Review: George Perkovich’s India’s Nuclear Bomb

Amit Aishwarya Jogi

I. Introduction

The catharsis in Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 film noir classic Dr. Strangelove (Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb) has a cowboy riding into the sunset on a nuclear missile warhead heading for a Soviet nuclear facility that will trigger off a doomsday device, in what would become one of the biggest visual spoofs on the deterrence doctrine (MAD) of the Cold War era. Does George Perkovich’s India’s Nuclear Bomb have a similar effect- demonisation of structural realism and a scandalous exposé on India’s mysterious nuclear folklore- on contemporary nuclear nonproliferation and unproliferation theory?

Broadly speaking, Perkovich seems to operate at two levels: (a) at the level of research where he shatters some of the predominant ‘mythologies’ of India’s nuclear programme; and (b) at the level of international theory, derived from the former, where he develops a stark critique of Structural Realism, and to some extent, challenges the idea of the democratic peace. Yet, these ‘levels’ are not distinct: India’s nuclear bomb is a continuously evolving ‘dialogue’ between them. To understand Perkovich’s argument (in a broader context), I have followed a slightly unorthodox approach: first, I look at his arguments for India’s nuclearisation (in the form of the ‘dialogue’); and then, these arguments are abstracted (into two distinct levels, of research and its implication on theory), allowing for their critical deconstruction within the broader genealogical paradigm. Therefore, prior to analyzing both these aspects of his argument, it would be worthwhile to ‘cite’ its genealogy, which, as will be demonstrated subsequently, gives rise to certain very compelling questions in the form of paradoxes.

Intellectual Framework for Understanding Perkovich


|GENEALOGY: level of theory|




|INDIAN CONTEXT: level of research|


II. Re-siting Perkovich’s Genealogy: Paradoxes in the Paradigm

Now: this is something that has somehow evaded almost all commentators on Perkovich. By taking recourse to Scott Sagan’s now quintessential three theoretical models on "Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons?" (International Security, Winter 1996-97) [where he argues that security considerations alone do not drive nuclear proliferation, but also domestic politics and ‘nuclear symbolism’], they have missed the broader polemic in which Perkovich might be situated: the relevance of the (post-modern/ post-colonial) nation-state in international relation. The most common ‘fallacy’ that emerges from this ‘oversight’ of locating India’s Nuclear Bomb in the rather blurred trajectory of strategic writing on India’s nuclearisation- from Itty Abraham, K. Subrahmanyam to Jasjit Singh- not only suffers from a remarkable lack of prior informed formulations (in which respect, Perkovich is to be treated as something of a pioneer), but also confines the debate to specific unproliferation issues within specific geo-political security contextualisation(s): its implications/ conclusions become intrinsically self-limiting.

And to limit Perkovich’s argument to the Nuclear Un-/Proliferation paradigm is to deny much of it’s critical importance. The significance of ‘cultural nationalism’- an assertive, often aggressive, breed of nationalism functioning within the post-colonial narrative that marks [their] quest for identity, and not just equity, prestige and glory (Hobsbawm, Nation and Nationalism since 1780)- as a factor in itself, as opposed to it’s conjectural implications on national nuclearisation and global unproliferation, seems to me, to constitute the bedrock of his argument. In a curious sort of way, this also becomes the argument against the ‘retreat of the state’ theories, since it constantly emphasizes the role of nation states as principal actors, that are more often than not directly juxta positioned against international institutions [IAEA, NPT regime and CTBT], in Perkovich’s riveting ‘story’.

This broadening of Genealogy inflicts Perkovich’s arguments with significant paradoxes. First: if the nation-state is of the primary importance, then wouldn’t unproliferation be best achieved at the level of states, and not at the level of international systems and structures? Secondly: if equity (not identity per se) is the central focus of the post-colonial nation-states, then wouldn’t disputes between them be best solved if the ‘therapist’ (mentioned by Perkovich elsewhere in the Annie Hall simile) were absent? Third: what is the relation between the post-colonial state and international institutions, and why does one state behave differently from others with respect to them? Fourth: if the ‘democratic radicalization of the post-colonial nation state’- an argument against democratic peace theories- hinders unproliferation (rollback), then they are no different from so-called modern(pre-colonial) nation states, and consequently the need for applying the post-colonial narrative automatically diminishes, reinstating the primacy of security arguments.

To sum: relocating Perkovich’s argument at the genealogical level reveals the central flaw in India’s Nuclear Bomb. It simply falters at the level of induction (derived no doubt from the Indian experience), preventing the formation of a definitive alternative to structural realist theory. Yet: it is precisely this flaw that creates the requisite ‘tension’ necessary for theory-building.

It’s primary importance, thus, lies somewhere else.

