Why did the US not support Tibet?

A friend of mine asked me about this after watching a Dalai Lama biography; I couldn’t think of an appropriate answer, and I ran an archives search for “China Tibet”, but the thread titles didn’t seem to me as if this has answered before, so I went for posting it here.

When China invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama asked the Western world for help. Now I’m none of those guys running araound with “Free Tibet” stuff all the time - frankly, I don’t care too much about Tibet anyway - , but judging from what we remember from history classes, it would seem logical to me if the US actively supported Tibet, which they didn’t (unlike Korea, where they heavily intervened in the same era).
China was an expanding communist power, and America’s Containment and Rollback policy demanded to stop the spread of communism. So why didn’t they intervene? If they had been afraid about starting a new war shortly after WWII, they wouldn’t have fought in Korea either, so why did the West ignore Tibet’s call for support?

Look at a map. You can’t support large troop operations exclusively by air. Who’s willing to let American soldiers through overland, if that would risk war with China? Not even Pakistan.

I’m sure there were other political and economic reasons, but geography virtually dictates that a war over Tibet would result in a general Asian ground war, directly with China, over territory they considered their own. America never risked that (at least no intentionally) in Korea or Vietnam.

Intervene in what? Tibet was a theocracy, Dalai Lama was a virtual god and there was a small previledged social class. It’s not the common folk is doing worse now than they used to before, who used to live like serfs.

So, even if it were true, which I do not accept fot a minute, “improving the living conditions of the people” is an acceptable reason for invading and subjugating a country? I’ll have to make a note of that. I guess the western world should invade and subjugate most of Africa and Asia then? Including China, of course.

You missed the point. The point is whether a country should prop up a despotic ruler… wait, that’s what the US has been doing :stuck_out_tongue:

Besides, what gave you the idea that Tibet was a country?

It was, until China invaded it.

And sailor: I don’t think the US should have intervened just for improving the standard of living; I just suppose it would have been consistent to do so (because it was the general goal of US foreign policy at the time) to stop the spread of communism.

This is a general question and should be limited to factual answers. Urban Ranger, your assertation on Tibetan independence or lack thereof would make a good thread if you would care to start one in Great Debates. A few were lost during the troubles and one touched on this in the temporary board.

The short answer to the OP is that when the Dalai Lama sent emissaries to plead for help to the West, including the US, the US turned to Great Britain for guidance. Tibet used to be part of British sphere of influence, and Hugh Richardson was stationed as one of only a handful of foreigners in Lhasa through IIRC 1947. India had gained independence in 1947 (as had Burma). Britain then turned to India for guidance. Nehru, for his own reasons, both at that time and a few years later, advocated that Tibet was part of China. Trickled back to the US, and that was essentially that.

There were independent Tibetan guerrilla operations, largely Khampas, based out of Nepal and Mustang for several years. The CIA was involved in covert operations using Tibetan guerrillas. The KMT in Taiwan were also running Tibetan guerrilla operations. These operations were largely unsuccessful. You can read the story of a Khampa guerrilla here
Warriors of Tibet

More reading for those interested in the events can be found in John Avedon In Exile From the land of the Snows , or what the Dalai Lama wrote soon after the events took place My Land and My People , or you can read from virtually the only Tibetan scholar that lived in Tibet during the 1930-1947 period, Hugh Richardson, do a google search on his name or here is Hugh Richardson Amazon books page

We lost all of those? Crap.

  • Tamerlane

I think it’s quite factual. According to John King Fairbank, Tibet was never an independent country, at least not in the modern times. The ROC never signed on the 1914 treaty, and Tibet wasn’t considered an independent country by the international community.

If there is any contravening historical facts I’m interested in knowing.

The US was awfully busy fighting a war in Korea, helping out in postwar Europe, and rooting out domestic Communists. With all those massive deployments from a war weary nation, who’s got the time or manpower to save the Tibetans? The country had no strategic or economic importance to the United States. It’s geography is such that it would be impossible to get a military presence into the country or reinforce it once established. The real question should be … why should the US have saved Tibet? US military planners probably knew from day one that Tibet was a lost cause. Now if only someone would tell Richard Gere.

Urban Ranger, I’ll repeat that this would be an interesting topic for a great debate. It is completely off topic of this GQ thread to get into Fairbanks or discuss the Simla Convention, but IMHO you need more than those two points to build a convincing case. I’ve provided numerous book references above that you can check for background and knowledge. If you are truely interested, then I suggest you read a copy of The Status of Tibet : History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law by international treaty lawyer Michael C. Van Walt Van Praag.