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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation
George Perkovich

Berkeley: California University Press, 1999
597pp. Index. Hb.: 24.50; ISBN 0-5202-1772-1



Among countries that have developed nuclear weapons the case of India is enigmatic. It has baffled pundits of Structural Realism theory, which argues that states will seek to maximise their power for self-preservation in an anarchical international environment. According to this theory India should have built and deployed nuclear weapons long ago to counter first the Chinese and later the Pakistani threat. And yet, India exploded its first device only in 1974 - a decade after China went nuclear - and then, almost inexplicably did not weaponize this capability. It took another 23 years before India finally declared itself to be a nuclear weapon state. If realism cannot explain India's behaviour, what can? George Perkovich's epic book (which covers the period from 1947 until the early aftermath of the May 1998 tests over nearly 600 pages) provides not only one of the most detailed and authoritative accounts of India's nuclear weapon programme but also one of the most cogent constructions of India's nuclear rationale. According to the author domestic factors, including moral and political norms, coupled with India's colonial past and postcolonial identity, which are deftly brought out in the first (and probably the best) part of the book, played a more significant role in India's unique nuclear quest. Thus, while nuclear tests were considered necessary to assert India's identity and repudiate the 'nuclear apartheid' imposed by the non-proliferation regime, deploying these weapons was unnecessary as this would violate India's own aspirations to uphold the morally superior Gandhian principles of 'ahimsa'. Therefore, the purpose of India's nuclear arsenal Perkovich convincingly argues, was "to make an adversary uncertain that nuclear threats or attacks would not be met with nuclear reprisals" (p. 3). Ironically, while India's own ideological rooting would prevent it from using nuclear weapons like other states, its Western liberal inspired democratic structure would prohibit it from either constraining or abandoning these capabilities, Perkovich agues before extending this argument to cover all democracies, with less conviction. While the superb examination of India's nuclear programme which provides a rare insight into the 'Indian' rationale is, clearly, the strength of this book, the attempt to extrapolate the Indian experience to the broad trend of global proliferation is far more equivocal.


Dr. WPS Sidhu, MacArthur Fellow, Centre for International



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