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Professor Kampani: The Quest for Nuclear Arms

Gaurav KampaniGaurav Kampani does not like gaps in research, and with his 2017 Faculty Development Summer Fellowship, he seeks to fill in some answers by investigating the second nuclear arms race and India’s civil-military relations. “A lot of research comes out of the irritation of wanting to do something better or seeing something that needs to be fixed,” Kampani said.

Kampani’s first project examines the similarities and differences between the two major nuclear arms races. The first nuclear age was the nuclear arms competition between the United States, the Soviet Union, France, Britain and China from 1945 until the end of the Cold War. Underway now is the next generation of nuclear powers: India, Pakistan, China and North Korea.

“My project is examining whether the second-generation of nuclear powers are simply replicating the first-generation or is there something potentially different,” he explained.

Originally, the arms race was tit for tat. One country would build up its offense, and in reaction, another country would follow suit. What is happening in the second nuclear age unfolding in Asia is different. The new nuclear powers are simply acquiring nuclear arsenals to fit the requirements of credible deterrence and not tit-for-tat arms racing.

Kampani’s preliminary hunch is that the nuclear arms logic in Asia, with one exception (Pakistan) is more prone to fit into modernization rather than competition. “The claims of nuclear arms racing are mischaracterizations,” he adds.

In light of North Korea’s recent missile tests, Kampani provides some insight into the misconceptions and dangers of a nuclear North Korea. “North Korea is far more rational than people think, but at the same time, the North Korean regime is a classic totalitarian state, which looks very stable upfront but could collapse like a house of cards if the regime were to collapse,” he explained.

Nuclear weapons allow countries to feel invulnerable, which is a dangerous state of mind. Kampani’s concern is that once a country like North Korea acquires the “ultimate weapon,” it’s leaders could reason, “If you invade us, we will simply lob one at South Korea and Japan,” he said. “You would be holding other countries hostage.”

Kampani’s second project focuses on why India has had difficulties developing efficient military power. With China as the de facto number two great power in the world, the United States is looking to India as the next great balancer of power in Asia. “For all the accoutrements and raw material of great power, the Indians have never been able to generate surplus military power to basically take on the Chinese,” he said. “The question is ‘What is the problem?’”

By exploring India’s nuclear weapons development, its civil wars and it procurement of large-scale arms, Kampani is hoping to demonstrate that the Indian military has far greater sway in policy outcomes than most people imagine. He surmises the real problem is in India’s inability to articulate its power. “The causes of India’s weak military performance lie in an institutional setting that discourages the growth of episteme and epistemic communities capable of steering the actions of the Indian state in accordance with a well-developed grand strategy,” he said.