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Abstract

India’s conflictual relationship with the nuclear non-proliferation regime can be traced to 1968, when it refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty despite playing an active role in the negotiation process leading to the treaty. It further infuriated the keepers of the regime with its underground nuclear test in May 1974, which it called a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE). India however did not follow-up with efforts at immediate weaponization. Instead it raised the question in international fora as to why PNEs should be the preserve of only the superpowers. India’s nuclear limbo from 1974 till the late 1980s, when its missile programme strengthened, questioned the entire logic of the non-proliferation regime that operated on a Murphy’s Law of ‘nuclear fatalism’ – if a country possessed the know-how to produce nuclear weapons, it would certainly produce them. This paper argues that from May 1974 until at least the beginning of its integrated guided missile development programme in 1983, India’s nuclear inaction posed a normative challenge to the US-led nuclear non-proliferation regime.

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