A. Vinod Kumar. India and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime: The Perennial Outlier. Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 247 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-05662-6.
Reviewed by Swaran Singh (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Published on H-Diplo (May, 2015)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
Outlier No More, Though Not Yet an Insider
The story of this book begins with the Indo-US Joint Statement signed in Washington, DC on July 18, 2005, heralding the process of India’s co-option into the nuclear nonproliferation regime. At a minimum, this marked a historic shift for India from being a trade-union leader shouting slogans of truth and justice with no effect whatsoever to being offered a possible seat at the high table of management. There were costs attached to this sublime gesture. India was expected to play a greater role in global nonproliferation efforts, though the details remain subject to interpretations from both sides, making this co-option extremely piecemeal, painstaking, and a perpetually multidirectional journey.
A. Vinod Kumar’s book India and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime outlines how the United States expected India to present a separation plan on its civil and military nuclear facilities and place the former under perpetual safeguards; synchronize its export controls with guidelines of other export-control regimes; participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative; and begin negotiating to join the fissile material cut-off ban treaty. For some hardliners in the United States, this new bonhomie with India was premised on New Delhi supporting the United States in its campaign against Iran and contributing to US-led nonproliferation initiatives (p. 123). Despite India’s continuing negotiations with the United States all these years, there are still several other areas where differences continue to prevail. India was declared a “responsible state with advanced nuclear technologies” (p. 168), which itself continues to generate multiple interpretations without any clarity on whether India is a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS), Non-Nuclear Weapon State (NNWS) or State with Nuclear Weapons, with the last one having no legal standing whatsoever. It is these unending “polemics” (p. xii) that betray what author calls the “knowledge-deficit” (p. xiii) which the book seeks to address. But in doing this, it also examines the whole gamut of conceptualization and functioning of the nonproliferation regime and what explains its perpetual crises.
The book takes India’s interface with the nonproliferation regime as its case study. It shows how much of Western literature sees India as an outlier, thus neglecting its other important contributions as a challenger, a norm-entrepreneur, and, above all, a catalyst. Secondly, it alludes to how most studies on regime crisis only focus on the deviant states, outliers, and new threats from terrorists, making no effort to look “inside” into the regime’s conceptualization and structures that should help us appreciate its rigid and insular nature. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that defines the core of the nonproliferation regime remains state-centric and provides no answers to the specter of nuclear terrorism which President Barack Obama has repeatedly described as the greatest threat of the twenty-first century. Likewise, the book reveals that most experts examining India’s case of proliferation have focused only on variables like the pursuit of power and prestige, domestic impulses, or the security dilemma thesis, while none has tried to find answers in India’s complicated interface with the nonproliferation regime. The book presents the possibility that India’s continued exasperation with this “discriminatory” (p. 206) regime may explain not just what pushed India to seek security by showcasing its nuclear might but also explains the continuing corrosion of the existing nonproliferation paradigm and structures. It is these alternate perspectives that mark the strength of this very timely study from an upcoming Indian scholar.
Kumar presents the launching of the US counterproliferation strategy by George W. Bush in 2001 as the broader context of India’s co-option into the nuclear proliferation regime. His examination of counterproliferation is where this book brings forth some of its original thinking, especially in locating this turn around in Indo-US relations. It shows how the Bush administration, while exploring ways to deal with India’s nuclear tests post-9/11, realized that the option of punitive measures or keeping India out of the nonproliferation system was turning out to be imprudent and ineffective (p. 163). The book, however, does not sufficiently bring forth the role played by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in initiating this historic shift in Indo-US equations. Prime Minister Vajpayee's unilateral promises and policy outlines as also his government's efforts to initiate several strategic dialogues following India's 1998 nuclear tests had generated positive vibes in many European capitals and resulted in fourteen rounds of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbot talks. This created grounds for the Bush administration to claim it would strengthen the nonproliferation regime by integrating India into it (p. 58). But the fact that India continues to see the dominant normative formulations on disarmament as discriminatory and has even proposed replacing NPT with a new Nuclear Weapons Convention has not made negotiations easier.
Kumar shows how this tectonic shift in US policies towards nuclear India was formally enunciated by Bush, in his May 2001 speech at the US National Defense University, where he spoke of discarding Cold War doctrines and promoting new nonproliferation bargains wherein states with good nonproliferation records could be rewarded and violators isolated and punished. While this opened doors for India’s co-option and India responded with an equally flexible approach in engaging with this opportunity, this speech also marked the beginning of a whole set of new post-9/11 nonproliferation sub-regimes that were to further complicate India’s policy choices in cementing this co-option and contributing to nonproliferation. These new sub-regimes included the Proliferation Security Initiative, Container Security Initiative, Regional Maritime Security Initiative, Megaports Initiative, as well as specific initiatives to tackle the new threats from terrorists via direct initiatives like the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism or indirect initiatives like the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to develop proliferation-resistant technologies.
