Jayita Sarkar is a historian and Assistant Professor at Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, where she is also the founding director of the Global Decolonization Initiative. Her research specialization is in 20th century global South Asia, the history of U.S. foreign relations, and the politics of nuclear technologies. Her prize-winning research has been published in the International History Review, Journal of Cold War Studies, Cold War History, and elsewhere.
Her first book, Ploughshares and Swords. India’s Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War, will be published by Cornell University Press in spring 2022. It examines the first forty years of India’s nuclear program through the prisms of technopolitics and geopolitics. The book foregrounds the Indian nuclear program’s civilian and military features by probing its close relationship with the space program. It shows how through nuclear and space technologies, India’s leaders served the technopolitical aims of economic modernity and the geopolitical goals of deterring adversaries.
Her newest book-length project titled, Connected Partitions. From South Asia to the World, is a study of entangled social, economic, and political histories of partitions. By focusing on stateless people, it investigates the travel itinerary of territorial divisions from the borderlands of Bengal-Burma to the League of Nations and the United Nations.
She is finishing her second book manuscript titled, Light Water Capitalism. US Global Power through Nuclear Things, which is a reexamination of U.S. nonproliferation efforts through histories of capitalism, empire, and decolonization. The book foregrounds the role of economic actors and processes, and the resultant dispossession of land and exploitation of labor in various parts of the world. In 2020-21, she was on research leave to make progress on this project as a visiting fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History and as Ernest May Fellow in History & Policy at Harvard University.
Born and raised in Calcutta, India, she obtained her doctorate in History from the Graduate Institute Geneva in Switzerland after completing a Research Masters in Sociology from the University of Paris-Sorbonne in France. She has held several prestigious fellowships such as Albert Gallatin Predoctoral Fellowship in International Affairs at Yale University, Ernest May Fellowship in History & Policy and Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship at Harvard University, and Niehaus Fellowship in U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Dartmouth College.
She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her wife and two cats, Gorky and Grieg.
11. Sarkar, J. “From the Dependable to the Demanding Partner: The Renegotiation of French Nuclear Cooperation with India, 1974-1980," Cold War History, Vol. 21, No. 3 (2021), 301-318. Link
This article examines the shift in French nuclear export policy during 1974-1980 leading to renegotiation of bilateral contracts between India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and France’s Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). This reassessment of French-Indian nuclear partnership by Giscard d’Estaing’s government initially resulted from its concerns that France might be implicated in India’s 1974 nuclear explosion. Neither country had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the CEA and the DAE were longtime technology partners, and both opposed multilateral safeguards. The French reassessment later received a major thrust from improved U.S.-French bilateral relations in which global nonproliferation played a prominent role.
10. Sarkar, J. “The Economic Strategies of U.S. Nonproliferation Policy during the Nixon-Ford Years," Journal of Global Security Studies, Vol. 6, no. 1 (2021): 1-6. Link
Much of international relations scholarship attributes the United States’ commitment to prevent the global spread of nuclear weapons as the outcome of US national security interests. Yet, US nonproliferation policy comprises a compelling set of economic goals and strategies, beyond economic sanctions. Without incorporating economic factors and actors, and their convergence with the Cold War US national security state, the understanding of US nonproliferation policy remains incomplete. The 1970s challenged US postwar economic preeminence through the “Nixon shock,” the end of dollar convertibility to gold of the Bretton Woods system, and the 1973 oil price shock. Concurrently, the United States’ market share in terms of global nuclear reactor sales declined while those of West European suppliers like France and West Germany increased. This essay argues that US nonproliferation efforts, which in the Nixon-Ford era took the form of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) after India's 1974 nuclear explosion, were guided as much by security concerns about proliferation as by Washington's aim to reclaim its market share to protect US nuclear industry against West European competition.
9. Sarkar, J. “U.S. Policy to Curb West European Nuclear Exports, 1974-78,” Journal of Cold War Studies, Vol. 21, No. 2 (Spring 2019): 110-149. Link
After India’s 1974 nuclear explosion publicly demonstrated the proliferation risks from nuclear assistance, the United States government increased its efforts to control nuclear exports worldwide. In doing so, U.S. policymakers faced challenges from two of its major West European allies, France and West Germany, who pursued their commercial interests through nuclear exports to countries like Pakistan, Brazil, Iran and India, among others. Despite multilateral efforts like the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and bilateral negotiations with the supplier countries’ governments, the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter only obtained partial success. Commercial interests of the firms, influence of pro-exports coalitions inside the supplier countries, and the emerging importance of the Soviet Union and countries of the Eastern bloc as alternative suppliers influenced the outcome. The United States was, however, relatively more successful with respect to Paris through a series of quid pro quo but far less effective vis-à-vis Bonn. Using newly declassified archival documents, this research sheds new light on U.S. nonproliferation policy in the aftermath of the 1973 oil price shock.
