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Bhutan - Military Doctrine

Bhutan is a strategic buffer state wedged between India and China. After centuries of close ties to Tibet and less definite connections to China, Bhutan developed a southerly political orientation, first with British India and then with independent India. British troops in or near Bhutan presented a considerable deterrent to China from the eighteenth century until the early twentieth century. Britain's withdrawal from India in 1947 and India's replacement of Britain as Bhutan's protector coincided with the communist military victory in China in 1949.

Three types of eventualities are envisaged in the Bhutanese concept of national security: security from external threats; the strategic environment and unsettled periphery and; internal factors such as externally induced domestic upheavals that could unsettle its core national values. Thus, the security concerns of Bhutan are related to maintaining the sovereignty of the Bhutanese state and its territorial integrity. The unsettled periphery for Bhutan meant north-east India where a number of states like Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Assam faced insurgency. This in turn also poses a security threat to Bhutan.

Because of its location in India's strategic defense system, Bhutan long had foreign defense arrangements, first with Britain and then with independent India. Despite common international policy goals of Indian and Chinese leaders, territorial problems between the two powers continued to define Bhutan's buffer status. The 1962 border war between India and China had serious implications for Bhutan and could have embroiled it in the fighting. Thimphu permitted Indian troops to cross Bhutanese territory and Chinese airplanes allegedly violated Bhutanese air space. In addition, China reportedly had six divisions stationed near the borders of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal. China had its own boundary disputes with Bhutan, and Chinese troops reportedly breached the Bhutanese frontier on several occasions in 1966, 1970, and 1979.

In each case, New Delhi attempted to represent Thimphu's interests in protest notes to Beijing, all of which were rejected. As the Chinese threat grew, India became increasingly involved in the buildup of Bhutan's indigenous defensive capability, specifically in the training and equipping of the Royal Bhutan Army. The headquarters of the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT) in Bhutan was located in Ha District, which is adjacent to Tibet's Chumbi Valley, where China routinely kept large concentrations of troops, at the junction of the Bhutanese, Indian, and Chinese borders.

The 1949 Indo-Bhutanese treaty made no reference to India's defense of Bhutan except what might be inferred from Article 2 of the treaty. Prime Minister Nehru, however, declared in 1958 that acts of aggression against Bhutan would be taken as acts of aggression against India itself. Also, by the terms of the 1949 treaty, Bhutan has the right to import arms, munitions, and other military materiel from or through India as long as the Indian government is satisfied that such imports do not threaten India. Bhutan, on the other hand, agreed not to export or allow private citizens to export any arms, ammunition, or military equipment. The Indian Ministry of Defence also made provisions for the rapid deployment of helicopter-borne troops to Bhutan in the event of a Chinese invasion and made related plans for air force operations. Suggestions from within the Bhutanese government to allow Indian troops to be stationed in Bhutan were rejected. An important defensive consideration was the construction of extensive roads with major assistance from the Indian government's paramilitary Border Roads Organization.

Bhutan started apprehending threat from the Indian side, especially after India annexed Sikkim in 1975. Probably, Bhutan as a small country felt that it can also meet the same fate. Bhutan began perceiving its bilateral relations with India politically risky and uncertain. Bhutans apprehension of India further increased in the third stage after India involved itself in the Sri Lankan domestic conflict and deployed the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). This made Bhutan re-assess its threats from the south, which led to a gradual re-orientation of its foreign policy imperatives. Thus, Bhutan started to look beyond its neighborhood and established bilateral diplomatic relations with other countries.

Since the early 1980s, the armed struggle in Darjeeling and the separatist movements being waged in north-east India bordering Bhutan have enhanced its security concerns.

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