BOOK REVIEW: South Asia's Distinctive Arms Race

Article excerpt

BOOK REVIEW: South Asia's Distinctive Arms Race

Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb By Feroz H. Khan Stanford University Press, 2012, 552 pages

Managing India's Nuclear Forces By Verghese Koithara Brookings Institution Press, 2012, 314 pp.

The nuclear competition between India and Pakistan breaks new ground in several ways. Extremist groups that are key actors on the subcontinent are wholly absent from the Western literature of deterrence theory. During the Cold War, spying was a critical source of nuclear know-how, but in the Asian nuclear competition, spying has taken a back seat to covert transactions and entrepreneurial demand- and supply-side networks.

The Cold War nuclear competition was never triangular, but in Asia, a thirdparty, China, figures prominently in the nuclear narratives of India and Pakistan. India, Pakistan, and China have fought wars against one another, wars that convinced the loser to seek nuclear weapons.

Clarifying hierarchy in this competition is difficult because Pakistan, the country with the weakest economy, takes those weapons far more seriously than India, which lags behind Pakistan in operationalizing its nuclear deterrent. China has helped Pakistan to compete with India by providing materiel and know-how for nuclear weapons and missiles, and Pakistanis have helped others in turn to acquire nuclear capabilities, most especially Abdul Qadeer Khan, the self-promoting "father" of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Clearly, the classic texts of nuclear deterrence, proliferation, and arms control from decades past are only partially applicable to southern Asia. Readers therefore will be greatly beholden to Feroz Khan and Verghese Koithara for writing two exceptional books about a nuclear competition with distinctly Asian characteristics. Khan's Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb and Koithara's Managing India's Nuclear Forces deserve to become essential reading for specialists and worried onlookers. (Disclosure: The author of this review has had a book published by the publisher of Eating Grass and has worked closely with Khan for many years.)

Both authors have military backgrounds. Khan retired from the Pakistani army as a brigadier (the Pakistani equivalent of a brigadier general) heading up the arms control and disarmament directorate within the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) at Joint StaffHeadquarters. He was present at the creation of the SPD and its efforts to operationalize Pakistan's deterrent, improve security practices, and establish command and control arrangements. Koithara is a retired vice admiral of the Indian navy, a keen intellect and observer, and an accomplished author of two previous books. Both authors are comfortable with delving into detail as well as providing wide-angle views of the triangular strategic competition in southern Asia.

In writing his book, Khan was granted extensive access to retired Pakistani military officers and scientists, who are quoted at length. His book offers all of the strengths and some of the weaknesses of being a semiofficial account. The author pulls some punches and occasionally lapses into familiar Pakistani criticisms of India. At the same time, he provides a treasure trove of insider accounts of Pakistan's quest for a viable deterrent. Until now, the most voluble scientist to recount these efforts, A.Q. Khan, has been the least reliable source. A.Q. Khan was not interviewed for this book, because the author either did not seek or was not granted access to him.

New revelations are likely to provide more brushstrokes to Feroz Khan's account, but the picture the author paints is likely to be the most informative that readers will find. He includes first-person accounts from key figures involved in the early stages of Pakistan's programs for uranium enrichment, plutonium production and separation, missile and warhead development, and foreign procurement for these efforts. …