India's Nuclear Policy

with special reference to the India - US Nuclear Deal

Essay, 2008

16 Pages, Grade: 80%= good




1. The Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy
1.1. Fundamentals of India’s Foreign Policy and the Nuclear Option
1.2. India, the NPT, CTBT, and the IAEA
1.3. India’s Nuclear Program

2. The India- United States Nuclear Deal
2.1. Content and Scope of the Agreement
2.2. Opposition to the Agreement in India



On April 8th 2008 The Hindu published an article titled “Potential consequences of a regional nuclear conflict” in which the author convincingly illustrates the dangers a nuclear- armed South Asia presents.[1] The fact that both India and Pakistan, but of course also China, possess nuclear weapons has been an alarming reality since 1998. The relative progress that has been achieved in India- Pakistan relations should not lead one to forget that two conflicts in 1999 and 2001 could easily have escalated into a nuclear confrontation.

India had embarked upon a civilian nuclear program right after her independence but the “weapon option” has always been present. India’s nuclear policy has been an evolutionary, sometimes painful process equally shaped by domestic and international factors. This paper attempts to analyse some of these factors and argues that the development of nuclear weapons was a logical, albeit not planned, consequence of them. It is interesting that even those in India fiercely opposed to nuclear weapons subconsciously seemed to have realised that India’s nuclear program could not be limited to civilian application forever.

A constant in India’s nuclear policy is the strong wish to become and remain as independent as possible. For this independent nuclear policy India had to pay a high price. Isolated from international nuclear cooperation, confronted with sharp criticism and even sanctions, India had to rely on herself. While India’s success has been a great source of national pride India’s isolation in nuclear issues also contributed to a lack of strategic planning regarding India’s place in both the region and the world, and the role the nuclear weapons should or should not play in this. The (possible) India- US nuclear deal has provoked an intense debate among Indian actors that creates the chance that India will finally come to terms with its nuclear potential as she prepares for assuming the status of a world power.

1. The Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy

On May 27th, 1998, the government of the then- prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee issued a statement to the 12th Lok Sabha titled the “Evolution of India’s Nuclear Policy”. This statement came about two weeks after India had successfully completed a total of 5 nuclear tests at the Pokhran range on May 11th and May 13th. The momentousness of these events is reflected most notably in clause 14 of the statement: “India is a nuclear weapon state. This is a reality that cannot be denied.” However, in the same clause it is also established that India shall refrain from using “these weapons to commit aggression or to mount threats against any country” and in clause 24 (the final one) it is stated that although “India stands at a defining moment of [her] history” the “rationale for the Government's decision is based on the same policy tenets that have guided the country for five decades”.[2]

Thus it is clear that Vajpayee’s government attempted to convince both the Indian and the international public that the nuclear tests would not alter the basics of India’s foreign policy while at the same time acknowledging that indeed a watershed event had occurred. The question now is whether this argumentation can be seen as reasonable or not. Basically, there are two problems: 1) Can the nuclear tests be seen as being concordant with India’s foreign and nuclear policies until then? Were they even a somewhat logical product of these policies? 2) Once the tests had been carried out, would it be possible or even expedient for any future Indian government to keep following traditional policy fundamentals?

Understandably, these problems have been addressed by different scholars in deviant ways, depending on their respective backgrounds. The Indian physicist T. Jayamaran argues that the nuclear tests “signalled the initiation of a sudden and dramatic policy turn on nuclear issues by India's Bharatiya Janata Party-led government” as “the new policy abandoned India's earlier position in favour of using atomic energy only for peaceful purposes and it opened the door for the nuclear weapons option”. Consequently, he criticises the government for having conducted the tests without an underlying vision of future policies. Instead, according to him, the government tried to portray the tests as mainly a heroic scientific achievement.[3]

The Vice- Chancellor of the University of Jammu, Prof. Amitabh Mattoo, claims in his key note address presented at the inauguration ceremony of the Think Tank on Defence and Foreign Policy of the University of Kerala’s V.K. Krishna Menon Study Centre for International Relations in Trivandrum on April 12th, 2008, that the nuclear tests of 1998 marked the “beginning of […] a new phase of realism in India’s foreign policy”.[4] The tests made India’s small strategic elite realise that a fundamental shift had occurred globally from moral, idealistic foreign policies towards realpolitik, a development which had started with the end of the Cold War in the beginning of the 1990s.[5] Thus, while Jayaraman focuses more on official government policies Mattoo concentrates on what was going on behind the scenes where, according to him, indeed a new strategic thinking had begun.