III. Constructing India’s nuclear bomb: Dialogue

A. Presenting Perkovich: Disinventing anarchy

"India’s Nuclear Bomb aims to tell a story; a story of how the nation of Gandhi, the world’s largest democracy, wrestled with the bomb. In the story there are some intriguing characters and fascinating debates and dilemmas. It is also a story about how Indians think about nuclear weapons in a way that is very different from how we in the west were taught to think about nuclear weapons."(November 16, 1999,The Carnegie Endowment Roundtable with George Perkovich)

Political scientist John Mearsheimer recently observed that India and Pakistan "live in an area of the world that is remarkably dangerous and, therefore, they want to go to great lengths to make sure that they have the wherewithal to protect themselves." If anything, the focus of Perkovich’s argument is to contradict this assumption. (The real dangers, says Perkovich, are ‘internal’.) In doing so, he traces the evolution of the nuclearisation process in India posing the question: why did India explode the bombs when it did; and as a corollary, why not earlier? The latter part is answered by siting (a) the nuclear ambivalence of India that resulted in an ‘open nuclear option policy’; and (b) the hindrance (technological, political) posed by the US led nonproliferation regime. The former is explained using a plethora of arguments, all seeking to undermine the national security dilemma that have been used to justify Pokhran-II: India’s quest for prestige and equity in the international system; the ultra-nationalist rhetoric and policy of the BJP government; the democratic inertia against unproliferation; and last but not the least, the lack of institutionalized nuclear policy making machinery. This, then, broadly speaking constitutes Perkovich’s central argument. To examine more closely the relevance of this argument in the context of India, it would be worthwhile to make a cursory survey of some other works (that claim to be) of the same genre.

B. Looking at Perkovich: The Indian Perspective

Interestingly, the ‘hollowness of the quest for prestige argument’ have appeared elsewhere, for example, in Bidwai and Vanaik’s lamentable pulp-book, South Asia on a Short Fuse; and the romanticized essay of Arundathi Roy "The End of Illusion". Bidwai and Vanaik, although divorced from objectivity, point to the irrationality-factor based on the ‘patriarchal’ nature of India’s nuclear bomb [ ‘Toys for the Boys’ ]; and Ms. Roy, using powerful imagery, highlights its immorality based on the social costs of nuclearisation and the imminent consequences of a holocaust. Both these works however have little bearing on international theory and unproliferation study; both suffer from intoxicating tendencies to moralize. At the other end, there is the argument of Jaswant Singh, in Defending India, whose primary importance lies in the fact that the author is also the principal official ideologue for the Bomb. Here, he harps on two themes: (a) India’s growing security dilemma vis a vis Pakistan and China, and the ineffectiveness of the GOI to do anything about it in light of international (read US) pressure; and (b) her quest for nuclear preeminence that would end nuclear apartheid. [Ironically, in mimicking the security argument of the West, he then undermines the specificity of the Indian bomb; and by emphasizing ‘continuity’ of Pokhran-II with Pokhran-I, he diminishes his own party’s importance.] For these reasons, these works may be dismissed as pseudo-academic pamphleteering, representing at best, the two extremes of the nuclear polemic in India.

However, this is not to say that there has been no serious informed debate on nuclearisation in India: K. Subrahmanyam, Jasjit Singh, Raja Mohan, Chellany are just some of the luminaries who have contributed to its evolution. Although some of them may have been given to some degree of moralizing (which seems to be an inescapable Indian trait!), their arguments reflect India’s strategic concerns, against her constantly deepening security dilemma and the ever assertive ‘nonproliferation’ regime; while at the same time advocating ‘integration’ rather than supporting the GOI’s policy of remaining in perpetual conflict with the international system. [Itty Abraham seems to be a renegade of sorts; and consequently, becomes Perokovich’s intellectual ‘idol’.] Perkovich’s arguments, derive from, and inturn contradict some of, their strategic assumptions, but in the final analysis, he does not defer very much from their normative position that India will have to be integrated into the international system on the basis of the equity principle, where her security concerns, perceived and real, will have to be addressed; and a compensatory and reciprocatory attitude to bring about her unproliferation will have to be taken: unless and until the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group undertakes effective measures for nuclear disarmament (Art. IV of NPT), then it would be unreasonable to expect India to roll back her nuclear programme, given the domestic political considerations (democratic inertia) and ‘nuclear prestige’. However employing this same argument at the broader genealogical level (of the post-modern nation state), the conclusions can be remarkably different: the Indian ambivalence, as also reflected in its nuclear policy, becomes surprisingly less moralist and more realistic (!). K. Subrahmanyam, whom Perkovich has not failed to criticize says this about his book: "With a great deal of empathy and understanding of the Indian psyche, George Perkovich leads us through contradictory perceptions of events to give us a sense of the evolution of nuclear decision making in India. What emerges is a highly nuanced and sensitive narration of the complex interaction between domestic and external factors that led to the nuclear tests of May, 1998 and the shattering of a number of Indian and international myths about nuclear weapons and their role in global politics."

