Nucleus and Nation

Title:                      Nucleus and Nation

Author:                  Robert S. Anderson

Anderson, Robert S. (2010). Nucleus and Nation: Scientists, International Networks, and Power in India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

LOC:       2009036012

Q127.I4 A69 2010

Date Posted:      August 2, 2013

I served in Army Intelligence and my focus was on nuclear proliferation. Later I became a university professor, and in 1974 I was teaching courses on Science, Technology, and Human Values (along with my major discipline, physics.) On May 18, 1974 India caught my attention certainly, but more importantly, the attention of the entire world when the country conducted its first nuclear test in the desert in Rajasthan.

To most of the world it seemed inconceivable that a country beset with poverty and an impoverished industrial and technical infrastructure could achieve such a feat. My own immediate interpretation was that India felt insulted by the members of the nuclear club (U. S., U. K., USSR, China, France) who appeared to believe they were the guardians of morals and that the “lesser countries” did not have the fiber to control the possession of nuclear weapons. Further, India was at loggerheads with Pakistan, and needed to have a credible threat against invasion. Thirdly, India wanted, finally, to be taken seriously in the community of nations, and it seemed that having a nuclear weapon was the ticket to the membership of “serious powers.”

Indians certainly considered their “peaceful nuclear device” to be a source of national pride and a matter of international prestige. The reasons above, however, resulted in several nations placing severe sanctions on India, including a ban on technical equipment being shipped into the country. That put a sea anchor on India who could not even import medium-sized computers or advanced oscilloscopes from the U. S. during much of the period of the sanctions.

The test also led to the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a cartel of nuclear supplier countries that, according to its website, “seeks to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.” India’s nuclear weapons tests in May 1998 cemented its status as a world nuclear power; since then, subsequent agreements have been struck with the U. S. and the supplies group for civilian nuclear trade. India is now accepted as a de facto nuclear weapons state, even though it is not yet party to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In Nucleus and Nation, Robert Anderson traces the history, starting in the 1920s, of India’s scientific research and institutions. He highlights what he believes are the efforts that formed the basis of India’s developments in nuclear power and space technology. It is a long book, nearly 600 pages of text, not including the extensive notes. It is based primarily on material the author collected during an extended stay in India in the late 1960s while completing his dissertation in anthropology. Anderson was given extraordinary access to scientific institutions and archival material that was not generally available even to India researchers at that time, and he had extensive conversations with the entire range of scientific workers, including students, technicians, scientists, laboratory directors, and even the then chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Commissions.

With a huge amount of information, the book certainly contains much interesting and, at times, amusing details. However the book tends to be more anecdotal than analytical. He does have a long chapter on “Conclusions,” but it falls short of a coherent analytical narrative. Further, the book has numerous errors, including errors in physics. Many of these errors are trivial, but not all of them. It would have been a much better book if he had collaborated with a qualified physicist in preparing the final draft.

Despite some flaws, it seems likely that someone researching India’s nuclear program and wanting to compile a cogent and error-free narrative could certainly find the huge collection of data in this book highly useful.