The new realism among India’s strategic elite has also been noted by Ashley J. Tellis, today a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who cites two articles from The Hindu and The Indian Express in which the authors hail the nuclear tests for ending both ambiguity and hypocrisy in India’s foreign and nuclear policies.[6] Tellis himself however emphasises the difference between nuclear testing and achieving a true nuclear capability. According to him, India remained at a crossroad after the tests; and in trying to determine whether nuclear capability, i.e. a sophisticated nuclear weapons program, should be pursued or not India would probably move “in a direction quite different from that which most previous nuclear weapon states have taken”. In Tellis` opinion India’s further nuclearization process would rather be slow, gradual and distinctive

“thanks to a number of factors—including India's traditional and highly publicized commitment to disarmament; its continuing economic and developmental constraints; its susceptibility to pressures emanating both from existing nuclear weapon states and from the global non-proliferation regime in general; its singular view of nuclear weapons as "pure deterrents" rather than as war-fighting instruments; its unique civil military system, which has few parallels in the Third World; and, finally, the fact that its adversaries' coercive capabilities, while significant, can be countered by a minimal, albeit perhaps not a token, deterrent”.[7]

As distinguished as these accounts are they nevertheless have in common that indeed they view the nuclear tests of 1998 as a watershed event with far- reaching consequences. Can we therefore dismiss Vajpayee’s statement to the Lok Sabha as pure politics? Although it seems conceivable that the then- government of India had no clear vision or no sound conception about the consequences of the nuclear tests and how to deal with them it nevertheless cannot be denied that those responsible realised that the world had changed for India. An example for a new approach is the India- US nuclear deal which will be discussed later. What remains to be examined at this point is whether the nuclear tests are a result of a continuous foreign and nuclear policy or mark an abrupt break.

1.1. Fundamentals of India’s Foreign Policy and the Nuclear Option

India’s foreign policy reflects the spirit of the Freedom Movement and has been greatly shaped by Nehru as is illustrated by the fact that he not only was India’s first prime minister but also managed India’s foreign affairs. The pillars of India’s foreign policy are peaceful coexistence, non- alignment and conflict resolution through negotiation, mediation and conciliation. The problem was that the emerging post-war bipolar world order had little if no respect for these ideals. The Cold War did not remain cold because the United States and the Soviet Union believed in peaceful coexistence but rather in nuclear deterrence. For nations non- aligned with either of the two world powers this meant that they could not enjoy the benefit of being under a “nuclear umbrella”. Despite these circumstances Nehru and his closest advisor, Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon, opposed a nuclear weapon program. Nehru was however in favour of developing a civilian nuclear program because he believed that nuclear technology would provide India with the “ability to leapfrog many technologies” and thus accelerate economic development.[8] India’s civilian nuclear program will be discussed under 1.3. A civilian nuclear program can also be utilized for military purposes and Nehru was well aware of that. Thus, while rejecting a nuclear weapon program he nevertheless did not foreclose the “option” strategy.