C. Inside Perkovich’s Paradigm: The Story Unfolds

The importance of Perkovich lies in two aspects, both of them associated with the documentation and assessment of the process (through wide coverage, insightful research and sheer objectivity- to use M.V. Kamat’s words) rather than the explanations offered for their outcome: first, in its insightful revelations of the decision making process or the black box of India’s nuclear establishment; and secondly, in the assessment of India’s security dilemma (paradoxically?) vis a vis her relationship with US, China and Pakistan. [A major flaw with the latter is that it derives primarily from the assumptions made by Dennis Kux (Estranged Democracies): this brilliant book often ignores the ‘sentimental’ aspects governing India’s (relatively cold) response to American overtures, while drawing heavily on realist considerations that marked America’s procrastinated disengagement with India on multiple levels. When Perkovich explains nuclear decisions before 1974 (what he calls Phase I), he seems to rely more on ‘realist’ explanations[the dependency of India’s nuclear programme on ‘realist’ institutions and actors]; and suddenly switches track to more ‘domestic’ and 'prestige' oriented factors. The blueprint for this is clearly Kux, but its effects on Perkovich’s own argument are not so generous.]

Upto Pokhran-I

Expanding on Itty Abraham’s premise that the scientists of India’s nuclear establishment have yielded asymmetric influence over India’s nuclear black box, Perkovich investigates further. This deductive approach is what distinguishes Perkovich from other works mentioned earlier, most of which follow an inductive route to rationalize policy decisions. He examines relevant archival records, explores an ocean of declassified material, lucubrates evidence through dangerous mine/mind-fields (interviews, newspaper reports), to build a compelling, and more often than not indisputable tale. [The reader might notice that this reviewer, while being critical of Perkovich’s ‘conclusions’, will have very little say against the ‘story’.] The foundation of India’s nuclear ambivalence- between her ‘spiritualist’ desire to moralize against violence [Gandhianism] and her ‘realist’ efforts to be recognized among the great powers- is laid by (a) citing Nehru’s statements where his dominant image white washed their (concealed?) nuclear ambiguity; (b) analyzing the powerful, charismatic, personality of Homi Bhabha, driven by ‘prestige’ rather than ‘morality’ factor; and (c) the close relationship between them that gave birth to a overtly secretive, highly centralised, de-institutionalised nuclear establishment: nuclear policy decisions were made through dialogues between these two gentlemen: public focus on nuclear issues (such as in the aftermath of the Indo-China War (1962), and China’s nuclear tests) did not seem to cast great pressure or influence on this early decision making as did the need to reconcile ‘realist’ considerations such as the need for US (and other: Canadian, French and Soviet) technological assistance on the one hand, and the nonproliferation regime on the other.

The early history therefore involves negotiations between Bhabha and the US Atomic Establishment, which went from Roosevelt’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ programme to capitalize on the emergent international nuclear energy market to the instatement of Gilpatric committee’s recommendations to strictly impose nonproliferation, while in the interregnum exploring, overruling and dismissing the possibility of aiding under safeguards India’s nuclear weapons programme to counter and limit the Communist threat . The effect of this seriously handicapped India’s ‘indigenous’ nuclear programme, and compelled its leaders to compensate for their less-than-expected target requirements of nuclear energy output capacities by channeling resources into ‘peaceful’ nuclear explosive engineering (NEE) [under Raja Ramanna], which were, so far, not covered by the NPT regime or IAEA restrictions. Thus after Nehru, Shashtri redefined nuclear ambivalence from the ‘open nuclear option’ strategy to one that specifically allowed for ‘peaceful nuclear explosions’ (PNE). Once again, his Gandhian image prevented a formal political realization of this ‘shift’. At the level of the Atomic Establishment itself, the focus shifted from nuclear energy outputs to ‘national security’ preparedness- a much more valid argument for its now questionable budgetary requirements. The restraint was predominantly due to the exaggerated pacifist leanings of Sarabhai, Bhabha’s successor, who diverted much of the aid from atomic research programme to the newly created space research organization and ofcourse, the clogging of ‘technological assistance’ channels by the NPT. In terms of the security dilemma, the emphasis seemed to shift from India-China-U.S., to Pakistan-India-China (showing gradual waning of US interest in the region). With Sarabhai and Shashtri dead, the road seemed to lead directly to the deserts of Pokhran.

The above factors have led Perkovich to dramatically underplay the national security concern of India: the trajectory of Pokhran-I was primarily domestic; its significance was the heightening of India’s prestige in her own eyes. Mrs. Gandhi’s waning popularity during the Emergency years- her need to come up with yet another powerful symbolism; the Atomic scientists’ (uninformed) motivation to have ‘supreme mastery over the atom’; and lack of institutionalized nuclear policy making structures which made it impossible to assess the ‘international fallout’ of nuclear tests or even explore the possibilities of a rudimentary nuclear doctrine- all led India to test her first nuclear devices.

