Shampa Biswas, Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Shampa Biswas (SB): I am a nuclear abolitionist, and would like to see a world completely rid of nuclear weapons. There are countless other nuclear abolitionists, many of whom have advanced very concrete suggestions for how to move toward a nuclear-free world. In fact, there is a massive, complex, multi-billion dollar nuclear nonproliferation regime invested in reducing and/or eliminating nuclear weapons from the world. Yet we are nowhere near ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and despite all the fanfare that accompanies the negotiation of a treaty like the New START or attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, I am not at all sanguine that we are even moving in that direction.
My interest was in understanding how this global nuclear order works to keep us always hopeful about progress on nuclear weapons elimination, while deflecting away from the real drivers of nuclear desire and the real profiteers of nuclear pursuits. I wanted to use this book to draw attention to what this global nuclear order looks like—who it empowers and who it disempowers, who benefits from it and who is damaged by it, whose concerns get voiced and who is rendered marginal. I wrote the book because I wanted to make the case that thinking rigorously about the many forms of inequities embedded within the global nuclear order—considered largely peripheral to what are considered to be more serious questions of security and stability—will, ultimately, make the world more peaceful and its inhabitants more secure. To say it differently and more simply, I wrote the book out of a commitment to contribute in some small measure to making a world that is simultaneously more peaceful and more just.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
SB: I wrote the book such that it could be read both as one single narrative articulating an argument about the global nuclear order, or as several inflections of that argument as articulated in each of the chapters (each of which, in my view, can be read as a stand-alone piece). In other words, while there is a unifying argument about the inequities underlying the global nuclear order, the topics the book covers are pretty wide ranging and includes: a Foucauldian analysis of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime in terms of its effects rather than its intentions; a postcolonial critique of a debate around the description of the nuclear order as an Enlightenment order; a Marxist analysis of nuclear weapons as fetish commodities; a study of the political economy of nuclear power (both weapons and energy) with an attention to the corporate interests driving nuclear production and its effects on various vulnerable communities around the world; and an examination of the subaltern state as an effective vehicle for third world security.
As may be clear, I draw from an eclectic mix of theoretical works, and cover a vast International Relations literature that relates to state security, international political economy, development, and postcolonial hierarchies. While my empirical scope is global, there are parts of the book that pay closer attention to the nuclear programs of three very different kinds of nuclear states: the US (the longest established nuclear weapons states); India (a more recent nuclear weapons state that is only one of three states that has not signed the very important Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty); and Japan (the only victim of a nuclear weapons attack that has forsaken a nuclear weapons program but has invested heavily in a nuclear energy program that is now in some jeopardy because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster; Japan is also considered a nuclear “breakout” state that has the capability to develop nuclear weapons on relatively short notice, if it so chose). More specific topics covered are the US-India nuclear deal that effectively helped normalize India’s nuclear weapons status, the state-corporate connections in Japan’s nuclear weapons program, the costs of nuclear weapons programs more broadly, exploitation in the uranium mining industry and in nuclear testing, India’s use of the “nuclear apartheid” argument in its quest for nuclear weapons status, and a fairly extensive description of the huge numbers of treaties, organizations, agencies, NGOs, and activists that form the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime, with a particular focus on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous research?
SB: I have had a longstanding interest in questions related to international hierarchies, but with the exception of an article I wrote after India declared itself a nuclear weapons state in 1998, I had not paid much attention to nuclear weapons in my scholarly writings. Part of that has to do with my training in the field of International Relations, within which there is very little conversation between the subfields of Security Studies (where nuclear proliferation is studied) and International Political Economy (where North-South issues are raised). As I say in the book, I come to the study of (nuclear) security as a postcolonial IR theorist, which means that while the thrust of my work in drawing out the ways that the global nuclear order is deeply and profoundly hierarchical is very much in line with some of my earlier work, my foray into a study of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament is completely new and has taken me in all sorts of new directions.
