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Book review
Demystifying India?s Nuclear Decision-making
Rajesh Rajagopalan
Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

Pokhran and Beyond: India's Nuclear Behaviour
Ashok Kapur

New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001

Pages: 264
Price: 545

 

Over the last few years, there has been a proliferation of books and scholarly essays that have attempted to pry open the mystery of Indias nuclear decision-making. These works agree on one fundamental point Indias decision-making has been largely ad hoc.What they do not agree on is the factors that have driven Indian decisions at particular points. Some have proposed the existence of an Indian nuclear and missile scientific technocracy that has driven Indian policy, motivated largely by their bureaucratic and even psychological needs. Others have suggested ideological reasons, in particular for the 1998 tests.

Ashok Kapur, who has several well-received previous works on the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programmes, attempts to go beyond his earlier works by asking why Indian decision-making has been so ad hoc. The picture that he paints is of intellectual and programmatic divisions within the Indian political-bureaucratic elite, accompanied by severe pressures from the international community (led by the United states), all of which combined to put brakes on the Indian nuclear weapons programme and deflected India from pursuit of such weapons. He traces these internal divisions through various periods of decision-making: under Nehru, in the period between Nehrus death and the first Indian test, and between Pohkran I and II. He pleads for more a proactive rather than reactive policy-making.

Kapurs explanation of the internal differences and discussions is interesting but largely unsubstantiated. The hints of policy differences between various factions in the Indian nuclear decision-making elite are not news; indeed, other accounts of Indian nuclear decision-making have explored this issue. Unfortunately, other than stating that there are factions, Kapur fails to identify either these factions or, if they are at all identified, provides no reasons as to how he came to the conclusion that a particular faction represented a particular point of view. For example, he repeatedly classifies the Ministry of External Affairs as being pro-nuclear disarmament, and therefore, apparently by implication, not for an Indian nuclear arsenal. This might very well be true, but little evidence is provided to support this assertion. This is a serious flaw that mars the value of this work with this problem occurring in several parts of the work.

One of Kapurs main thesis is that Indian decision to test in 1998 was a response to provocative Chinese, American, and Pakistani strategic behaviour. Though this sounds reasonable enough, there is no attempt to substantiate this thesis subsequently. One way of substantiating this thesis would have been by bringing in evidence, which is in plenty, of the close linkages between Pakistan and China that helped Pakistan in its nuclear quest, American complicity in ignoring evidence of such complicity, and the rapid advances in Pakistani nuclear capabilities as a consequence. Even those who might broadly agree with the direction of Kapurs arguments, as this reviewer would, would be disappointed by the weakness with which these arguments are presented.

An odd feature of this work is that much of the footnotes and references, including interviews that the author has conducted, date back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are hardly any references to subsequent works on the subject. Further, Kapurs theoretical arguments refer to discussions and debates that are decades old, and leaves out any reference to current debates in the field. For example, there are long discussions about the dominant-subordinate states system paradigm which was not a particularly relevant debate even in the 1960s, and is irrelevant today. On the other hand, Kapur only makes a passing reference to the debate about Indian strategic culture, though that would appear to be central to his work.

The focus on the 1960s is evident in the lop-sided nature of the various chapters, with a disproportionate quantity of the work focusing on Indian decision-making in the 1960s. Though there was an active debate about Indias nuclear options in the 1960s, this debate was equally active in the 1980s and the 1990s. In comparison, Indian nuclear decision-making between Pokhran I and II are covered in a single chapter, almost as an afterthought. If there was a methodological reason for this lop-sidedness, it is not explained.

This is ultimately a somewhat disappointing book, especially because the themes that Kapur addresses are important ones, and broad arguments are plausible enough. Indias peculiar decision-making processes, the seeming importance of strategic culture in explaining this puzzle, and Nehrus dominance in the evolution of Indian strategic culture are all interesting issues and have importance beyond the nuclear debate. But they need to be addressed in a more substantial fashion than has been done in this work.

 
 
 

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