The Interregnum: between war and peace

Then: due to international pressure, her nuclear program ran into troubled waters; and the domestic political realization of the negative cost-benefit analysis fueled by the resurgence of Gandhians (JP, Morarji et al) formulated a remarkably restrained nuclear policy for the next twenty four years [phase II]. Here too, noticeable shifts can be seen under Perkovich’s microscope: the informed public debate on nuclear policy shifted from the ‘morality’ paradigm to strategic arguments for and against nuclearisation, highlighting the ever increasing gap between elite and ‘public’ opinions (cosmopolitan Vs the rest): China and US seemed to take a back seat to Pakistan’s own efforts- seen to be supported by China and not unwelcomed by the US- to test and deploy nuclear weapons. The growing dependence of America on Pakistan during the Afghanistan crises, and her premature condemnation of India’s role in both the ’65 and ’71 conflicts, led India to seek and explore possibilities of further collaboration with the Soviets. Slowly but surely, India was drawn into the cold war politics arena, and this only fueled her insecurity: during the ‘80s she sought to overcome this by drastically increasing her spending on conventional weapons; and making inroads into the integrated ballistic missile technology, which for the first time, brought the atomic and defense establishments together. Her newly ‘bought’ sense of security had a twofold impact vis a vis her relationship with China, which had over time ‘normalized’ significantly (primarily by not focussing on Pakistan and the US): on the one hand, this gave her confidence to explore areas of greater bilateral cooperation with China; while on the other, it reinforced the notion that India’s real and only ‘potential’ enemy is China. All this while, the Atomic establishment- which had acquired a life and logistics of its own- had been working independently, sometimes in violation of international agreements and IAEA safeguards, and it was quite obvious that both India and Pakistan now had undeclared nuclear weapons capability. It was against this background- one Time magazine cover proclaimed India as ‘Asia’s new Superpower’ and Rajiv Gandhi as its new leader- that the hawkish general Sundarji flexed his muscle in the largest joint military exercise code named Operation Brasstacks provoking a similar response by the Pakistanis in what could have culminated in the first conflict between two nuclear powers. That this did not happen reaffirmed the prevalence of the deterrence logic in the subcontinent by the hawks; and that it was this close to happening made the doves abhor the bombs even more. At the policy level, it meant a recognition of each other’s nuclear capabilities, and the unstated assumption that they would not- and could not afford to- attack each other’s nuclear establishments.

IV. Deconstructing Perkovich’s Bomb

A. Deadly Democracy

"Yet, in other countries-France, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom-factors beyond security drove the acquisition of nuclear weapons: the quest for national grandeur, prestige, and independence; the ambition and persuasiveness of leading scientists attracted by the technological challenge and the desire to display personal and national prowess; domestic political jockeying-all of these elements stand out as important components of proliferation." (Perkovich, Fall 1998 issue of FOREIGN POLICY).

Post-Rajiv, Perkovich seems to concentrate more on the rise of a radicalized, ultra-nationalistic BJP- from the ruins of the erstwhile Jan Sangh- the only political party that openly advocated India’s deployment of nuclear weapons, and what's more, cloaked it, not in terms of security compulsions, but for the ‘glory of the Hindu race and rashtra (nation)’: "The Bharatiya Janata Party, has long felt that nuclear weapons offer a quicker ride to the top. Like atavistic nationalists elsewhere, they believe that pure explosive power will somehow earn respect and build pride." (George Perkovich, Newsday, Friday, May 15, 1998; Page A5: "India Errs Nuclear Power Isn't Real Power")

Here: spurious comparisons with Bidwai, Vanaik & Co. come to mind- works we have already somewhat summarily (it may be argued: unfairly) dismissed as pulp, quick fix prescriptions and proscriptions of the intellectual left. But let me state this yet again: Perkovich cannot- and should not- belong in the same category. The ‘cultural-baggage’ of the Hindutva hard-core (to adapt Braudel’s phrase) has after all exercised little influence on the GOI’s policy, despite all the talk of a ‘hidden agenda’ et al. Actually, political instability (also: democracy, with due respect to Mr. Perkovich) following the exit of the Rao government in 1996 does not seem to have been a key-factor at all in pushing India (if that phrase can be applied!) towards Pokhran-II. Political whimsy- such as the one which might have compelled Rao to ‘masterly inactivity’ once again following the Tim Wiener’s New York Times exposé on his intentions to go nuclear, or the one that led Vajpayee to 'authorize' nuclear tests in his 13 day stint as premier and the one that ultimately led Gujral to see Warren Christopher as an imperialist snob and consequently dissuaded him from signing the CTBT- has certainly had some impact, but even these were ultimately due to the larger ‘systemic processes’ [economic sanctions against India, political insecurity, the imperialist connotations of CTBT]. The BJP’s oft-cited propagandized commitment to India’s nuclearisation is certainly a factor; but taken by itself, it poses more questions than it answers: why hasn’t the BJP applied its ultra-nationalistic prescriptions to other politically sensitive issues (like Ram Temple, Art. 370 and the Uniform Civil Code) when it could, without consultation with its allies, detonate the thermonuclear device? The answer seems to contradict much of the ‘domestic’ assumptions centered around the fundamentalism of the BJP: the bottom-line is that there was a definitive ‘politico-democratic’ consensus on Pokhran-II even before it happened (not on the other issues). For Perkovich to accept that would be truly frightening, and rather than selectively shatter some of the myths about India’s nuclear bomb, it would, once and for all, demolish the ‘idea of India’ dominant in the West, and indeed ‘mirrored’ in India itself.

