Air Commodore Jasjit Singh died on August 4th. He was a highly decorated fighter pilot who subsequently served as the Director of Flight Safety and the Director of Air Operations at Indian Air Force Headquarters. After retiring from active duty, he became an influential figure in private deliberations and public debates on strategic issues, serving as the Director of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses and subsequently the Centre for Air Power Studies.
Jasjit was a rite of passage for US strategic analysts venturing into the subcontinent. I first experienced his patient, low-key, extended exegesis way back in the day when the IDSA was located at Sapru House. We had our disagreements, but there was much less worth arguing about in recent years. When we last met at his Centre for Air Power Studies, where I was pitching an International Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations, Jasjit was gracious with supporting words.
Here are snapshots of his thinking back in 1998, when India felt obliged to test nuclear devices. These passages are drawn from his concluding chapters in Nuclear India, an edited volume published by the IDSA:
Now that India has moved toward a weapon status, it can afford to be somewhat more relaxed about the time-frame for disarmament… One would link India’s own weapons to global disarmament on the principle of proportionality. That is, India would denuclearize in proportion to the denuclearisation of other weapon states….
Recessed deterrence may be defined as a credible nuclear weapons capability which a country is able to draw upon for political and diplomatic purposes, and is able to deploy a nuclear arsenal within a defined time-frame and effectively use it physically for military purposes….
The exact size of the arsenal needed at the end-point will need to be worked out by defence planners based on a series of factors. But at this point it is difficult to visualize an arsenal with anything more than a double-digit quantum of warheads. It may be prudent to even plan on the basis of a lower-end figure of say 2-3 dozen nuclear warheads by the end of 10-15 years….
The artificial division of nuclear weapons into tactical and strategic is not only irrelevant for us, but carries with it the danger that a belief system could grow in a way that might justify the use and utility of such weapons for actual war-fighting.