As in my previous work, I am still thinking about international political economy, neoliberalism, and the place of the nation-state within an unequal world, but I have gained many new insights from this study about nuclear corporate interests, the intersections of military Keynesianism and the neoliberal state in the provision of security, the Orientalist presuppositions guiding nonproliferation efforts, and the many kinds of rather mundane but serious harms imposed by nuclear weapons pursuit on some of the most vulnerable communities in the world.
J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
SB: I teach at a liberal arts college, and I have always imagined my primary professional identity as a teacher. In a sense, I always write with my students in mind, with the expectation that they will be the agents of change in the future. So I had planned on writing a book that would be accessible to a broad swath of current and aspiring scholars—IR theorists, postcolonial scholars, Security Studies scholars, but also graduate and undergraduate students who I hope will learn the most from thinking about the intersections of security and political economy that I pursue in the book. I consider myself very much an interdisciplinary scholar of the sort that I encourage my liberal arts students to become, and I think one of the strengths of the book is that it draws from literature in a lot of different disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. So I hope that I can reach students and scholars in a lot of these different areas, especially those concerned with questions related to global hierarchies, international peace, and social justice. While I didn’t direct my writing at nuclear policy-makers, I do hope that my ideas and insights find ways to percolate to those places where nuclear disarmament decisions get made.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
SB: The negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program started just as I was finishing the book, and I have followed those closely over the last few months. I am working on an article that examines how the media represents the various actors, the so-called “international community,” and notions of responsibility and global peace/stability in those negotiations. I have also been researching some of the Orientalist underpinnings of writings on what is called the “second nuclear age”—considered to be a qualitatively different kind of period from the first phase of nuclear proliferation to the five states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as legitimate holders of nuclear weapons (US, Russia, UK, France, and China—also the Permanent Five of the United Nations Security Council). Finally, I have begun a longer term project on “nuclear pedagogy” that is still in an incipient stage—looking at the ways that nuclear power and its potentials and dangers have been taught to young people, mobilizing their energies and imaginations in favor of or against a nuclear world.
J: Could you say a bit about how your focus upon and critique of a hierarchical global nuclear order might apply to specific instances in North Africa and the Middle East—for example, Iran or Israel (among others)?
SB: I begin the book with a short narrative about the current negotiations between the “P5 plus one” (the Permanent Five and Germany) and Iran over the status and future of the latter’s nuclear program. In a sense, those negotiations highlight much of what the book tries to draw out more carefully—the carefully-crafted image of international negotiations suggests a dialogue between formally equal sovereign actors bargaining with each other, yet what is really at play is that a group of powerful states, all except one of which have well-established and internationally-recognized nuclear programs that they have no intention of forsaking, are compelling, under conditions of duress (the sanctions) a much poorer country to give up any nuclear ambitions it might have.
Political Realists, who have dominated the field of International Relations, have always argued that state security is the primary driver of weapons acquisition. From a Political Realist angle, Iran’s motivations to nuclearize, surrounded as it is by hostile armed states, makes good sense. Yet there are very few people who are willing to argue that Iran ought to be able to do what the P5 already does with respect to its own pursuit of security. I am not in favor of Iranian nuclearization—I think that nuclearization hurts Iranians themselves more than whatever the potential dangers to world peace that a nuclear-armed Iran is thought to pose—but what I am interested in understanding is what this hypervisibility of the rogueness of a nuclear-aspirant Iran deflects attention from: that is, the hierarchical nuclear order and all those who benefit from its sustenance. In contrast, Israel—which, unlike Iran, is only one of three countries in the world that is not even a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—has had a longstanding and well-known nuclear weapons program that it has never publicly declared. Yet its “rogueness” is rarely discussed as rogueness, despite the fact that its actual (rather than rhetorical) foreign policy behavior (much like the foreign policy behaviors of many of the P5 nuclear states) is much more belligerent, and its capacity to inflict nuclear damage (much like the capacities of the P5 nuclear states) is much more sophisticated than those of the states considered nuclear rogues.
It is these sorts of hypocrisies in the very production of “nuclear rogueness,” and what they teach us about the contours and dimensions of an unequal nuclear order, that I am interested in exploring and highlighting.