8. Blarel, N. & J. Sarkar. “Sub-State Organizations as Foreign Policy Agents: New Evidence and Theory from India, Israel and France," Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 2 (July 2019): 413-431. Link
The extant scholarship in international relations does not completely account for the role of sub-state organizations (SSOs) in foreign policymaking of states. Yet, international cooperation, especially, in specialized areas like defense, space and nuclear technologies that are intrinsically complex frequently witness extensive involvement of SSOs. In other words, SSOs often act as foreign policy agents driving the international partnerships. Why does this happen, and what are its causal mechanisms? In this study, we conduct a plausibility probe on the role of SSOs through examining India’s partnerships with France and Israel in the specialized domains of nuclear, space and defense technologies, and find that the foreign policy executives (FPEs) within the governments frequently defer to relevant SSOs when specialized knowledge and expertise are required, thereby, conferring foreign policy agency to the SSOs. We also find that the SSOs select their international partners based on their goals of efficiency, common institutional designs and organizational cultures. Our conclusions lead us to draw scholarly attention to this largely ignored yet significant actor in foreign policy decision-making.
7. Krige, J. & J. Sarkar. “U.S. Technological Collaboration for Nonproliferation: Key Evidence from the Cold War,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 25, no. 3-4 (2018): 249-262. Link
Although the existing international-relations scholarship argues that technological assistance in the nuclear domain increases the probability of nuclear proliferation, the historical account indicates otherwise. Congressional legislation for nonproliferation, economic sanctions, and poor state capacity—specifically, inept managerial capabilities of the recipient state—explain merely part of the puzzle, but overlook the role of positive inducements offered to impede nuclear proliferation. Historical evidence shows that the United States often provided technological assistance with the deliberate intent to inhibit proliferation. In other words, Washington employed its technological leverage to attain nonproliferation goals. American technological preponderance since the end of World War II made such an approach feasible. This study examines key Cold War cases—Israel/Egypt, India, and West Germany—where the United States offered technological assistance with the deliberate intent to stall nuclear proliferation, thereby underscoring the role of assistance for inhibitive ends.
6. Rabinowitz, O. & J. Sarkar. “‘It Isn’t Over Until the Fuel Cell Sings’: A Reassessment of the US and French Pledges of Nuclear Assistance in the 1970s,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 41, no. 1-2 (2018): 275-300. Link
Based on newly declassified archival documents, the aim of this study is to contribute to an improved understanding of the evolution of the non-proliferation regime through an examination of US and French nuclear cooperation agreements in the latter half of the 1970s. The four pledges of nuclear assistance examined – US assistance to Egypt and Israel, and French assistance to Pakistan and South Korea – failed to materialise by the end of the decade. Why did that happen? What caused the four pledges to fail? We find that the 1974 Indian nuclear explosion and the emergence of opposing domestic factions on the nuclear front in the supplier states generated major changes in US and French nuclear export policies, and also contributed to the development of a collaborative partnership between the two competing nuclear exporters, on the other.
5. Sarkar, J. “Managing nuclear risk in South Asia – An Indian response,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 73, no. 1 (2017): 59-61. Link
This article suggests steps that India and Pakistan could adopt to reduce geopolitical tensions involving nuclear weapons.
4. Sarkar, J. “The Making of a Nonaligned Nuclear Power: India’s Proliferation Drift, 1964-1968,” International History Review, Vol. 37, no. 5 (2015): 933-950. Link
The article examines the strategic circumstances leading to non-aligned India's safeguard of its nuclear option during a crucial period in its proliferation trajectory, when it was one of the states closest to nuclear-weapons development, and faced US pressures to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was being negotiated at the time. Based on Indian, US, and French primary sources, this paper demonstrates that India's regional strategic insecurities and bilateral tensions with the United States were too great for it to sign the NPT. Yet, New Delhi's capability to successfully reprocess weapons-grade plutonium permitted the developing country substantial leverage that it exploited through advancing on a slow dual-use nuclear programme.
3. Sarkar, J. 'Wean them away from French tutelage': Franco-Indian nuclear relations and Anglo-American anxieties in the early Cold War, 1948-1952, Cold War History, 15, no. 3 (2015): 375-394. Link
The 1951 Franco-Indian bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement was the first such cooperation outside the Manhattan Project, and preceded President Eisenhower's 1953 ‘Atoms for Peace’ proposal. This cooperation on one hand upset the United Kingdom, which regretted losing leverage over its former colony to its colonial rival, and on the other, enhanced the United States' interest in playing a key role in the region. Based on multi-archival research, this paper explores the significance of Franco-Indian nuclear relations against the backdrop of Anglo-American endeavours to censor information related to atomic energy and to secure control of strategic minerals during the early Cold War.
