.

      So both India & China must resolve their differences peacefully for benefit of both nations.

      Its especially important when India is facing COVID & economy crisis, while China is facing US-QUAD full hybrid wars. Hegemonic US is the only winner.

      A cooperative India-China will be critical for a peaceful & prosperous Asia century, a great win for both nations of 2.8Bils & the world.

      • They are not hyping because they want to go an adventure. They are hyping because even though it will be tough going, they want the people to be ready for what is a definite possibilty.

        You know how i know this? For all the reasons you named in your answers plus they already have a punching bag. They don’t need another one. So, I am not buying your “we do not want war” sales pitch.

        We will talk cooperation when you go back to where you started from. And do not give me a history of lines and maps. Our guys and your guys both know where you were before all this started so go back to that location and then we can have as much peace talk as you want.

        Trap setting is the way all countries dominate each other. The americans did it, the Soviets did it and you are also going to try it. A warrior such as yourself must be aware of this. So, let us not blame the Americans.

        We have both survived a lot. When you went through your terrible 1936 to 1945 period we had our Bengal Famine and then our country got torn up. So, both of us have the ability to differentiate bogey men and actual adversarial action.

        Bottomline, you are a powerful nation with a great future. You dont have to show us up everytime. Be the elder brother and pull towards where we were before this unnecessary battle started.

        • Ishan, im not from China so i can’t comment on their behalf. Im a researcher.

          Many geopolitical scholars like Bhim Bhurtel, Andrew Korybko & wise India ex-diplomats like M. K. BHADRAKUMAR have all pointed out clearly, its India tyranny Modi’s RSS BJP US alliance to existential threaten China security, esp its sea trade lanes and strategic Arsai Chin(only link between Tibet & Xinjiang + CPEC) with aggressive forward military built up, further triggered by art370 abolishing and boasting to capture Arsai Chin.

          All these had forced China to take necessary preemptive security actions, yet it still restrained by not crossing 1959 LAC. Modi had also affirmed to this by saying no one enter India territory.

          China will not and can not return to April status quo, esp India has just signed BECA to signal its determination to destroy China with US at all cost.

          Modi & his radical Hindutva team have brought disaster for India economy & social stability, now they have up the ante to national level calamity. This 6mths winter in Ladakh will be acid test of India if army logistic failed to supply.

          Btw, just name one neighbor not invaded and occupied by India since its 1947. You can’t, because India has invaded every single neighbors speak voluminous of its expansionism Chanakya statecrafts: all immediate neighbors are 1st ring of permanent enemies to be invaded, then 2nd ring,… until absolute hegemony is achieved.

          “A few timeline of India invasions”

          • I am afraid you must Go back to where you started. That is a non-negotiable.

            Modi’s “whatever” is my problem, not yours. So leave that to me. I thought the Chinese didnt involve themselves in other’s issues.

            Don’t give me that researcher stuff. Researchers don’t hide behind false names.

            “Destroy China with US help” – you really think you will be destroyed? Seriously?

            “an enemy whose economy is weak can be attacked with greater chance of success especially when coupled with political dissension and disease.” Ring any bells? Quoting Chanakya to me is like me quoting sun tzu to you.

            Bottomline, peace will come when you go back to where you started. That is a non-negotiable.

  3. Unfortunately, leaders of the yesteryear such as Lt. Gen. Panag and ambassador Mrs. Nirupama Rao come across as being completely intimidated by China.

    The reality is that India has no other alternative but to push back on China. If not, we will be paying a very big price for many decades to come.

  4. General has a given a good account from the Chinese perspective. Full stop!

    As of now, conditions are different and any attempt by China to use force will meet with strong responses from well prepared India.

    The fact of the matter is that India never physically and effectively controlled the area of the map we published as ours in 1954, allowed Chinese to physically occupy a large are inside our line on the map from 1950s and much before 1962 and then we tried to defend along the line where we could not defend effectively. In a sense, we did in 1954 what Nepal has done in 2020 by claiming Lipulekh, Kalapani etc!! After 1962, we have done nothing to take back any territories and have been holding inside 1959 claim line and had patrolling rights on area to the East on Chinese side till the point Chinese allowed us!

    Once this history is clearly understood, we can now appreciate the issues much better. Of course, we can now not only hold on to what we have effectively but also teach Chinese a lesson too. But we cannot take back the areas as per our map. The earlier we realize this, the better it is.

  5. thank you for such a detailed account of our defeat without mentioning the shortcoming of your current political masters. don’t worry. it’s good that people with your “teach India a Lesson” is no longer commanding our Army.

  6. You are one of rare Indian who is willing to reveal some truth about India 1962 border war. India needs to embrace the truth and face its past mistakes to accomplish peace with all neighbors. It has duty to educate its people on the truth to stop promoting unnecessary hatred towards China.

    India current alliance with USM to seriously threaten China’s & all neighbors security will spell great disasters to India and Asia, as happen in current border confrontation. India will be remembered in history as the spoiler that derail the new prosperous Asia Century, only to perpetual USNato hegemonic bully.

    • So be it. US is evil but lesser evil than Communist China. It can be argued with, reasoned with and bargained with.

  7. So Maxwell Neville was correct, China was forced and had shown their unusual greatest restrain to only counter India aggression in Nehru’s Forward Policy, in order to push India invaders out of 1959 claimed line. Even PLA could continue to capture entire Ladakh (of Tibet) and beyond, they had restrained themselves. Yet entire India leaders and scholars are still lying perpetually that its China backstabing India to poison all Indians instilling vehement hatred, still refusing to disclassified the border war document after 50yrs.

  8. A very revealing article. As in any successful conflict the Chinese objective was clear and so was the exit strategy.
    The facts as recorded in The Official History of 1962 India China War and 1962 – War in the Western Sector (Ladakh) have been with the defense establishment of the successive governments since 1962, and we trust we have learnt lessons in preparing for a possible similar eventuality?
    The preparedness in many areas surely must be much better than in 1962 just as the infra support and ability to sustain survival on height in excess of 15000 ft. The suitable equipment and a decades of experience in that kind of conditions, now with superior logistical support will probably not make it easy for the Chinese to take over posts in matter of hours.
    Will we be correct in assuming that it will not be a surgical strike for the Chinese ? The push back will be to force the Chinese to escalate, which is unlikely in todays age given the deterrence capacities of both sides.
    Have we gone past the stage where we can just be taught a lesson at no major cost to the aggressor.

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