• Jayita Sarkar


    Assistant Professor

    Boston University

    • Global South Asia

    • Connected partitions

    • Global histories of capitalism

    • Nuclear technologies


  • Biography

    Jayita Sarkar is a historian and tenure-track assistant professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, until June 2022. In July 2022, Dr. Sarkar will be relocating to Scotland to take up a permanent position as senior lecturer/associate professor in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow. She is the founding director of the Global Decolonization Initiative. Her research areas of specialization are in global South Asia, connected partitions, global histories of capitalism, and nuclear technologies. 


    Her first book, Ploughshares and Swords. India’s Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2022) examines India’s nuclear program from the 1940s to the 1980s through the prisms of technopolitics and territoriality. It shows how nuclear and space technologies served leaders' technopolitical aims of economic modernity and geopolitical goals of deterring adversaries, with consequences for democratic accountability.


    Currently, she is working on two book manuscripts. The first one entitled, Connected Partitions. From South Asia to the World, is a study of entangled social, economic, and political histories of partitions from the 1900s to the 1970s. By focusing on stateless people, it investigates the travel itinerary of the idea and practice of partitions from the borderlands of South Asia to the League of Nations, United Nations, and then onto the world. In summer 2022, she will be a nominated fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities to make progress on Connected Partitions.


    The second one is Light Water Capitalism. Empires of Nuclear Things, which is a global history of “nuclear things” through histories of racial capitalism, empire, and decolonisation from the 1890s to the 1990s. It studies the role of governments, corporations, and banks in the dispossession of land, exploitation of labor, and debt generation through nuclear technologies. In 2020-21, she was a visiting fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History and an Ernest May Fellow in History & Policy at Harvard University to make progress on Light Water Capitalism.


    She obtained her PhD in History from the Graduate Institute Geneva in Switzerland in 2014, after completing a Research Masters (M2R) in Sociology from the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne in France in 2010. She was born and raised in Calcutta, India.


  • Book

    Ploughshares and Swords. 

    India's Nuclear Program in the Global Cold War


    India’s nuclear program is often misunderstood as an inward-looking endeavor of secretive technocrats. In Ploughshares & Swords, Jayita Sarkar challenges this received wisdom, narrating a global story of India’s nuclear program during its first forty years. The book foregrounds the program’s civilian and military features by probing its close relationship with the space program. Through nuclear and space technologies, India’s leaders served the technopolitical aims of economic modernity and the geopolitical goals of deterring adversaries. 


    The politically savvy, transnationally-connected scientists and engineers who steered the program obtained technologies, materials, and information through a variety of state and nonstate actors from Europe and North America, including both superpowers. They thus maneuvered around Cold War politics and the chokepoints of the nonproliferation regime. Hyperdiversification increased choices for the leaders of the nuclear program but reduced democratic accountability at home. The nuclear program became a consensus-enforcing device in the name of the nation. 


    Ploughshares & Swords is a provocative new history with global implications. It shows how geopolitical and technopolitical visions influence decisions about the nation after decolonization.



    Two Books in Progress

    Connected Partitions. 

    From South Asia to the World

    Research in progress since 2019

    Book contract anticipated in 2022-23

    Connected Partitions is a travel itinerary of territorial separations from the borderlands of South Asia to the League of Nations and the United Nations, through connected social, economic, and political histories from the 1900s to the 1970s.



    Research Output:

    South Asia Unbound (University of Chicago/Leiden University Press) – book chapter, 2023

    Washington Post – historical op-ed, 2019

    Diplomat – research essay, 2018 



    Light Water Capitalism. 

    Empires of Nuclear Things

    Manuscript in progress since 2016

    Book contract anticipated in 2022

    Light Water Capitalism is a global history of “nuclear things” through histories of racial capitalism, empire, and decolonisation from the 1890s to the 1990s. It studies the role of governments, corporations, and banks in the dispossession of land, exploitation of labor, and debt generation through nuclear technologies.



    Research Output:

    Diplomacy & Capitalism (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press) - book chapter, 2022

    Journal of Global Security Studies - journal article, 2021

    Journal of Cold War Studies - journal article, 2019


  • Global Decolonisation

    The Global Decolonisation Initiative, founded and directed by Dr. Jayita Sarkar, is a research endeavor that brings together students and faculty across the university to form an intellectual collaboration hub passionate about understanding the ongoing processes of decolonization through studying borders, borderlands, migration, identities, race, citizenship, and violence. Currently hosted at Boston University, the Initiative will relocate to the University of Glasgow in July 2022. 


    It runs the Decolonisation-in-Progress Seminar to workshop ongoing research by junior scholars (PhD students and postdocs) with feedback from mid-career and senior scholars. The seminar also hosts book talks by authors on the theme of decolonization, and expert roundtables on themes of contemporary relevance.



  • Teaching


    SENIOR LECTURER (ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR) in Economic and Social History, From July 2022—

    Courses under development at undergraduate and postgraduate levels on themes of decolonisation and international economic relations, political economy of partitions, borderlands, citizenship, and statelessness.




    ASSISTANT PROFESSOR (tenure-track), Pardee School of Global Studies, 

    July 2017– June 2022 



    Global South Asia. IR377. Syllabus

    Undergraduate elective

    Spring 2022 (30 students, class full)

    Spring 2020 (29 students)

    Fall 2017 (5 students)



    History, Policy, & Statecraft. IR539. Syllabus

    Graduate and advanced undergraduate seminar

    Spring 2022 (20 students, class full)

    Summer 2020 (17 students)


    International Nuclear Politics. IR315/ PO358/ HI335

    Undergraduate elective

    Fall 2021 (49 students)

    Summer 2021 (43 students)

    Spring 2020 (44 students)

    Fall 2018 (40 students)

    Spring 2018 (47 students)


    History of International Relations since 1945. IR350

    Undergraduate survey

    Fall 2021 (86 students)

    Fall 2019 (83 students)

    Fall 2018 (77 students)

    Spring 2018 (165 students)

  • Journal Articles


    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 

    H-Diplo Review


    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 

    H-Diplo Review


    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 

    Winner of the 2018 McElvany Grand Prize


    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 

    H-Diplo Review


    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.

  • Book Chapters

    5. Sarkar, J. “Battlefields to Borderlands: Rohingyas and Decolonization, 1940s-1950s” in South Asia Unbound: Spaces and Scales of Internationalism, edited by Elisabeth Leake and Bérénice Guyot-Réchard (under contract with University of Chicago/Leiden University Press, 2023).



    4. Sarkar, J. “The Indian Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” in the Cambridge History of the Nuclear Age, edited by Christian Ostermann and Leopoldo Nuti (under contract with Cambridge University Press, 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.