International Security has nominated South Asia Center Nonresident Fellow Gaurav Kampani’s “New Delhi’s Long Nuclear Journey: How Secrecy and Institutional Roadblocks Delayed India’s Weaponization,” which appeared in the Spring 2014 issue for the Outstanding Article Award that is given annually by the American Political Science Association’s section on International History and Politics and the Alexander L. George Article Award given for Qualitative and Multi-Method Research.
This article triggered a lively debate between Kampani (University of Tulsa), George Perkovich (Carnegie Endowment), and Anit Mukherjee (Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore):
Having a nuclear device is not the same as having an operational nuclear capability. It can take a long time to weaponize, which is the process of building compact reliable rugged weapons and mating them with delivery vehicles. Unlike first-tier nuclear weapon powers, recent nuclear weapon powers are taking much longer. For example, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) took up to two years to make the transition from exploding a test device to building weaponized versions of them. In comparison the process of weaponization in South Africa, India, and Pakistan took eight, fifteen and ten years, a nearly twenty-eight-fold increase on average.
It is also uncertain whether states that build prototype test devices succeed in weaponizing them. For example, seven years after North Korea’s first nuclear test, the quality and reliability of its deliverable weapons remains uncertain. Likewise, the gap in operational capabilities (i.e., the soft institutional, organizational, and training routines essential to using military hardware instrumentally) has increased severalfold between the pre- and postNonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear weapon powers. Whereas it took the P5 on average five months to achieve operational status, in the latter cases it took nearly four years. In South Africa’s case, it is unclear if its operational capability extended beyond firing a nuclear demonstration shot or two. As Jacques Hymans points out in his recent work, proliferation theories in international relations literature in general seek to explain the causes of proliferation, but they say little about the quality of those outcomes. The bulk of the literature focuses on the causes of proliferation and not the process or quality of those proliferation outcomes.” Waltzian realism, for example, baldly assumes that states capable of developing nuclear devices should have no trouble either weaponizing them or developing an operational force. Prestige explanations make no distinction between the development of a device, weaponization, and soft operational routines. Likewise, organizational theories that attribute nuclear proliferation to actor networks consisting of scientific and civil-military bureaucratic enclaves do not explain the slow transition from incipient to mature nuclear capabilities.