Excerpts from Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial World Order
An odd constellation of forces arguing for nuclear disarmament suddenly appears to have emerged on the global scene. Even though the lively antinuclear movement of the Cold War era dissipated in anticipation of the “peace dividend” that was to follow the end of US-Soviet nuclear antagonism, many cautious voices on the left continued to urge restraint and advocate disarmament by the infamous club of the “nuclear five.” What is interesting, however, is to see this chorus expand to include voices that, though always nervous about the perils of proliferation outside the club, were at one time fierce defenders of nuclear weapons for the club, many of them architects of nuclear deterrence doctrines that justified the possession of those weapons. So, for instance, two former secretaries of state (George Shultz and Henry Kissinger), one former secretary of defense (William J. Perry), and one former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Sam Nunn)—all well-known cold warriors in the United States—have together mounted a fairly visible public relations campaign to persuade current leaders and policy makers of the wisdom of moving to global nuclear zero. Many strategic thinkers and scholars continue to argue that nuclear deterrence—long heralded for its contributions to keeping the peace between two hostile armed-to-the-teeth superpowers—still works quite effectively in relations between states, including the new nuclear states outside of the original club. But the fears that drive the current calls for disarmament are not just from the slow horizontal spread of nuclear weapons to states outside the nuclear club but also from its diagonal spread to actors who can no longer be counted on to behave with the requisite rationality necessary for deterrence to function. Although some of this concern is directed toward “rogue states,” the rise of transnational terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, and their stated or presumed desire and ability to acquire nuclear weapons (perhaps from rogue states), is the primary source of anxiety here. It is interesting, then, that the rise of global terrorism that has, on one hand, activated a whole new set of practices of violence has, on the other hand, arguably made peaceniks out of former nuclear hawks.
How may we understand the replication and multiplication of the Nuclear Nonproliferation (NNP) regime despite its lackluster record in making the world safe from the persistent presence of nuclear weapons? Like the development industry, it is not the good intentions of the many different agents involved in the regime—policy makers, scientists, lawyers, researchers, scholars, activists, and so on—that is in question. Indeed, it is safe to say that the multiplicity of efforts aimed at tracking, monitoring, lobbying, raising public awareness, and in general working toward preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and associated materials and technology or the elimination of existing stockpiles and programs are all a product of these good intentions….
But even if these efforts may not have been particularly “effective” in making the world safe from nuclear weapons or “efficient” in the use of enormous redundant resources to produce constantly receding goals, it has had other and quite real effects. Albeit quite differently from the regime of development whose projects have a much more direct effect on people’s everyday lives, the NNP regime, too, has extended the reach and power of the state in multiple ways. Arms control measures are, after all, a technology of the state, deployed by the state for particular ends. Interstate treaties rely on and empower states in particular ways; the creation of a global inspections regime requires the cooperation of states in tracking and monitoring various societal conduits for the flow of goods and money and in enforcing the system of nuclear safeguards and helps extend the panopticon-like gaze of the state in all kinds of directions.
In one of the most celebratory defenses of the NPT offered recently, William Walker has famously suggested that the NPT helped instantiate a liberal Enlightenment Order based on progressive values of human reason and rationality. This order, he argued, was threatened by the counter-Enlightenment forces undergirding the George W. Bush administration’s unilateralist aggressiveness. Walker’s argument about the Enlightenment-inspired nuclear order was developed over a series of writings, which began with his distress at the possible fraying of the NPT and the ensuing disorder that that portends and then only later fully developed as an argument about liberal Enlightenment values…Walker’s arguments have received some fairly energetic critiques, many included in a 2007 special issue of the journal International Affairs….
These two critiques frequently work in conjunction with each other, urging Walker and liberal arms control proponents like him to forgo their misplaced and harmful optimism and embrace a realistic appraisal of international politics more likely to create and sustain international order in a nuclear world….
