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The Prospects and Sources of New Delhi’s Nuclear Weapons Program 1 O n May 11 and 13, 1998, India set off five nuclear devices at its test site in Pokhran in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan-its first such tests in twenty-four years. The initial test had been carried out at the same site on May 18, 1974. Not unexpectedly, as in 1974 much of the world community, including the majority of the great powers, unequivocally condemned the Indian tests.’ The coalition national government, dominated by the jingoistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),knew that significant international pressures would be brought to bear upon India once it breached this important threshold. Yet the BJP chose to disregard the likely adverse consequences and departed from India’s post1974 ”nuclear option” policy, which had reserved for India the right to weaponize its nuclear capabilities but had not overtly declared its weapons capability.National governments of varying political persuasions had adhered to this strategy for more than two decades. A number of seeminglycompelling possibilitieshave been offered to explain India’s dramatic departure from its policy of nuclear restraint. None, however, constitutes a complete explanation. Yet each offers useful insights into the forces that led to the Indian nuclear tests. One explanation holds that the chauvinistic BJP-led government conducted the tests to demonstrate both its own virility to the Indian populace and India’s military prowess to the rest of the world. A second argument suggests that the BJP conducted the tests to cement its links with contentious parliamentary allies. A third argument con_ _ _ ~ ~ Sumit Ganguly is a Professor of Political Science at Hunter College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York During the spring 2999 term, he will be a Visiting Professor of Government and South Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin The author would like to thank Stephen P. Cohen, Ted Greenwood, Robert L. Hardgrave, Jr.,Traci Nagle, Andrew Polsky, and Jack Snyder for their comments. He is also grateful for the assistance of Rahul Mukherji in the preparation of this article. Research support was provided by the United States Institute of Peace. 1. For a compendium of officialreactions to the 1998Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, see ”India and Pakistan Nuclear Tests: Details and International Reaction,” Disarmament Diplomacy, No. 20 (May 1998),pp. 1-20. A small debate has arisen over the number and quality of both the Indian and Pakistani tests. See Robert Lee Hotz, ”Tests Were Exaggerated by India and Pakistan,” International Herald Tribune, September 17, 1998, p. 1; and Raj Chengappa, “Is India’s H-Bomb a Dud?” India Today International, October 12, 1998, pp. 22-28. International Security, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Spring 1999), pp. 148-177 0 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 148 India’s Pathway to Pokhran II I 149 tends that these tests were designed to bolster India’s prestige in the international system. A fourth argument focuses on the role of key Indian scientists in endowing nuclear weapons with mythical significance. My analysis draws upon components of the various proffered explanations and seeks to develop them in a historically contextualized fashion. I argue in this article that three factors impelled India toward its 1998nuclear tests: fifty years of critical political choices, influenced by ideology and the imperatives of statecraft; fitful scientific advances in India’s nuclear infrastructure; and an increased perception of threat from China and Pakistan since the end of the Cold War. The debates and decisions pertaining to India’s nuclear weapons program can be divided into five distinct phases, each of which brought the country closer to the May 1998tests. The first phase began with the creation of India’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1948; the Chinese nuclear test in 1964 marked the beginning of the second phase; the third comprises the buildup and execution of India’s first nuclear test, in 1974; the fourth began in the aftermath of that test; and the fifthbrought India from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991to the tests in 1998.At each of these stages and, more important, at...


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