"Democracy causes problems, however, when nonproliferation requires "unproliferation"-rollback, reductions, or controls over nuclear-weapons capabilities. With the exceptions of Argentina and Brazil, no democracies with publicly known nuclear-explosives programs have initiated nuclear rollback." Perkovich, therefore, avoids the ‘maximalist’ interpretation of his own evidence based on a wider genealogical approach, and instead focusses on specific unproliferation issues that can very easily be situated in Sagan’s own formulations: "Perkovich's book issues a strong and creative note of caution against the global optimism of 'democratic peace theory.' For in India, democratic competition has encouraged resistance to the global nonproliferation regime that is a bulwark against the threat of nuclear war. This somber analysis of the Indian experience warns against complacency concerning the future of the global nuclear order."
Relocating this argument in a wider genealogical perspective will reveal that it is not democracy, but the very conception of the Democratic Principle, that hinders unproliferation: in the century prior to the last, it sowed the seeds for the self-destruction of the then dominant western institution of Imperialism (Edward Said, Orientalism); and now, in the last half of the last century of the last millennium, it has once again emerged as the dominant critique of the present paramount great power institution, of the Nuclear Regime. [Hence the situating of the genealogy of Perkovich’s argument in the beginning of the review.]

B. Pricking the atomic bubble: a private eye’s Survey of the atomic establishment

Having sufficiently ‘disengaged’ BJP’s hardliners from India’s nuclearisation, it leaves sufficient ‘space’ to begin a search for other factors (remember: Perkovich has done more than enough to dismiss the security factor, and this will also be analyzed subsequently). The most compelling evidence in favor of Pokhran-II comes from the character of the Atomic Establishment itself, which, given its specific positioning in nuclear policy making, has become relatively independent of military or even broader political control. It has already been pointed out that this establishment has ‘acquired a life and logistics of its own’: "A handful of politicians instigated by a handful of scientists with little experience in international affairs was pushing India across a portentous strategic threshold whose implications they did not fully appreciate." (p. 412) What were the primary motivations of the atomic establishment? What is its internal dynamics? Who were the people who led it? What were their primary considerations? It is here that Perkovich excels himself, offering, for the first time, the most comprehensive history on the evolution of India’s nuclear programme: "The most likely site for nuclear war is the Indian subcontinent, but we have little understanding of India's nuclear program. This will change with George Perkovich's fascinating and important study. It is informed, free from bias, and a great read as well." (Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University)
Suffice it to say here that during Bhabha’s time, the position of the Chairman of AEC became all-powerful, and to a great extent (when politicians did try to question their claims, as during the time of Shashtri, or when they sought to make their decisions seem infallible based on the authority of the Chairman), unquestionable. This high degree of centralization made the personality of the Chairman all the more critical in nuclear decision making, since he controlled all channels between the atomic establishment and the Prime Minister, thereby making the ‘nuclear circle’ complete. Under Bhabha’s charismatic leadership, the atomic establishment set itself very high, and what appears in retrospect, somewhat unrealistic, targets of energy output. When this could not be met, Bhabha- and others after him- sought to compensate for this lack of efficiency by pushing for an atomic test, that would restore its lost credibility, and further, put an end to questioning of its budgetary allocation: therefore, the atomic establishment increasingly sought to portray itself as less of an ‘energy sector’ and more of a national security concern. This qualitative difference made up for its quantitative under-achievement. Sarabhai seems to be one exception, but even during his tenure, there was no effective ‘roll back’ of the atomic programme, showing that after sometime, the atomic establishment was on an ‘automatic’ if not irreversible path towards nuclearisation.

