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India's About-face

David Morrison

India's Nuclear Bomb: Impact on Global Proliferation. George Perkovich. 597pp. University of California Press, 1999. $39.95.

The international movement toward nuclear nonproliferation was frustrated by India's nuclear weapons tests in May 1998. Through this scholarly documentation of the history of India's nuclear weapons program, George Perkovich addresses the questions of why India developed its nuclear weapons capability when it did, what factors kept it from stopping or reversing the program and what effects the United States had on India's nuclear intentions and capabilities. He has exposed illusions in American international-relations theory and nuclear-nonproliferation policy that may bear on the international action needed to eliminate nuclear weapons.

India's nuclear program originated with the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945. Homi Bhabha was its director. In 1946 the Atomic Energy Research Committee was formed by the government under the chairmanship of Bhabha to promote education in nuclear physics in Indian colleges and universities. Bhabha and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru shared the vision that, through nuclear science and technology, India could transcend its recent colonial past and achieve modernity and major-power status. Nuclear capacity—primarily in the civilian power domain but if necessary in nuclear-weapons applications, too—would increase India's self-regard and international standing.

Over the five decades between the initiation of the nuclear program in India and the testing of nuclear weapons in 1998, many factors influenced India's resolve for international standing and autonomy. Personal beliefs and rhetoric about nuclear weapons of the 13 prime ministers during this period have had significant influence over the program, from restraint to encouragement. Domestic and international politics, national security concerns, social needs and economic development, competition for governmental funding and the pace of technology development all interacted.

The program evolved in three phases. From 1947 through 1974, Indian scientists developed the technical means to produce nuclear weapons in a polity that had moral doubts and competing priorities. This first phase culminated in 1974 when the scientists persuaded the government to authorize the first underground nuclear-explosive test in the Rajasthani desert, near Pokhran. In the second phase, from 1975 through 1995, India surprised itself, the United States and much of the world by not conducting follow-up nuclear tests and not building a nuclear arsenal. Indian scientists and engineers continued, often secretly, to develop nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile capabilities during this period, but moral and political doubts, domestic turmoil and competing national and international priorities caused India's leadership to refrain from evolving nuclear postures and policies like those of the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China and Israel. India's policy of self-restraint began to give way in 1995 because of developments in the international nonproliferation regime and political changes in India. This marked the transition to the 1998 tests and the third and current phase of India's nuclear program.

During the past 50 years, the role of economic capacity as a determining source of power has emerged throughout the world, lessening the role of nuclear weapons. Perkovich opines that, if India is to realize its potential in the 21st century, it must escape from the colonial framework from which it has perceived nuclear diplomacy and adopt the pragmatism of the mid-1990s, which engenders economic reforms.

Perkovich concludes that the history of India's nuclear policy making has exposed illusions in the international-relations theory and nuclear-nonproliferation policy of the United States. These are that security concerns decisively determine proliferation, that nonproliferation is the flip side of the proliferation coin, that democracy facilitates nonproliferation and that equitable disarmament is unnecessary for nonproliferaiton. If this conclusion is valid, what changes, if any, can be expected in nuclear policies in the United States and elsewhere over the next half century?—David L. Morrison, Nuclear Engineering, North Carolina State University



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