Forward Policy
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Forward Policy

A Forward Policy is a set of foreign policy doctrines applicable to territorial ambitions and disputes, in which emphasis is placed on securing control of targeted territories by invasion and annexation, or by the political creation of compliant buffer states.[1][failed verification (See discussion.)] Such foreign policies have been used by a number of countries including Austria,[2] France, Britain, India, and China,[3] to achieve their tactical aims over external countries.[4][5] The term has been candidly employed as an unvarnished sobriquet for two military 'forward policies' in two periods of history relating to the Central Asian border disputes: The Great Game,[] and in events leading to the Sino-Indian War in 1962.[6]

The term has been used more generally to describe the promulgation of policies in specific areas for tactical reasons, such as by British women's anti-suffragism supporters in the 1908-1914 period, who set out a raft of progressive policy proposals affecting women but excluding suffrage under the label of Forward Policy.[7]

The Great Game

The Great Game was a long period of dispute between the British and Russian empires from circa 1813 to 1907, reflecting British concerns about the security of its Indian empire as the empire expended southwards; and played out in competitions for strategic control of Afghanistan, Persia, the Central Asian Khanates/Emirates and the British trade-route to India.[8]

In The Great Game, the Forward Policy or Forward School was identified with arguments for the annexation of, or the control of foreign policy of, states and territories on the Indian border. The policy came with a number of costs: of armies deployed to secure territory, or subsidies to client states; as well as opportunity costs such as the increased risk of revolt in other parts of India should troops be moved to the frontier.

The Forward Policy stood in contrast with the 'Masterful Inactivity' or 'Backward' school of policy, which saw the geography of the subcontinent, especially the Himalayas, as sufficient protection against Russian encroachment,[9] and which was - all things being equal - less risky and of lower cost.[10]

Support for and dominancy of the two policies varied across time and place, with changes of government and circumstance. In Britain, Gladstone and the Liberals are identified with the Backward school, Disraeli and the Conservatives with the Forward.[11]

Amongst India hands Lord Wellesley, an early Governor-General of India, supported the policy,[12] as did his acolyte John Malcolm and less exalted staff such as William Moorcroft[13]Sir Henry Rawlinson was a strong advocate of the Forward Policy, notably in this ''England and Russia in the East'' (1875) .[14]Charles Metcalfe, 1st Baron Metcalfe, a member of the Supreme Council of India and later Governor General of Bengal, favoured the opportunity for consolidation offered by Masterful Inactivity.[12] Contention between the two played out at local as well as national levels:[15] Sandeman's Forward Policy in Balochistan was at a complete variance with his colleague's approaches in neighbouring frontier areas.[16]

The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 settled British-Russian relations by defining borders and spheres of influence sufficiently to enable Britain to bring its Forward Policy to an end.[17]

Sino-Indian War

A territorial border dispute between India and China traces back to a British officer who drew a contentious India-China border line in the late 1800's, known as the McMahon line.[][1]

In 1907, Britain and Russia in The Great Game acknowledged China held suzerainty over Tibet and that both nations can not directly enter into any negotiations with Tibet, unless through the intermediary of the Chinese Government.[18] In 1913-14 Representatives of Britain, China and Tibet met to officially sort out the boundaries of India and Tibet. However the Chinese representatives didn't sign the Simla Accord (1914) and so from the Chinese perspective, it can not be claimed as binding.

In 1954 the PRC government was prepared to accept that border alignment but insisted that it be re-negotiated, through diplomatic process to clean it from its imperialist origins. But Indian PM Nehru refused, using London's invalid claim that the Simla Conference had already legitimised the McMahon Line to back his refusal, and the border dispute remained unresolved.[19]

In the lead-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian War, the Forward Policy utilised by Indian PM Nehru, was identified by a set of tactical strategies and presumptuous theories designed with the ultimate goal to effectively force the Chinese out of territory that Indian government had claimed. The doctrines was based on a theory that China will not likely attack if India began to occupy territory China considered its own. Part of that thinking was based on the fact that China had plenty of their own external problems in the early months of 1962, especially with the Taiwan Strait Crisis. And that the Chinese leaders had insisted they did not wish for war.[20]

Nehru began acting out a policy of establishing new outposts further to the north of the LOC. In June 1962, local Indian commanders had established Dhola Post, in Tawang. The issue was that Dhola Post was one mile north of the McMahon Line, and clearly regarded as being in Chinese territory even by Indian standards.[20]

General Niranjan Prasad, commander of 4 Division, wrote later: "We at the front knew that since Nehru had said he was going to attack, the Chinese were certainly not going to wait to be attacked".[19]

The outcome of Nehru's forward policy was not as he had wanted. Contrary to his policy predictions, China attacked those Indian outposts that were north of the McMahon Line and so began the Sino-Indian war. The war lasted 30 days as China eventually pushed Indian forces back kilometres south of the McMahon line. Then unilaterally declared a ceasefire and pulled back to its original position, as a message that India has entered Chinese space.


  1. ^ Hopkirk 2006, pp. 5-6: "They [amateur strategists in Britain] argued that the only way to halt the Russian advance was by 'forward' policies. This meant getting there first, either by invasion, or by creating compliant 'buffer' states, or satellites, astride the likely invasion routes. Also of the forward school were the ambitious young officers of the Indian Army and political department engaged in this exciting new sport in the deserts and passes of High Asia."
  2. ^ Breuilly, John (1996-11-11). The Formation of the First German Nation-State, 1800-1871. Macmillan International Higher Education. ISBN 9781349117192.
  3. ^ Spence, Heather (1993-01-01). "British policy and the 'development' of Tibet 1912-1933". University of Wollongong Thesis Collection 1954-2016.
  4. ^ Maxwell, Neville (March 1971). "India's Forward Policy". The China Quarterly. 45: 157-163. doi:10.1017/S0305741000010481. ISSN 1468-2648.
  5. ^ Price, Munro (2019). "'Our aim is the Rhine frontier': The Emergence of a French Forward Policy, 1815-1830". French History. 33: 65-87. doi:10.1093/fh/crz002.
  6. ^ "Forward Policy of Nehru govt blamed for 1962 debacle". Deccan Herald. 2014-03-18. Retrieved .
  7. ^ Bush, Julia (2002). "British women's anti-suffragism and the forward policy, 1908-14". Women's History Review. 11 (3): 431-454. doi:10.1080/09612020200200330.
  8. ^ Hopkirk 2006, p. 2.
  9. ^ Hopkirk 2006, p. 6.
  10. ^ Hopkirk 2006, pp. 285-286.
  11. ^ Hopkirk 2006, pp. 358-359, 398.
  12. ^ a b Hopkirk 2006, pp. 133-134.
  13. ^ Hopkirk 2006, p. 88.
  14. ^ Hopkirk 2006, p. 318.
  15. ^ Hopkirk 2006, pp. 360-361.
  16. ^ Bruce 1900, pp. 42-45.
  17. ^ Hopkirk 2006, pp. 510-521.
  18. ^ "Tibet Justice Center - Legal Materials on Tibet - Treaties and Conventions Relating to Tibet - Convention Between Great Britain and Russia (1907)[391]". Retrieved .
  19. ^ a b "It wasn't China, but Nehru who declared 1962 war: Australian journalist Neville Maxwell - Times of India". The Times of India. Retrieved .
  20. ^ a b "The China-India Border War". Retrieved .

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