Perkovich shows how- time and again- leaders of this establishment used their support-base in the media as well as among politicians to heighten ‘perceived’ security concerns to influence their political leaders to support their line. Further, he also reveals the social composition and dynamics of the atomic leadership which was primarily comprised of south-Indian Brahmins; and also refers to their increasing ‘Indianisation’ overtime. [The corollary of such an assumption is that the ‘top-brains’, like Dr. Chandrasekhar, pursued their research in foreign universities.] Another important conclusion about the atomic establishment to be drawn from Perkovich is its systematic effort to keep the military/ defense services from influencing nuclear policy making. On the plus side, this prevented the 'militarization' of the nuclear programme (as did occur during President Zia’s rule of Pakistan), but on the negative side, it also hindered the evolution of a nuclear doctrine based on the systemic analysis of India’s security environment. The atomic establishment, therefore, pursued a dual strategy: they emphasized the ‘nuclearisation of India’s security’ but (in order to keep the military at bay) strongly opposed the ‘securitization of India’s nuclear programme’. In this, they were helped by the politicians’ natural fear of a military coup d’etat, and the possibility of inter-service rivalry for control of these weapons. [As late as 1969, Mrs. Gandhi feared that the acting PM Gulzari Lal Nanda would use the military to dislodge her (Pupul Jayakar, Indira).]

The atomic establishment (represented by ISRO) and the military began collaborating after 1982 on the integrated ballistic missile programme of the DRDO under the tutelage of Abul Kalam. Surprisingly this collaboration has proved remarkably efficient; but at the same time, it has brought the Pakistanis closer to the Chinese in their race to compete with the Indians in this field as well. Perkovich also undertakes an extensive survey of India’s professed atomic capabilities as opposed to her real ones; her increasing dependence on collaboration with Soviet, Canadian, French, even Chinese (in one instance), and most importantly American nuclear establishments; her covert dealings to secure heavy-water from a German arms dealer and other incidents of violation of IAEA regulations; internal politics of the atomic leadership; internal rivalry between the ‘physicists’ and ‘engineers’ for control of the weapon programme; technical outlays, difficulties and flaws in their thinking; and environmental vulnerability. To sum: the most comprehensive picture of India’s nuclear establishment emerges.

[A critic recently lamented that the fact that it took a ‘white man’ to do so shows our imperialist-hangover about the white man’s supremacy: here his argument seems to be closer to Vanaik’s and Bidwai’s rhetoric, and denies much of the importance of Perkovich’s intensive labor in researching his subject. In any case, a survey of his notes at the end of the book shows that interviews, important as they may be, comprise only a fraction of the information given. Most of it comes from declassified American documents, and the rest from newspaper reports (it is creditable indeed that this ‘white man’ has taken the trouble to go through the response of Hindi newspaper reports and editorials as well), and statements made by leaders, prime ministers and parliamentary debates as well as discussions of the parliamentary standing committee on defense. The implications of Perkovich’s color reflect not so much on his skin and on our own ‘orientalist’ psyche as his own mindset, as will be shown later.]

C. Responding to global nonproliferation: Black/Gray/White

The other aspect that India’s Nuclear Bomb deals with is India’s negotiations with, and the evolution of her opposition to, international treaty regimes: under V.S. Trivedi, who negotiated on India’s behalf at the NPT in Geneva, India’s arguments acquired a dogmatic tone, that seem to have become remarkably consistent with time, revealing, atleast at a myopic level, a stable diplomatic approach to nuclear issues, highlighted by the same ambivalence that informed her domestic nuclear policy making. "India argues that the United States and other nuclear weapons states have reduced the test ban treaty from a nuclear disarmament measure to a nonproliferation measure. A disarmament test ban would commit all states not to develop new types of nuclear weapons and sophisticated test-simulation technologies. The current nonproliferation treaty allows nuclear-armed states to improve their nuclear weapons while blocking the nuclear options of less technologically advanced states, such as India. Thus, it is seen as the kind of discriminatory nonproliferation measure that India has historically rejected." (George Perkovich, World Policy, Volume XIII, Number 2, Summer 1996: "India, Pakistan, and the United States: The Zero-Sum Game")

Perkovich explains India’s argument in terms of the post-colonial narrative: India would oppose any measure that would validate and legitimize the ‘Nuclear Apartheid’, and at the same time, speak for global nuclear disarmament while pursuing an ‘open nuclear option’ strategy. It is precisely these arguments that marked India’s stand at the CTBT negotiations, and her vehement opposition to the ‘entry-into-force’ clause shows the essentially moral character of her stand: under the CTBT proviso, members can pullout of the treaty giving only six months notice, and citing extraordinary circumstances, making it theoretically flexible atleast. [On this count, it may be said that Bidwai and Vanaik’s argument appears slightly more lucid.] This apparent ambiguity in India’s stand is due to her simultaneously pursuing two contradictory objectives: the moral one (i.e., global nuclear disarmament) and the realist one (i.e., the need to be recognized as a ‘great power’ by the simple way of entry into the nuclear club). Yet, Perkovich also points to the fallacy of taking this position as being entirely hypocritical and unrealistic: here he brings into picture the role of differing perspectives (between India and Pakistan, Pakistan and US, and US and India): "The Indians and Pakistanis see America variously as a hypocritical bully, a colonial power, an uncertain friend, an antagonist, a hoped-for ally, an investor, a protector, and more. Reducing these images to a simple, black-and-white view, a paradoxical perception of America emerges."(George Perkovich, World Policy, Volume XIII, Number 2, Summer 1996: "India, Pakistan, and the United States: The Zero-Sum Game") [Unlike the Americans, Indians, says Perkovich, are quite comfortable treading the ‘gray’ path.]

