India, Pakistan and nuclear weapons

INDIA’S SENTINEL — Select Writings of Air Commodore Jasjit Singh: Edited by Manpreet Sethi, Shalini Chawla; KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 4676/21, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 980.

INDIA’S SENTINEL — Select Writings of Air Commodore Jasjit Singh: Edited by Manpreet Sethi, Shalini Chawla; KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 4676/21, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 980.   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K. Sridhara


The global nuclear weapons scene has changed meaningfully over the last decade. After a new government has taken charge in New Delhi, its response to Pakistan has also shown a new facet in calling off the talks. This book’s perspectives on nuclear weapons and Pakistan provide a timely addition to the discourse. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh was a prolific and persuasive strategic author for over thirty years. His writings became nuanced as his strategic thinking evolved over the decades. He wrote on a wide a range of issues related to India’s security, which included national security organisations, China, the role of Air Force in modern wars, defence budgets, joint warfare and air space management.

The book under review brings together Jasjit Singh’s select writings on two subjects which have remained dominant themes in India’s security discourse. These articles and book chapters had been published over 20 years. Indian strategic thinking has evolved over the decades with new weapons, doctrines and tactics and Jasjit Singh’s writings offer an insightful kaleidoscope of these seminal changes.

Nuclear disarmament

Jasjit Singh was a passionate advocate of global nuclear disarmament even as he wrote voluminously on India’s nuclear doctrine and command and control et al. He argued that India’s innate size and capabilities gave it an advantage which can be better utilised in a world without nuclear weapons. As a pragmatic realist he also argued for India to have the best in nuclear weapons related capabilities, until complete and verifiable universal nuclear disarmament takes place.

In 1999, he explained India’s decision to go nuclear by saying, “the combined effect of various policies of the weapons states and their allies has been to put an increasing amount of pressure on India’s ability to maintain an open option and push policy toward the non-nuclear end without any movement toward the weapon states giving up their own weapons.” He recommended, even before the Nuclear Doctrine was announced that India should maintain the moratorium on testing and provide a No First Use Pledge.

On nuclear command and control, Jasjit struck out on a path different from others. While others preferred a Chief of Defence Staff and a Tri-Service command structure, he chose to push for nuclear command being placed with the Indian Air Force. This was on grounds of not separating the Air Force assets into a nuclear weapons delivery portion.

In this the redoubtable Jasjit was taking a line taken later by the Indian Air Force in opposing the CDS proposal, which had been recommended by the K. Subrahmanyam Committee in its Kargil War Report. This line was later developed into the call for an Aero-Space Command led by the Air Force. Neither of these fully fructified into a coherent policy over the years.

Limits on war

On nuclear deterrence Jasjit was a pioneer in highlighting the limits nuclear weapons placed on fighting wars. He was emphatic that the, “sheer existence of nuclear weapons with both adversaries imposes major limitations on the way force and violence can be used against each other without risking a nuclear exchange. This alters the very nature of war.” This axiom was proved soon in the Kargil when Pakistan used its army to occupy the heights on and across the LOC. This had led to an Indian response which was executed bearing in mind Jasjit’s warning on the nuclear weapons. This had in turn led to a wide ranging debate on fighting a ‘limited war’ under a nuclear overhang.

While the debate is yet inconclusive, it nevertheless proves the merit of the argument that nuclear weapons have indeed changed the way war will be fought by two nuclear adversaries.

Over the years, international terrorism has changed the nature of nuclear threats, and non-state actors instead of states have become the major source of anxiety on nuclear weapons threats. Nuclear Security Summits led by the USA have had a positive impact and India has actively participated in the action plans generated by them.

Recent books on Pakistan have all highlighted the one unchanging reality of Pakistan. It is of its army’s total control over policies concerning national security and inter alia on India. One author has commented that Pakistan is ‘stable in its instabilities’ and that nothing, not even the resolution of the Kashmir issue, will change its army’s implacable enmity with India. In India, the analysis has moved on to its economic and industrial strengths which have linked it closely to the global financial and trading system.

Economist Jack Hirshleifer had referred to it as a standoff between India’s technology of production versus Pakistan’s technology of conflict. Indian economic growth linked to global systems is vulnerable to uncertainties in the investment climate, which can be created by the cheaper forms of conflict through terrorism.

Pakistan army believes terror is an instrument of state policy for which, as Jasjit Singh’s writings show, military force is not the answer. The belief that Pakistan can be weaned from this strategy by concessions, through appeasement and by talks about talks is seen by many as a misplaced notion. Pakistan has changed rapidly in the last decade and is currently in a state of political and economic uncertainty.

The book’s chapters confirm that with or without nuclear weapons, there are no verities available for strategising a response to Pakistan.

INDIA’S SENTINEL — Select Writings of Air Commodore Jasjit Singh: Edited by Manpreet Sethi, Shalini Chawla; KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 4676/21, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 980.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 8:08:31 PM |

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