There are ample suggestions among Walker’s critics that any “rational” nuclear order can only collapse in the face of the abundant “irrationality” that exists out there, where the “out there” is always the unenlightened non-West. Drawing attention to the changed political conditions that now confront the NPT, Rühle lays out in an alarmist tone that terrorists, lacking the instinct of national survival that even rogue states have, are essentially undeterrable, and the proliferation that occurs outside the “classical interstate system” is harder to manage through the current nonproliferation regime. Of course, Walker, too, thinks of terrorists as the “absolute enemy,” to protect against which an interstate NPT needs to be fortified, and even echoes the dramatic language of his critics when he refers to them as the “irredeemable forces of darkness” carrying a “lethally armed unreason” (Walker 2007, 444)….All of these, then, become occasions to allude to the real abode of Enlightenment rationality, which, in many of these accounts, is firmly in the West….
Instead of subscribing to the dualistic structure of a hierarchical “reality” juxtaposed against a democratic “utopia,” one could, indeed, agree with Walker that the NPT very much reflects a progressive, utopian Enlightenment project, but as many postcolonial theorists argue, the Enlightenment was in reality also a profoundly hierarchical project premised on a series of exclusions of Europe’s (colonial) others. The “cosmopolitan hope that had accompanied the liberal promotion of modernity” (Walker 2007, 444) was thoroughly saturated with racist premises about cultural and civilizational difference. The journey from Fukuyama’s liberal assimilationism through Huntington’s clash of civilizations to Kagan’s easy imperialism that Walker notes with respect to the Bush administration’s policies (Walker 2004, 52), rather than being a radical break in epistemological orientation, is quite consistent with this history of prejudice that undergirds many Enlightenment-inspired narratives of modernity.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, thus, is a treaty that is quite firmly about weapons proliferation, not nuclear proliferation more generally. But also implicit in this institutional recognition of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons is an assumption about the deep desire for nuclear weapons among states. As chapter one discussed, Nina Tannenwald (2007) has argued that one beneficial result of the nuclear nonproliferation regime is that there is now in place a “nuclear taboo”—that is, a strong (but not completely inviolable) normative constraint against the use of nuclear weapons. In other words, the enormous investment of resources in arms control institutions and by antinuclear activists has made nuclear weapons so abhorrent that no state is likely to use them without facing what to most would appear unacceptable international approbation. Even those who don’t entirely subscribe to the stronger version of the taboo argument have suggested how an informal “tradition” of nuclear nonuse is now fairly well established (Paul 2009). Yet it appears to be the case that states continue to desire nuclear weapons, not just the NWS that are so reluctant to disarm, as chapter two discussed, and states that acquired weapons after the NPT came into effect but also all the potential proliferator states that need to be restrained through strengthening faltering treaties such as the NPT. Indeed, undergirding all the anxiety about the possible unraveling of the NPT and the worldwide proliferation that that may unleash is this premise of a deep state desire for the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Herein lies a puzzle—why would states desire weapons that require enormous investment of resources, are considered deeply abhorrent, and most importantly, cannot be used, or that even arguably make state security more precarious?…(H)ow (have) supposedly tabooed and unusable nuclear weapons…emerged as fetishized objects of state desire, especially in a postcolonial context(?)...,
(M)ost of the discussion of state motivations for nuclear weapons acquisition—national security, domestic bureaucratic or nationalist interests, normative status and prestige—fail to adequately theorize the allure of nuclear weapons, an allure that deduces from, but is not reducible to, their deadly and lethal potential…I (undertake) an analysis of how commodities acquire social value, drawing from Marxist political economy, critically examining two different but connected logics of exchange through which nuclear weapons have emerged as “fetish commodities.”….(I)t is this fetishization of nuclear weapons that helps maintain that clear ontological distinction between energy and weapons and impairs our ability to think of them as emergent from a process of production.