Ultimately he justifies it on the basis of the equity principle (another off-shoot of the democratic principle: discussed elsewhere). Broadly speaking then, in dealing with India’s response to nonproliferation measures, he points to the failure of the nonproliferation regime, and not so much India’s reluctance to sign it: "Top American officials have never been willing to do what they thought it would take to make it worthwhile for India not to go forward. In 1964 this did not happen, not in the NPT negotiations, not in 1978, not in 1994, and not since then." (Stimson lecture notes) Here he brings into scrutiny India’s response (based once again on the post-colonial narrative as well as realist considerations based on the high-dependency ratio of its ‘indigenous’ programme on US measures) to the nonproliferation legislations of the US Congress vis a vis the nuclear nonproliferation act, the Pressler Amendment (based on the Zangger Committee), and most controversially, the Brown Amendment. Indo-US relations are explored through successive presidencies and administrations, drawing significantly from Kux.

What Perkovich’s argument doesn’t quite explain is whether India’s own justification for going nuclear- although somewhat unsubstantiated- employing the ‘national security’ principle of the structural realist paradigm, is correct, and if not, to what extent.

D. The realist trap: S.O.S.!!

Post Pokhran-II, the "Question" then has to be posed: has ‘deterrence’ had a restraining effect on these hostile neighbors? If it can be answered satisfactorily in the affirmative, then the realist argument holds; if not, then it is only logical that we supplement- or for that matter, ‘deconstruct’- realistic assumptions of security in the anarchic (international) system.

In a rather insightful comment on Operation Brasstacks, Kanti Bajpai & Co. spoke of nuclearisation as the great 'equalizer': this is based on the assumption that nuclear warfare would subsume conventional warfare. Yet this argument presupposes the functioning of a (nuclear) doctrine governing nuclear warfare; or atleast acknowledged the possibility of one in the aftermath of declared nuclearisation by both countries. Reading Perkovich reveals the ‘flaw’ of this argument: the premise of ‘Brasstacks’ is essentially a realist one, drawing heavily from classical Waltzian formulations on security in the international system. India’s Nuclear Bomb clearly denies the operation of such formulations in the Indian case-study. The Pokhran-II tests were prior to the submission of the Strategic Defense Review (SDR) report; but after it was announced. "If strategic considerations had been paramount, the decision could have awaited a defense strategy review and still enabled the scientists to act prior to the entry into force of the test ban treaty in late 1999." (p 409) Perkovich uses this as the ‘clincher’ in demonstrating that security concerns did not influence India’s decision to go nuclear. After all, India, as late as 1998, didn’t possess an integrated national security apparatus. But India, for Perkovich (even though he doesn’t spell it out) is an aberration: "Israel, Pakistan, China, the Soviet Union, and the United States clearly acquired nuclear-weapons capabilities to redress objective threats to their existence or, at least in the latter three cases, to their systems of government. Yet in other countries-France, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom-factors beyond security drove the acquisition of nuclear weapons: the quest for national grandeur, prestige, and independence; the ambition and persuasiveness of leading scientists attracted by the technological challenge and the desire to display personal and national prowess; domestic political jockeying."

On the one hand, therefore, he speaks of the ‘nuclear domino’ effect [US-->China-->India-->Pakistan-->(?)Israel] when advocating global nuclear disarmament; yet on the other, he vehemently denies the security link between [China-->India<--(?)Pakistan]. "If nonweaponized deterrence worked for the past eight years, then India and Pakistan have broken something that did not need fixing." (George Perkovich, Foreign Policy, Fall 1998; Page 12: Think Again: Nuclear Proliferation).

