Book Review: After the Bomb – Reflections on India’s Nuclear Journey

Book Review: After the Bomb – Reflections on India’s Nuclear Journey

Achin Vanaik’s book is a reasoned manifesto against the nuclear arms race.

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The author takes on the likes of Ashley Tellis and Shyam Saran, who also happen to be the two main behind-the-scene negotiators of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Book: After the Bomb: Reflections on India’s Nuclear Journey

Author: Achin Vanaik

Publisher: Orient Blackswan

Pages: 203

Price: 517

From 1947 until the late 1980s, India was at the forefront of the global disarmament movement. One of the notable efforts in this period was the “action plan for a nuclear weapon-free and non-violent world order” that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had submitted on June 9, 1988 before the UN General Assembly. However, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, there was a perceptible shift in India’s foreign policy when India jettisoned its leading role in the Non-Aligned-Movement (NAM) and began underplaying its significance. Thus, when the BJP-led government assumed power at the Centre in 1998, the ground was fertile for radically altering the character of India’s foreign policy. Fortunately for the BJP, the scientific and technological advances that India had made during the previous five decades came in handy for quickly conducting nuclear weapon tests and proclaiming India as a nuclear weapon power, which was in consonance with its professed ideology. Thus, as the author points out: “The 1998 Pokhran tests were status-driven and not threat driven”. They provoked Pakistan to respond in kind and neutralise the presumed military advantage that India may have hoped to gain.

The author then goes on to expose the contrived distinction between “responsible” and “irresponsible” nuclear agents and the self-serving claim of nuclear weapon states (NWSs) that: “the greatest danger is that of nuclear weapons being built or falling into the hands of ‘terrorist’ groups”. This is because, as the author notes, “…insofar as nuclear weapons are ‘weapons of terror’ (which they are), nuclear deterrence is itself a terrorist doctrine sanctioning the possession, brandishment, and preparation for use of nuclear weapons”.

In this regard, the author demolishes the irrational ramblings of those whom he describes as the “nuclear elite”, i.e., the theoreticians who have no compunctions in eulogising the concept of nuclear deterrence as well as National Missile Defence (NMD) and similar provocative and retrograde plans. In particular, he takes on the likes of Ashley Tellis and Shyam Saran, who also happen to be the two main behind-the-scene negotiators of the Indo-US nuclear deal.


What then are the alternatives? The author admits that he was enamoured of the New Agenda Coalition’s proposals that were put forward in the 1990s as well as by the revised Model Nuclear Weapons Convention that was placed before the UNGA in 2007 (both of which were strongly linked to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970). However, experience had made the author, who was earlier a staunch votary of the NPT, wiser. As a result, he could not but confess as follows: “The NPT should not be assigned any virtue nor should its inequity be exaggerated. It is best treated as irrelevant. It cannot be reformed and there is no point in demanding its abandonment. Serious efforts at disarmament will need to ignore and bypass it.”

Therefore, the author himself has prepared a preliminary set of proposals, which are far more meaningful and workable ones (barring his overreliance on the CTBT, FMCT, NWFZs, etc., in their present form). Some of those proposals are as follows:

1) Confidence building measures (CBMs)
2) Nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs)
3) Unconditional and binding non-use pledge by all NWSs to all non-nuclear weapon states;
4) Joint declaration by India and China calling upon all other NWSs to make a No-First-Use (NFU) pledge;
5) In exchange for Pakistan signing the NFU pledge, India and Pakistan sign a no-war-pact (covering all overt and covert wars); etc.

These preliminary steps could prepare the ground for a global nuclear weapons convention. Despite this realisation, the failure on the part of the author to make even a fleeting reference to the importance of the McCloy-Zorin Accords on Agreed Principles for General and Complete Disarmament, signed between the U.S and the USSR in 1961, is a grave omission.

The writer is joint secretary of the Delhi Science Forum