Quote of the Week: Illusions of the Nuclear Age

In India’s Nuclear Bomb, George Perkovich offers four “exploded illusions” of the nuclear age: 1. Security concerns decisively determine proliferation, 2. Nonproliferation is the flip-side of the proliferation coin, 3. Democracy facilitates nonproliferation, and 4.Equitable disarmament in unnecessary for nonproliferation.

In the concluding chapter, he “explores how India’ nuclear history suggests four alternative propositions to the illusions just listed. Namely,

1. Domestic factors, including individual personalities, have been at least as important as the external security environment in determining Indian nuclear policy and that of other states.

2. Proliferation is an essentially different process from “unproliferation” – a state’s decision to stop and/or reverse acquisition of nuclear weapon capabilities. In democracies especially, the acquisition of nuclear weapons so changes the politics within the state that removal of the original proliferation stimuli is not sufficient to cause unproliferation.

3. Open, democratic debate may inhibit decisions to make nuclear weapons, but democracy as it is practiced today appears to obstruct efforts to control and eliminate nuclear weapons once they have been acquired.

4. If reversing the spread of nuclear weapons is an important goal and the promotion of democracy is desirable, then averting the potential clash between these two objectives requires clearer commitments to eliminating nuclear weapons from all states.”

What’s your take?


Image: Athit Perawongmetha-Getty Images News, Getty

Posted in , India, Nonproliferation, Nuclear, Nuclear Weapons, Quotes, Research

Julia Thompson

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One thought on “Quote of the Week: Illusions of the Nuclear Age

  1. On the four alternative propositions, following are my take:

    1. Agreed. It is also a matter of pride for the scientific community to establish its capabilities in the international realm. The case of having nuclear triad, for instance, has much to do with domestic factors than immediate external security concerns.

    2. Partially agreed. It is not only the presence of nuclear weapons that changes the politics of the states and thus introduces new stimuli for proliferation. External factors and internal politics create a complex mesh that together constitute the stimuli for the retention of nuclear weapons.

    3. Do not agree. I somehow cannot establish a correlation between democracy and presence of nuclear weapons, for good or bad.
    “[D]emocracy as it is practiced today obstruct efforts to control and eliminate nuclear weapons once they have been acquired.”
    On it, for once, I can agree. The disadvantage of running the world’s largest democracy is that any decision making process, irrespective of their sensitive nature, become painfully slow. But I do not agree with the argument that open, democratic debate may inhibit decision to make nuclear weapons. This is especially true as people, at least in India, are highly emotional beings. It is not that difficult to mobilize people in the favour of acquiring nuclear weapons when facing a situation that threatens their national interests and pride.
    Similarly, I do not agree with the assessment that democracy as it is practiced today appears to obstruct non-proliferation and disarmament efforts. While stimuli that prohibit “unproliferation” have not been identified and addressed, I argue that blaming the democratic practices and processes is unfair.

    4. Again, spread or reversing the spread of nuclear weapons, according to me, do not have much to do with the promotion of democracy. If it is only how democracy as it is practiced today that obstructs efforts of non-proliferation and disarmament, then I presume the extended argument would be that democracy did better half a century back. But if one looks back at the history, there were always more democracies that had nuclear weapons. Also, it cannot be denied that democratic and undemocratic societies or states have contributed equally to the control and reduction of their respective nuclear weapons. Thus I do not see any potential clash between these two objectives.

    Finally, I have to admit that I do not feel comfortable with the use of the term “proliferation.” Be it in India’s case or any other. Proliferation has been used to project what has been a rather slow horizontal spread of nuclear weapons as an alarming phenomenon. An argument made by Kenneth Waltz repeatedly. But by citing Waltz, I do not claim to support his principal argument that more may be better. I also do not deny that the spread has been slow due to non-proliferation efforts. But I have some genuine reservations against the purpose behind all the non-proliferation efforts. They appear to be largely driven by the need for some to retain an upper-hand, rather than concerns over spread of nuclear weapons per se. The reason why we see no progress being made towards total elimination of nuclear weapons. Until total disarmament is pursued with sincerity by all parties involved, I do not see the flaws and hypocrisy in the principles of non-proliferation as they are promoted today going away anytime soon.

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