This seems a little strange, but when one takes into account Perkovich’s motivations for writing what he did, then the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. (The reader would note that rather than quote the author from the book, a clearer insight into his views can be found in the articles written by him around the time of Pokhran-II.) Perkovich claimed that he was telling a story "about how Indians think about nuclear weapons in a way that is very different from how we in the west were taught to think about nuclear weapons." Yet for all its investigative brilliance, Perkovich finally becomes a prisoner of his own paradigm. This story works wonderfully till Pokhran-II; but its predicament becomes obvious when he ‘takes-off’ from there to draw conclusions. It once again sinks into realist quicksand, and although he tries very hard to get out of it- proposing for instance that democracies prevent non-proliferation or even stating somewhat contradictorily "For profound cultural, historical, and political reasons, these recently liberated developing countries would rather not need a close relationship with the United States" and "But more often than one would expect, Indians and Pakistanis seem to wish to believe in American omnipotence and desire the United States to exercise its power" (!)- in the end, his need to explain ‘nuclear disarmament’ to an audience ‘back home’ in a language they can well understand finally gives him in. This flaw is recognised in the West as well: "Rich, definitive...the value of this book does not rest on the credibility of its prescriptions but in the fine quality of its narrative." (Times Literary Supplement )

To adapt an intellectual cliché: no one seems to remember that Marx began writing a critique of Hegel, and ended up in effect vindicating him; what one cannot forget is Marx’s analysis of the historical condition. Likewise, whether Mr. Perkovich’s intention of justifying global nuclear disarmament using India as a case study is fulfilled or not is immaterial; his truly superb contribution lies in uncovering the reality of the people and processes that eventually led to India’s nuclear bomb.

  Notes on Bibliography:

To preserve the ‘totality’ of this review- which primarily seeks to place George Perkovich’s ideas within a broader context of both the theoretical debate as well as the specific controversy over India’s nuclear bomb- I have refrained from crowding it with footnotes, and additional comments about the sources. The first section on the Genealogical re-siting of his arguments, I have drawn cryptically from Eric Von Hobsbawm (Nations and nationalism since 1780), Partha Chatterjee (Nationalist thought and the colonial World), and Edward Said (orientalism). The critique of (Sagan’s and) Perkovich’s assumption of the democratic inertia against unproliferation is developed primarily from Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, but also significantly from Victor Siedler’s study on modernity and patriarchy [Unreasonable Men]. The (re-)construction of Perkovich’s argument in the second section is done using Scott Sagan’s three models, while also placing it specifically in the context of the ‘Indian debate’. Although Perkovich himself seems to recognize K. Subrahmanyam’s argument (1970) as being seminal to this study (insofar as it contradicts his realist assumptions on Indo-China security dilemma), a more direct intellectual linkage is to be found with Itty Abraham (Science, Secrecy and post-colonial state, 1974), whose central premise is surprisingly similar to Perkovich. References to other strategic writers are cited mostly from within the book. A comparative remark that emphasizes the propagandizing of nuclearisation as ‘antifeminist’ and patriarchal, and the ultra-nationalistic character of the BJP is done from Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik’s Short Asia on a Short Fuse (from a box eloquently captioned Toys for the Boys); the critique of the CTBT presented here is of a superior lucidity. While focussing on Pokhran-I, the insight on Mrs. Gandhi’s restraint to ‘militarize’ the nuclear programme, as also Rajiv Gandhi’s abortion of the Vice-chiefs’ report (of Sundarji), is provided by biographical material supplied by MJ Akbar (Nehru), P. Jayakar (Indira Gandhi) and also from Rajiv’s proposal for universal disarmament at the 1988 Disarmament Conference, sited in his ‘collected speeches’ and analyzed briefly by Kathleen Healy (The Years of Power: International Concerns). Arundathi Roy’s essay (end of illusion) informs the debate on the immorality and irrationality of nuclear bombs. Dennis Kux (Estranged Democracies) remains the most extensive study on Indo-US relations; and serves as a blueprint for Perkovich. Biographical remarks on Krishna Menon’s role in early negotiations with the US- which surprisingly have very little references to, and what there is contradicts, Bhabha’s efforts to secure aid under ‘atoms for peace’ programme- are found in BK Nehru (Nice Guys finish Second: the Washington Years), and also, D.S. Adel (Krishna Menon and Contemporary politics): Trivedi’s own arguments at the NPT seem to reflect this position. Jaswant Singh (Defending India) serves as a vital ‘counter-argument’ to Perkovich’s questioning of India’s security and strategic concerns; as do Jasjit Singh, C. Raja Mohan, JN Dixit, Mukhopadhyay and K. Subrahmanyam (whose ideas are outlined in various newspaper articles that have been reviewed by this author in "Theorizing the Bomb"). The reference to Kanti Bajpai is from his book on Operation Brasstacks. Mearsheimer’s argument appears in an article by Perkovich written for foreign affairs, as does the Annie Hall simile (mentioned earlier). The adaptation from Marx is from J. Maguire (Political Theory of Karl Marx). Kirkus review, Times literary supplement review, Amitabh Mattoo’s review for Outlook, and additional remarks (of Kamat, Subrahmanyam, Cohen et al) further inform this study; as also Stimson lecture notes. Kenneth Waltz’s Man, State, War informs the realist premise; and is supported by the vast quantum of literature on democratic peace theories.