Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy

By Quester, George H. | Parameters, Autumn 2003 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy


Quester, George H., Parameters


By Bharat Karnad. (New Delhi, India: MacMillan India Limited, 2002). 724 pages. $37.50.

For at least three reasons, this will be a most valuable book for anyone concerned about the nuclear confrontation in South Asia.

To begin, the author was a member of India's first National Security Advisory Board, and was involved in the development of the 1999 Nuclear Draft Doctrine (included as an appendix in the book); he is today one of the more visible younger defense analysts in New Delhi. In this massive work, Karnad presents an analysis that many other Indians of his generation, will share on the current nuclear choices as India faces Pakistan, China, and the world, and on what the tradition of Gandhi and Nehru might mean for all this. It is an analysis that is unabashedly "realist" in its stress on national power and national self-interest, and that calls on India to do more rather than less in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons.

If any outsider thinks that India will be guided by memories of Gandhi's nonviolence and Nehru's neutralism, this book serves as a valuable antidote, as it interprets such earlier approaches as merely effective tactical stratagems, not to be mistaken for absolute principle. Its interpretation, locked into a "realist" power-politics perspective, of these two great men of Indian history, and of other principal figures, is a mixture of the complimentary and quite derogatory. Gandhi and Nehru are seen as having developed formulas well-suited to the British or the third-world prejudices of the moment, and thus advanced Indian interests for a time, but formulas which these great figures and other Indian leaders made the mistake of taking too seriously over the longer term, treating such principles as absolutes. The author thus explicitly brings to the surface what many of his countrymen may now feel, and the book would be worth reading merely as an update on how informed Indian policymakers, and ordinary Indian citizens, see the international security question today.

Second, the author offers an enormous amount of detail and anecdote about the various stages of the Indian nuclear decision process since the 1950s, pulling together all the published Western and Indian literature on the subject, but importantly adding in a great many observations based on interviews. As is always the case with such interview research, some of the descriptions and judgments on the historical events will be controversial, but anyone else writing his own book on Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapon developments will have to contend with what is presented in this work. There are sections on the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of 1998, arguing, based on outside-world analyses and interviews within India, that such tests were not nearly sufficient to put India on the road to reliable nuclear and thermonuclear weapons. …

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