2. Sarkar, J. "Les Compatriotes de l'atome: La coopération nucléaire franco-indiennce, 1950-1976," Critique internationale 63, no. 2 (2014): 131-149. Link
Based on multi-archival research in France, India and the United Kingdom, this paper examines the development of the Franco-Indian nuclear relationship from Frédéric Joliot-Curie’s January 1950 visit to India to the latter’s first nuclear test in May 1974. While the early development of a nuclear program in both countries provided an immediate rationale for bilateral collaboration, diplomatic disagreements persisted between Paris and New Delhi : these initially concerned the fate of “French establishments in India” but were later elicited by French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s shift to a policy of non-proliferation. Thoughout the period studied, however, cooperation continued thanks to excellent relations between the French and Indian atomic energy agencies and the two countries’ shared desire to retain an independent foreign policy in a world dominated by the rivalry of the two blocs.
1. Sarkar, J. "India’s Nuclear Limbo and the Fatalism of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime, 1974-1983," Strategic Analysis 37 (2013): 322-337. Link
India's relationship with the nuclear non-proliferation regime deteriorated sharply after its 1974 underground nuclear test which, according to India, was a peaceful nuclear explosion, but which was not accepted as such by the regime. That it did not follow up with immediate weaponisation challenged the core logic of the non-proliferation regime which operates on a Murphy's Law of ‘nuclear fatalism’, i.e. if a country has the know-how to produce nuclear weapons, it will certainly produce them. This article argues that at least until the beginning of its integrated guided missile development programme in 1983, India's nuclear inaction posed a normative challenge to this logic.
5. Sarkar, J. “The Indian Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” in the Cambridge History of the Nuclear Age, edited by Christian Ostermann and Leopoldo Nuti (Cambridge University Press, anticipated, 2023).
4. Sarkar, J. “Battlefields to Borderlands: The Rohingya Question, 1940s-1950s” in South Asia Unbound, edited by Elisabeth Leake and Bérénice Guyot-Réchard (University of Chicago/Leiden University Press, anticipated, 2023).
3. Sarkar, J. “Nuclear Reaganomics: Corporate Lobbying after Three Mile Island, 1979-1984,” in Capitalism and Diplomacy: The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Relations in the Twentieth Century edited by Christopher R. W. Dietrich (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming, May 2022).
2. Sarkar, J. “A Bullock Cart on Nuclear-Powered Wheels: Nuclear Science, Indigeneity and the National Development Narrative in India,” in International Relations and the Global Politics of Science and Technology, Vol. 2, edited by Maximilian Meyer et al, 21-30 (Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer, 2014).
1. Sarkar, J. “From the Peaceful Atom to the Peaceful Explosion: Indo-French nuclear relations during the Cold War, 1950-1974,” Nuclear Proliferation International History Project Working Paper #3, Woodrow Wilson Center, 2013.
Op-Eds & Short Essays
17. Sarkar, J. "How to Support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons Without Signing It," Lawfare, 7 Feb. 2021, Link.
16. Sarkar, J. & C. Meyer (BU undergraduate student), "Radiation Illnesses & COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 3. Feb. 2021, Link.
15. Sarkar, J. “It’s time to take domestic nuclear terrorism seriously,” Washington Post, 27 Jan. 2021. Link
14. Sarkar, J. "In Memoriam: Stephen Philip Cohen," Perspectives on History, 20 Mar. 2020. Link
13. Sarkar, J. “How WWII Shaped the Crisis in Myanmar,” Washington Post, 10 Mar. 2019. Link
12. Sarkar, J. “The Reaganomics of Nonproliferation in GOP behavior,” Texas National Security Review, 09 Oct. 2018. Link
11. Sarkar, J. & S. Ganguly. “India and the NPT after 50 Years,” Diplomat, 22 Jun. 2018. Link
10. Sarkar J. “Rohingyas and the Unfinished Business of Partition,” Diplomat, 16 Jan. 2018. Link.
9. Sarkar J. & O. Rabinowitz. “Instead of sanctions or a military strike, the United States should embrace a third option for dealing with North Korea,” Washington Post, 21 Sep. 2017. Link.
8. Sarkar, J. “Managing nuclear risk in South Asia – An Indian response,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 73, no. 1 (2017): 59-61.
7. Sarkar J. “Indian Nuclear History, Frozen in Time,” Woodrow Wilson Center, 22 Jun. 2017. Link.
6. Sarkar J. “Sino-Indian Nuclear Rivalry: Glacially Declassified,” Diplomat, 9 Jun. 2017. Link.
5. Sarkar J. "Three concrete steps toward South Asian nuclear stability," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 13 Sep. 2016. Link.
4. Sarkar, J. "The Middle Powers’ Congruence: India, France, and Nuclear Technology," India in Transition, 29 Jun. 2015. Link
3. Sarkar J. "Strategic Passing: Why India Will Not Be Pakistan 2.0 in U.S. Asia Policy," Foreign Policy, 6 Mar. 2015. Link.
2. Akhtar, R. & J. Sarkar. “Pakistan, India, and China After the U.S. Drawdown from Afghanistan,” Stimson Center Report, Jan. 2015. Link
1. Sarkar, J. "New Delhi’s New Foreign Policy?," Foreign Policy, 19 Jun. 2014. Link.