These mundane and widespread effects that unusable fetishized nuclear weapons occlude can be seen in a number of ways. First, our focus on the enormous brutality of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the only historical moment in the “use” of nuclear weapons makes it possible to divert attention away from the 2,051 other nuclear “test” explosions that might well be considered to be “used mini-bombs.” The point here is not to diminish the scale of destruction wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but to draw attention to the longer history of damage caused by nuclear weapons if we were not to isolate one instance of weapons use. Second, much like the debate on the category of “weapons of mass destruction,” the status of depleted uranium munitions, used, for instance, in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in the Balkans, and that cause lingering radioactive effects on civilians, raises important questions about the boundaries of what constitutes atomic or nuclear weapons. Third, the fetishism of nuclear “weapons” helps to keep alive what most nuclear security scholars recognize is the ontologically false distinction between a “peaceful nuclear explosion” and a “weapons explosion” and in that way contributes to keeping the question of nuclear energy distinct from the question of nuclear weapons. The question here is not simply of the dangers of a complete nuclear fuel cycle stationed in a country eventually yielding weapons, as mentioned in the previous chapter, but also of the material dangers of investment in what is considered “controllable” nuclear energy (radiation leaks, waste disposal), which are then thought to be different from the dangers of potentially “uncontrollable” nuclear weapons. It is in that sense that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), created to halt the spread of weapons and encourage the spread of energy, has enabled and even normalized “nuclear proliferation,” while attempting to restrain “weapons proliferation.” Finally, this kind of commodity fetishism impairs our ability to think of nuclear weapons as emergent from a process of production that requires vast investment of resources and subsists on the exploitation of workers in the mining of nuclear materials and in the nuclear industry more generally, and serves enormous corporate interests with various kinds of stakes in nuclear energy and weapons.…
If nuclear weapons are indeed “unusable,” then the massive resources invested in producing them—mining, processing, manufacturing, testing, storing, maintaining, and upgrading them—should, quite literally, be considered waste, and this chapter has drawn attention to the opportunity costs of investing in such useless and dangerous weapons. Poorer countries interested in joining the exclusive nuclear club find little improvement in the well-being of most of their populations through investment in nuclear weapons. India, Pakistan, and North Korea may be three of the select nine countries in the world to possess nuclear weapons, but the former two rank 136 and 146, respectively, on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) 2013 Human Development Index (HDI), and the latter’s socioeconomic plight is a lot worse. Iran is declining in its HDI ranking—currently at 76—even as it keeps alive a nuclear weapons program. One could suggest that the enormous amount of resources that could be productively “used” elsewhere to improve the well-being of large numbers of people is being spent on weapons that are, quite literally, use-less. In other words, one could conceptualize these sorts of expenditures as waste. Yet conceptualizing these weapons as essential in their very unusability has rendered them necessary for national security—in the nationalist imaginary, even if not in actuality. But any security and status enhancement that these weapons may provide hardly redounds to the well-being of the most vulnerable populations of any country in the nuclear club, populations who, needless to say, are already the ones most affected by the mundane costs of uranium production and nuclear testing and the least equipped to deal with any nuclear “accidents” that may occur. These costs are enhanced when weapons costs are coupled with the additional “necessary” costs of nuclear energy, now considered vital for national development. And then there is, of course, the littering of the world with radioactive waste—waste in the most literal sense—dumped in peripheral communities inhabited by marginal populations who will bear its most vivid tolls for generations to come.
 This would be five nuclear states (the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China)—also the permanent members of the Security Council—who are recognized by the NPT as “nuclear weapons states” with no binding obligations to disarm.
 The now widely circulated Wall Street Journal op-ed column by this “gang of four” first appeared in January 2007 (Shultz et al. 2007). See Taubman (2012) for a heroic narrative of the political evolution of this “gang of four” as well as for the contributions of theoretical physicist Sidney Drell, who has worked closely with this group. A video titled Nuclear Tipping Point that is largely based on conversations with this group was reportedly shown to President Obama in April 2010. Of the many emerging treatises elaborating a step-by-step approach to disarmament, see Cortright and Väyrynen (2009) for one inspired by the Schultz et al. piece. Another abolitionist project initiated by former government officials is the “Global Zero” movement, led by nuclear security expert Bruce Blair, that produced an also well-circulated Countdown to Zero video. See Taubman (2012) for an account of some of the tensions between these two campaigns.