Soon after the dawn of the nuclear age it became obvious that a nuclear bomb was more than simply a, albeit devastating, weapon. A nuclear bomb was also a powerful instrument of politics and contributed to the prestige of a nation. It is interesting that opposition to Nehru’s position regarding a nuclear weapon program mainly revolved around the argument that nuclear weapons would enhance the greatness of India. Nehru, however, believed “that India would demonstrate its global leadership by rising above and attempting to end the global nuclear arms race”.[9] Nehru`s position was severely undermined in the course of India’s defeat in the 1962 war with China. When China exploded its first nuclear bomb in October 1964 Nehru had already passed away. As a result of these events a gradual shift occurred from “widespread hostility toward weaponization” during the Nehru age towards a situation in the beginning of the 1990s where “a majority of Indians came to believe […] that because of considerations of both idealism and self-interest, the weapons option had to be preserved”.[10] India’s third prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was in office at the time of China’s first nuclear test, “emphasised that the government's policy was fluid and subject to revision where India's national interest was at stake; but on January 21, 1965, he reiterated that India would not develop nuclear weapons under his leadership”.[11] Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter who became prime minister after another short interim period of Gulzarilal Nanda following Shastris dead, took the next step. Under her leadership India “reassessed […] national interest needs, a result of which was the linkage between India's nuclear policy and security needs”. Eventually this reassessment led to the conduct of India’s first nuclear test at the Pokhran range in 1974. Although the government classified the detonation as a “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion”, India refused attempts to authenticate the nature of its program.[12]

The final turn towards weaponization came in 1987 in the light of a landmark nuclear cooperation agreement between Pakistan and China signed in 1986 which led the then- prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to conduct “a full-scale review of India's nuclear policy and [order] the development of a weapons program”.[13]

1.2. India, the NPT, CTBT and the IAEA

There are two important international treaties related to the nuclear issue: 1. The Nuclear- Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and 2. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for military purposes. While India has so far not signed both the NPT and the CTBT she is a member state of the IAEA. Considering the shift that took place in India’s nuclear policy after Nehru’s dead (as discussed under 1.1) and eventually led to the nuclear tests of 1998 India’s refusal to sign the two treaties should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless it is important to examine the actual reasons given for this refusal as they shed a light on India’s overall position towards the nuclear issue.

The NPT came into force in 1970 and, as the name suggests, attempts to promote nuclear non- proliferation. The treaty rests on three pillars: 1) non- proliferation, 2) disarmament, and 3) peaceful use of nuclear energy. These pillars are in a vertical relationship to each other, i.e. the peaceful use of nuclear energy depends on the achievement of the first two pillars, although, at least regarding disarmament, that has been a contested issue among member states from the beginning.[14] In 1970, there were five states which were officially known to possess nuclear weapons: the USA, Great Britain, France, USSR, and China- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Israel had probably already possessed nuclear weapons at that time, too, but has until now both refused to admit this fact and to sign the treaty. The five “nuclear weapon states” agreed

“ not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; and not in any way to assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices”[15]

while the states possessing no nuclear weapons agreed not to

“receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.[16]

Furthermore, according to Article III of the treaty, each of the non- nuclear weapon states had to accept a safeguard system enforced by the IAEA. However, if in accordance with Articles I and II, each member state had the right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (Article IV,1) and international cooperation in this regard was to be promoted (Article IV,2). Thus, the non- nuclear member states could expect to receive substantial assistance in developing civilian nuclear capacities from the nuclear- weapon states. These provisions of the treaty have worked reasonably well over the years but the bone of contention is to be found in the articles related to disarmament. In the preamble of the treaty the signatories declare their “intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament” and Article VI requires member states to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.[17]


[1] Gopal Raj 2008

[2] Government of India 1998

[3] Jayaraman 1999, 44

[4] Mattoo 2008, 3

[5] Mattoo 2008, 4

[6] Tellis 2001, 4

[7] Tellis 2001, 5

[8] Cohen 2000, 15

[9] Cohen 2000, 18

[10] Cohen 2000, 20

[11] Shuja 2002

[12] Shuja 2002

[13] Mohanty 1999, 61

[14] United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs 2002

[15] United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs 2000. NPT, Article I

[16] United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs 2000. NPT, Article II

[17] United Nations Department of Disarmament Affairs 2000. NPT, preamble and Article VI

Excerpt out of 16 pages


India's Nuclear Policy
with special reference to the India - US Nuclear Deal
University of Kerala  (Department of Political Science)
India's Foreign Policy
80%= good
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
407 KB
This essay presents an outline of the evolution of India's Nuclear Policy with a special reference to the India- US Nuclear Deal. However, more recent developments such as the passing of the Deal, withdrawal of Left support and the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha are not included.
India, India- US Nuclear Deal
Quote paper
Sebastian Erckel (Author), 2008, India's Nuclear Policy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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