For anyone interested in nuclear politics, Asia has been the focus from the beginning: since the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everyone sat up and took notice of the power of the atom. Since then, there has been a mad scramble to harness it. And, almost always, countries have claimed that their nuclear programme was mainly for peaceful purposes.
The reason for the nuclear renaissance in Europe was the heavy dependence on Russian gas. But for Asia, power was not really the reason for going nuclear.
Asia is back in focus with China's decision to go in for nuclear power in a major way, and India's own rather stuttering expansion of the nuclear power programme. Pakistan and North Korea are among the countries that place consideration of creating weapons over the nuclear power programme. The continuing questions of stability in many countries in West Asia, Iran's progressing nuclear programme despite U.S. sanctions, Israel's admission of its weapons programme, the opaqueness of regions in Central Asia where weapons were deployed during the Soviet-era, and the highly effective terrorist groups in the Af-Pak region make Asia one of the most dangerous areas. A dirty bomb can become a reality anywhere.
If we take a step back and look at the whole issue, in essence, we would realise that the problem is in the technology of the reactor itself. The classical nuclear power plant designs accord a lot more importance to processing the end product of the fuel cycle — obviously to cater to the military dynamics of the State and make nuclear weapons. But this is the technology aspect, and the book offers no scope to address this.
The book, a project supported by the Indian Department of Atomic Energy and which has issues that include those that the Fukshima accident throws up, addresses most of the questions raised earlier, barring the fundamental one of reactor design. While talking about nuclear issues, it is critically important to have the establishment onboard for the reason that almost all nuclear plants across Asia are State-controlled (not applicable to Japan), and the expertise across a range of issues, be it non-proliferation, missile programmes, nuclear terrorism, or clandestine development, can only be discussed with any degree of accuracy and relevance if the people in the programme speak up. That, in essence, is the success of the book editors, Arvind Gupta (IFS) and Prof. K.D.Kapur of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (who is also associated with the Pugwash Society that brought out the book).
The affable Anil Kakodkar, who guided the country's nuclear destiny for many decades before stepping down from an active capacity, has flagged the issues in a foreword, including the Indian opposition to NPT (“inherently uneven and discriminatory”), and the region's dynamics. He also makes it a point to mention that the book is based on open sources.
Options for India
The book examines the historical evolution of the Non-Proliferation regime, the challenges to non-proliferation, and details country- specific programmes — Pakistan's “Wal-mart” kind of role in the Asian nuclear environment. It highlights China's nuclear and missiles programmes, which could alter the global equations, and also the programmes of Japan, North Korea and Iran. It discusses the nascent nuclear security architecture in the light of the very real threat of nuclear terrorism, and also covers a lot of ground on India's nuclear contributions after the NSG waiver. It finally concludes with analysing the options for India in the Asian nuclear environment.
Effectively, the book calls on India to move to the next level and assume responsibilities that come with the territory. One important policy option that the book suggests is cooperation in a restructured international nuclear treaty, given India's reluctance to come into the NPT fold. India should join an Export Control Regime, consider all facets of the CTBT and generally be pro-active in the global arena.