Splitting Atoms
A Transnational History of India's Nuclear Program

Book manuscript to be submitted for review, based on Ph.D. dissertation

Impeding the spread of nuclear weapons in the world has been integral to the American global project since World War II. New nuclear-armed states create uncertainty in the international order, cause insecurity to allies and friends, and generate security dilemma vis-à-vis adversaries. Preventing nuclear proliferation, therefore, enables already nuclear-armed states to maintain stability in the international order. It is no surprise, therefore, that throughout the Cold War, the United States has invested a large amount of resources — political, military, economic and technological— to impede countries' capabilities and to influence their intent to develop nuclear weapons. It has done so to allies, non-allies, and adversaries. Yet, U.S. nonproliferation policy also shows a record of compromises, inaction, failed attempts, and half-measures. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the U.S. policy response to nuclear weapons programs in South Asia, where Washington struggled to walk the thin line between meeting its strategic interests toward its ally, Pakistan, without alarming the nonaligned non-adversary, India that felt threatened by nuclear-armed Communist China.


This book examines the evolution of U.S. nonproliferation policy toward India's nuclear program from the Kennedy years until the first Reagan administration, and India's pursuit of strategic autonomy through its technological partnership with recalcitrant U.S. ally, France. France was the first country with which India developed cooperation in reactor technologies, and Paris remained an important supplier for New Delhi during the 1960s and 1970s. The book recasts the origins of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) — a U.S.-led multilateral nuclear export controls initiative — formed in the wake of India's 1974 nuclear explosion. The NSG was the American response to the global nuclear marketplace by harmonizing export-control regulations among major nuclear suppliers. The inclusion of France into the NSG was pivotal to the success of the initiative because it was the only country in the ‘free world’ that was both a major nuclear supplier and not yet a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


Transnational networks are at the heart of this project: the problem of nuclear proliferation, the U.S.-led efforts for nonproliferation, and the compromises and subversions were transnational. By the end of the Carter administration, U.S. policymakers were determined to find common ground with their Indian counterparts on the nuclear question, specifically, on the question of U.S. fuel supply to U.S.-supplied Indian reactors in Tarapur. The compromise was found with the help of the French, and completed during the Reagan administration. France agreed to take over U.S. supply commitments to countries where Washington's own domestic legislations could not permit transactions, like, India and apartheid South Africa. This historical study spanning over two decades uncovers the gray areas of U.S. nonproliferation policy— notably, the subversion of Congressional oversight by the executive— the strategic maneuvers by India, and the pursuit of economic interests by European middle powers, like France.  

© Jayita Sarkar

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