 There is a fairly energetic debate among South Asian strategic thinkers about the extent to which deterrence leads to nuclear stability in the Indian-Pakistani conflict (see, e.g., Ganguly and Kapur 2009; 2010). See O’Neil (2007) for an argument that the best approach to Northeast Asian nuclearization would emphasize deterrence and confidence-building measures over non- or counterproliferation. For arguments on the effectiveness of nuclear deterrence in Asia more broadly, see Alagappa (2008).
 The terms horizontal, vertical, and now diagonal are used in the nuclear security literature to refer to the direction of proliferation. Horizontal proliferation refers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by currently non-nuclear weapons states, vertical proliferation refers to the enhancement of the nuclear capabilities of existing nuclear weapons states, and diagonal proliferation refers to the spread of nuclear weapons to nonstate actors.
 Of the three rogue states in the “axis of evil” identified by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address, Libya’s nuclear weapons program was successfully dismantled, North Korea became a declared nuclear weapons state, and the weapons status of Iran’s nuclear program continues to cause concern.
 Graham Allison has become one of the most vocal proponents of the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism, which he assesses to be at fifty percent or higher likelihood over the next decade (Allison 2004a; 2004b; 2006). See also Cirincione (2007) for the dangers of nuclear terrorism. Mueller (2010) makes, in my view, a very strong case for why accounts such as Allison’s exaggerate the intentions of, or capacities to, acquire nuclear weapons by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. It should be noted here that although most thinkers are concerned about the failures of deterrence in a world with terrorism, there are some who are arguing for a reformulated notion of “expanded deterrence” that might work in this world (Gallucci 2006).
 I have more to say on the nuclear state in the last two chapters of the book.
 Of all of Walker’s critics, Yost (2007) most understands the Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment as complex phenomena with multiple meanings and forms. Here he attributes the “Reign of Terror” to be as much an Enlightenment project as the US Constitution and the French Revolution (550) and the counter-Enlightenment as having both conservative and left-liberal forms, inspiring monarchism, nationalism, imperialism, and fascism (551). There is one fleeting moment when Walker suggests that the Bush administration’s counter-Enlightenment may itself be based on an alternative Enlightenment ideal with roots in American political culture (Walker 2007, 432).
 And one may argue by extension, terrorists, but the focus of the NPT is quite resolutely on proliferation to states. Efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons have inaugurated several new initiatives, most of which involve enhancing coordination among states to ensure maintaining state monopoly of the most extreme means of violence (see chapter one).
 Many recent commentators have worried aloud about the possible domino effect of Iranian nuclearization—starting with Middle Eastern states, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and expanding to Asia and Africa.
 Hymans (2006) suggests that the slow pace of proliferation is partly a result of state leaders’ uncertainty about the security that will actually result from acquiring the bomb. Others, as seen later, make a similar point about acquisition of nuclear weapons increasing state vulnerability.
 See Isao Hashimoto’s simple but poignant video on the stream of nuclear explosions since the 1945 Trinity Tests, Isao Hashimoto`s Time Lapse of the 2053 Nuclear Explosions since 1945.
 The HDI is a statistic designed to measure the socioeconomic well-being of a national population and is based on a composite of life expectancy, educational attainment, and income; it is used to rank countries based on what is considered a more holistic measure of economic development than what can be captured through figures that focus on economic growth. There are no statistics available for North Korea in the UNDP report.
 It is important to point out here, because this chapter started with the Waltz-Sagan debate, that Scott Sagan well recognizes that in the horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons, it is the poorer, more recent entrants to the nuclear club who have to develop their weapons programs under the opaque conditions imposed by the nuclear taboo, and thus whose untested weapons programs are much less likely to have the necessary safety features designed and put in place by more mature nuclear states. The “accident proneness” of these states is at least partly a result of the global conditions imposed by the nuclear nonproliferation regime (Sagan 1994, 98–100).
[Excerpted from Nuclear Desire: Power and the Postcolonial Nuclear Order, by Shampa Biswas, by permission of the author. © 2014 University of Minnesota Press For more information, or to purchase this book, click here.]