The book shows how the foremost proactive element of counterproliferation, the Proliferation Security Initiative, was proposed by President Bush two years later, May 31, 2003, at the Krakow (Poland) G8 summit and which has since received endorsement from over one hundred nations. Kumar points out that it is a coincident that 2003 was also the year of the formulation of a strategic partnership between the United States and India which raised expectations from both sides, later resulting in mutual apprehensions and let-downs. In the same year, India had also entered a strategic partnership with Iran, which has been one of the issues of mutual contention. India has, therefore, not been an easy partner for US nonproliferation operations though it continues to seek engagement in exploring some innovative possibilities to achieve its promised integration with the nonproliferation regime. Meanwhile, Kumar shows how counterproliferation has triggered boisterous debates across both nations as to whether it represents the failure of the nonproliferation regime or only implies the addition of coercion as a multiplier to an existing array of diplomatic, economic, and political tools to tackle proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
According to Kumar, most Indian experts see the 2003 version of counterproliferation strategy as only as a formal reiteration of what has been US strategy since World War II. He alludes to how the United States sabotaged German and Japanese atomic research programs during the 1940s and later supported Israel's destruction of Osirak in 1981 (p. 32). Moreover, in 1993, the Clinton administration launched the Defense Counterproliferation Initiative, which provided the formal structure for this time-tested approach to nonproliferation. This is why President Bush felt the need to rededicate the nonproliferation regime in the face of new post-9/11 challenges from so-called rogue states and terrorists, in which outfits like Al Qaeda were claiming access to radiological weapons. But the book shows how this further strengthened India’s reservations and ignited mutual skepticism in several other areas where the two are yet to evolve any shared understanding.
One area where negotiations of last decade have produced consensus is that India may no longer be seen as an “outlier” though there is hardly any clarity on its exact positive role and status in the regime. Kumar shows how of the four known outliers--India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan--India is the only country with a “distinct record” of having survived as a nuclear-capable nation outside this imposing and near universal regime but at same time having also contributed to the conceptualization and construction of same regime (p. 201). He believes that this is what makes India a “responsible state with advanced nuclear technologies,” which he sees buttressed by India being the world’s largest democracy and an expanding market for American investments and technologies. India’s rise is also seen as fitting rather well into the US-led liberal world order and could help the United States in dealing with the rise of China. Official India has always claimed to have an impeccable record on disarmament. Several Indian experts like K. Subrahmanyam, Jasjit Singh, and Jaswant Singh explain how India's nuclear tests of 1998 were caused by the presence of nuclear weapons among its two hostile neighbors. India has, at the same time, been an important participant in International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors and subscribes to INFCIRC-66-type safeguards. It is seen today as potential member of all four export-control regimes, which include the Wassenaar Arrangements, Australia Group, Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Meanwhile, other outliers like North Korea have not just flaunted defiance but have also exposed the weaknesses of NPT wherein a signatory state can misuse access to civilian nuclear materials and technologies to develop nuclear weapons and then invoke Article X to withdraw before testing them (p. 73). The other outlier, Pakistan, has earned notoriety for its Abdul Qadeer Khan network and is seen as a breeding ground for terrorists, as per several government documents from United States and the United Kingdom as also well-known terrorism experts like Rohan Gunaratna, Edward Linden, Don Feeney, and Will Marshall, let alone scores of Indian authors. Kumar believes that Israel is the only case that can be seen as one potential candidate where India’s co-option model could provide some benefits. But India’s co-option itself may take inordinate effort and time. Even in ideal-type co-option, India is not likely to give up its reservations on issues like discrimination and coercion. India’s deep-rooted differences with the NPT can be traced to its very inception when it saw powerful states trying to impose nonarmament on unarmed countries. No doubt, India’s approach to negotiations on Iran has shown some flexibility, yet India’s co-option calls for perseverance, innovative thinking, and flexibility from both sides. Senior policymakers like Jaswant Singh showed conviction that India's decision to test in 1998 was guided by its commitment to disarmament, where India had been debarred from nuclear negotiations for being a NNWS. They explain that India’s going nuclear was, therefore, driven by its desire to negotiate from position of strength and obtain participation in global nuclear disarmament negotiations. This wide gulf in perceptions surely cannot be accommodated in extant normative and functional formulations.
Finally, given the reluctance amongst NWS to negotiate disarmament under article 6 of the NPT, this objective was sought to be achieved either in the East-West dyad or through test ban and fissile material cut-off initiatives. Meanwhile, vertical and horizontal proliferation continued to feed on each other, keeping the flag-bearers of the nonproliferation regime mired in ever more compounding tasks of nonproliferation with regards to spread of nuclear technologies to NNWSs. With superpowers being focused on arms control and nonproliferation, disarmament of NPT article 6 remained a misnomer. As the author shows, India, on the other hand, despite being censured for its May 1974 Peaceful Nuclear Explosion, continued to engage in disarmament discourse and even made proposals at the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament during 1978, 1982, and 1988 but to no avail. Having now become a state with nuclear weapons and having been offered co-option into the nonproliferation regime, it still remains uncertain whether it can now play any impactful role in global nonproliferation. Indeed, the nature of India’s co-option process raises newer questions as to whether India should agree to implement a hegemon’s agenda which it opposed so vehemently all these years. It is even not clear as to how India is to be co-opted into the nonproliferation regime: as NWS, SNW, or NNWS? (p. 166). This book successfully brings out a whole gamut of such complex questions to the fore, answers to which have remained fluid, with ever evolving newer analyses and interpretations.
. Jaswant Singh, "Against Nuclear Apartheid," Foreign Affairs, 77, no. 5 (1998): 31, 43; K. Subrahmanyam, "Elimination or Irrelevance," Arms Control Today 38, no. 5, (2008): 9-10; Jasjit Singh, "Why Nuclear Weapons?" in Nuclear India, ed. Jasjit Singh (New Delhi: Knowledge World, 1998), 97.
. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, The UK's foreign policy approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Fourth Report of Session 2010, vol. 1, para 114-115; Rohan Gunaratna and Khuram Iqbal, Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero, (London: Reaction Books, 2011), 236.
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