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India’s Strategic Nuclear Gamble Worked


  • On this day 25 years ago, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister at the time, declared that India has conducted three nuclear tests at Pokhran.
  • On May 13, he declared that “India is now a nuclear weapon state” following the completion of two further tests.


GS Paper-3: Achievements of Indians in Science & Technology; Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology; Nuclear Technology

Mains Question

Why were the nuclear tests so significant at the time for India? What modifications has the nuclear testing made to India? (250 Words)

Key Highlights:

  • On May 18, 1974, India successfully tested a nuclear bomb for the first time under the codename “Operation Smiling Buddha” (Pokhran-I).
  • In May 1998, India tested five nuclear bombs at the Pokhran Test Range operated by the Indian Army. These tests were known as Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II).
  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is an international agreement that forbids the testing of nuclear weapons and all other nuclear explosions for both military and non-military reasons in any setting.
    • Although the United Nations General Assembly adopted it on September 10, 1996, India has not ratified it.
  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is an international agreement whose goals include promoting cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, and advancing the cause of general and complete disarmament.
    • The treaty came into effect in 1970 after being made available for signature in 1968. India refused to ratify the NPT.

Why were the examinations so crucial at the time for India?

  • The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) served as the cornerstone of the post-second world war system for global nuclear regulation, which included the P-5 and other nations.
  • India was not very pleased with this biassed world, while being fully involved in the peaceful applications of atomic energy.
  • The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations in the 1990s created a challenging position.
    • We would have permanently eliminated our nuclear option if we had ratified the CTBT.
    • If we declined to sign, we would have to state our objections in writing.
    • After May of 1998, a deadline had been established for signing the CTBT.
  • Pakistan aggressively began acquiring nuclear weapons after 1974.
    • It was well known that China was providing Pakistan with materials and technology.
    • The Pakistani Army’s nuclear arsenal was fully known to the Indian military.
  • Thus, India was put in a position where it had to contend with two enemies who were nuclear capable.
  • Other geopolitical factors also existed, but the crucial issue is that India had to decide to conduct tests since the situation had reached that point.

What was the response from around the world to the tests, and how did it go?

  • The response was, for the most part, as expected by India.
  • However, several of these nations were also openly criticising us while sending us congrats through unofficial methods.
  • After the tests on May 11 and 13, the US-led economic sanctions did not have the terrible effects they previously may have since the Indian economy had developed sufficiently to withstand them following liberalisation.
  • India was expanding and viewed as a promising nuclear market.
    • The Russians were eager to provide India with goods, but they insisted that the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regulations needed to be resolved first.
  • Following protracted discussions, India and the United States reached agreements on civil nuclear cooperation, as well as deals with France, Russia, and other nations.

What modifications has the nuclear testing made to India?

  • In terms of being a full member of the NSG and having de facto but not de jure access to weapons, India is still not quite in the mainstream.
  • So, while not everything is complete, India has mostly assimilated into the global nuclear mainstream.
  • India’s emergence as a nuclear power also has implications for its antagonistic neighbours.
    • By maintaining a credible deterrent with regard to China, it has helped to balance the military disparity.
    • Pakistan was defeated by India at Kargil shortly after the n-tests; this was the first time the US did not support Pakistan in a fight with India.
  • The impact on access to global technologies has been the most significant.
    • Before this, even importing a high-end computer from another country was frowned upon.
  • The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) took place, and there has been a growing level of interaction in the high-tech fields of atomic energy, space exploration, and defence even with the United States.
  • In terms of technology, India is nowadays well incorporated with the rest of the world.
  • And the nation is reaping many benefits from that.
  • For instance, they would not have accepted India as a partner in ITER if they had not known that it was a major participant in nuclear technology.
    • National pride and its indirect benefits are another asset, as is India’s participation in a huge number of current international mega-science initiatives, such as LIGO and the Thirty Metre Telescope.
    • Although it is challenging to pinpoint specific advantages, it is a crucial element.
    • India’s standing in the world has increased. The way people view India has changed. And it benefits the economy and business.
    • India’s technology integration has increased the potential of the young people by several times.

Way Ahead:

  • Pokhran II was criticised at the time for departing from India’s proclaimed commitment to peace by many.
  • Complete nuclear disarmament should be a global goal, but given the realities of the post-atomic age, that is unlikely any time soon. In the meantime, India is a responsible nuclear power and May 11, 1998, is a major milestone in its journey.
  • It is said that India gained political freedom in 1947, economic freedom in the early 1990s, and technological freedom after 1998.

February 2024