Olaf Caroe

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Sir Olaf Kirkpatrick Kruuse Caroe KCSI KCIE (15 November 1892 – 23 November 1981) was an administrator in British India, working for the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Political Service. He served as the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India during the World War II and later as the Governor of the North-West Frontier Province (the frontier with Afghanistan). As Foreign Secretary, he was responsible for reviving the McMahon Line, which included the Assam Himalayan frontier (present day Arunachal Pradesh) within India. After retirement, Caroe took on the role of a strategist of the Great Game and the Cold War on the southern periphery of the Soviet Union. His ideas are believed to have been highly influential in shaping the post-War policies of Britain and the United States. Scholar Peter Brobst calls him the "quintessential master of the Great Game" and the "foremost strategic thinker of British India" in the years before independence. [1]


Early life

Olaf Caroe was the son of architect William Douglas Caroe and Grace Desborough Rendall. He was educated at Winchester College and Magdalen College, Oxford, [2] where he read classics.

He went to India during World War I as an officer in the Indian Army (then called the Territorial Army). He served in Punjab along the Afghan frontier. [3] [1]


In 1919, Caroe joined the Indian Civil Service, and soon moved to the Indian Political Service. He was influential in foreign policy and rose to be the Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, serving in that role through the World War II. [1]

When he was deputy foreign secretary, Caroe is credited with getting the Government of India to reaffirm the McMahon Line, which had been negotiated by a former Foreign Secretary Henry McMahon with Tibet in the Simla Convention of 1914. The McMahon Line ran along the crest of the Himalayan ranges east of Bhutan, and incorporated the present day Arunachal Pradesh within the territory of India. For various reasons, the Simla Convention was not operationalised until 1935, and the official publication of the treaties of the Government of India, Aitchison's Treaties, did not include it. [lower-alpha 1] Caroe obtained the British government's permission to revise the official Indian maps to show the McMahon Line as the new boundary and to include the Simla Convention in a revised volume of Aitchison's Treaties but to do so "unobtrusively". [6] Caroe reissued the new volume in 1938, but still carrying the original 1929 date, and had the original volumes withdrawn. When the matter was discovered in 1963, it gave rise to accusation of a "virtual falsification" of the official records. [7] Scholar Karunakar Gupta states that Caroe's zeal in operationalising the McMahon Line warrants it being renamed the "McMahon–Caroe Line". [8]

Caroe took a great interest in involving native Indian officials in foreign service and training them in diplomacy. Two of Caroe's officers rose to high ranks after independence: K. P. S. Menon, who became India's ambassador to China and Soviet Union as well as foreign secretary, and A. S. B. Shah, who headed Pakistan's Political Service and later went as ambassador to Egypt. [9]

After the war, Caroe was appointed as the Governor of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), on the northwest border of the Indian subcontinent, adjoining Afghanistan and Russia. [1] He served in this role from 1946 to just before the Partition of India in 1947. Subject to accusations that he was too close to the Muslim League, [10] he encountered opposition from Congress Party politicians, [11] and was replaced in mid-1947 by Rob Lockhart as governor.


He wrote extensively after returning to Britain in 1947. [12] His strategic ideas proved influential in the United States:

At about this time there were those in Washington, looking for ways to secure the oil resources and practice containment in the middle east. The formulations of Sir Olaf Caroe attracted attention and soon found favour in official circles. His article in the March 1949 number of Round Table and his 1951 book, Wells of Power, led to invitations from the state and defence departments to visit Washington. [12]



  1. The Simla Convention was an ambiguous trilateral treaty negotiated between Britain, Tibet and China, but it was signed only by Britain and Tibet as binding upon themselves. China declined to sign it. No action was taken to implement the treaty for roughly two decades, partly out of concerns that it was in violation of the Anglo-Russian Convention, partly out of hope that China could be persuaded to join it and otherwise due to "vagaries of bureaucratic politics". [4] [5]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Brobst, Kashmir 1947 1998, p. 93.
  2. "Personal recollections of Sir Olaf Caroe". university of Leeds Special Collections. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  3. Brobst, The Future of the Great Game 2005, p. xvi.
  4. Hoffmann (1990), p. 19: "In the absence of Chinese acquiescence, and with the onset of World War I, acceptance of the McMahon line by the British themselves (and especially by the British home government in London) became lukewarm and even unsupportive. British policy toward the line thereafter varied according to changing international circumstances (among them the problematical Russian attitude toward the Simla agreement in 1914) and the vagaries of bureaucratic politics in London, India, and Assam itself."
  5. Mehra (1972), p. 305: "... what is patent is that for nearly two decades after 1914, the dubious risk of attracting Russian, and later Chinese, attention continued to be the principal reason for the non-publication of the Simla Convention and its adjuncts, the Trade Regulations and the India Tibet boundary agreement."
  6. Hoffmann (1990) , p. 20: "As of 1936 the India Office [of the British government] was prepared to concur with the suggestions about Aitchison's Treaties and the Survey of India change, but it set forth certain conditions. Of these the most important was that unnecessary publicity should be avoided; the press should not even be notified of the Aitchison changes.
  7. Banerji, Arun Kumar (2007), "Borders", in Jayanta Kumar Ray (ed.), Aspects of India's International Relations, 1700 to 2000: South Asia and the World, Pearson Education India, pp. 173–256, ISBN   978-81-317-0834-7 : "Accordingly, a new edition of the vol. 14 of the Aitchison's Treaties was published in 1937, but to make the changes unobtrusive, it was passed off as the 1929 edition. This amounted to a virtual falsification of official documents.[61] Copies of the original 1929 edition of the Aitchison's Treaties were withdrawn and destroyed, with the possible exception of one, kept in the Harvard Library."
  8. Gupta, Karunakar (July–September 1971), "The McMahon Line 1911-45: The British Legacy", The China Quarterly (47): 526, JSTOR   652324
  9. Brobst, The Future of the Great Game 2005 , pp. 31–33: "Department of External Affairs might form a cadre of Indian strategists for the future of the Great Game. He therefore did what he could to foster strategic thinking among his Indian deputies and to enlarge their professional experience."
  10. Wali Khan, Khan Abdul, "Chapter 18: Mountbatten Gets to Work", Facts are sacred, Awami National Party, archived from the original on 18 July 2004
  11. Parshotam Mehra, The force Badshah Khan built (review of The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition & Memory in the North West Frontier by Mukulika Banerjee), Tribune India 2 December 2001
  12. 1 2 Rudolph, Lloyd I.; Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber (25 February 2006), "The Making of US Foreign Policy for South Asia" (PDF), Economic and Political Weekly : 703–709, archived from the original (PDF) on 4 September 2006


Political offices
Preceded by
Ronald Evelyn Leslie Wingate
Chief Commissioner of Balochistan
Succeeded by
Arthur Edward Broadbent Parsons
Preceded by
Sir George Cunningham
Governor of the North-West Frontier Province
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Lockhart