India's nuclear bomb : the impact on global proliferation /
George Perkovich.
Berkeley : University of California Press, c1999.
xiii, 597 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm.
0520217721 (alk. paper)
More Details
Berkeley : University of California Press, c1999.
0520217721 (alk. paper)
general note
"A Philip E. Lilienthal book."
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 473-582) and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
George Robert Perkovich III is Director of the Secure World Program of the W. Alton Jones Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. His work has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the Washington Post, and other publications.
Flap Copy
"The most likely site for a nuclear war is the Indian subcontinent, but we have little understanding of India's nuclear program. This will change with George Perkovich's fascinating and important study. It is informed, free from bias, and a great read as well."--Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University "George Perkovich has written a comprehensive and thoughtful book on one of the most troubling security problems of the day--the introduction of nuclear weapons to the already dangerous confrontation between India and Pakistan." --William J. Perry, Professor, Stanford University, Former US Secretary of Defense "George Perkovich's India's Nuclear Bomb is an authoritative account in Indian decision-making. I have found no other statement as comprehensive and persuasive. It provides unique insights into Indian politics and is an invaluable contribution to American thinking about nonproliferation." --Frank G. Wisner, U.S. Ambassador to India, 1994-1997 "With a great deal of empathy and understanding of the Indian psyche, George Perkovich leads us through contradictory perceptions of events to give us a sense of the evolution of nuclear decision making in India. What emerges is a highly nuanced and sensitive narration of the complex interaction between domestic and external factors that led to the nuclear tests of May, 1998 and the shattering of a number of Indian and international myths about nuclear weapons and their role in global politics." --K. Subrahmanyam, Consulting Editor The Times of India and The Economic Times, Chairman, Indian National Security Advisory Board "George Perkovich's book is one I wish I had written. India's Nuclear Bomb appears at a critical moment in global nuclear history, and it will have an important impact on the current policy debate in the United States, India, and Pakistan, as well as on the future histories of Indian politics and international security policy." --Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC
First Chapter

Chapter One

Developing the Technological Base

for the Nuclear Option


"Nuclear power" is a manifold term. It can describe the production of electricity as well as a state possessing nuclear weapons. The ambiguity of "nuclear power" makes the term especially appropriate in relation to the Indian quest for nuclear capability begun by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Homi Bhabha. Even before India gained independence in 1947, these men sought to win for their country all the prestige, status, and economic benefits associated with being a nuclear power, including the option of building "the bomb" if necessary. The capacity to master the atom represented modernity, potential prosperity, transcendence of the colonial past, individual and national prowess, and international leverage.

    Indian legend and commentary generally deny that the quest for nuclear power was ambiguous from the beginning. Typically it is said that Nehru intended for India to use nuclear technology and know-how exclusively for peaceful purposes. In the Indian scholar T. T. Poulose's words: "There was no guile in his nuclear policy as it originated from a mind imbued with high idealism, deep sense of history and a world view and always with a vision of a strong and modern India. Nehru's nuclear decisions were not the outcome of any national debate but deeply rooted in his scientific temper, abhorrence of nuclear weapons and nuclear allergy after the supreme tragedy at Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Most of Nehru's speeches reflect this genuinely peaceful intention. For example, he told the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, in 1957, "[W]e have declared quite clearly that we are not interested in and we will not make these bombs, even if we have the capacity to do so."

    Perhaps Nehru's image as a world leader of singular moral stature, the heir to Mahatma Gandhi, would have been tarnished if he were shown to have embraced the military usefulness of nuclear power. Thus, according to conventional wisdom, it was Bhabha, the brilliant and ambitious physicist, not Nehru, who gave the dual military and civilian purpose to the Indian nuclear program. And indeed, the record indicates that Bhabha drove India's nuclear policy. His plans in the early 1950s for acquiring plutonium before it could be put to any economic use, and his analysis of how a nation could produce nuclear weapons despite international safeguards, represented a conscious strategy for developing India's nuclear weapon option. By the late 1950s he would state privately his desire that India should build atomic bombs.

    Closer scrutiny, however, reveals that Nehru also accepted, albeit reticently and ambivalently, the potential military deterrent and international power embodied in nuclear weapon capability. As he said in a 1946 speech in Bombay:

As long as the world is constituted as it is, every country will have to devise and use the latest scientific devices for its protection. I have no doubt India will develop her scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes. But if India is threatened she will inevitably try to defend herself by all means at her disposal. I hope India in common with other countries will prevent the use of atomic bombs.

As this chapter shows, Nehru's words and actions, and most important, his support of Bhabha's actions, indicate an essential duality and ambiguity that characterized India's nuclear program through 1997, and that may continue to obtain after the nuclear tests of 1998. The moralist visionary Nehru abhorred the wanton destructiveness of nuclear weapons and saw them as anathema to the unique spirit of India. He visualized a world wherein power is exercised peacefully by moral suasion and political acumen, a world of idealism in many ways. This Nehru disparaged massive military arsenals and classical Realpolitik. At the same time, however, there was another Nehru, the ambitious, realist prime minister who recognized that nuclear weapon capability could enhance India's status and power in the Western-dominated world whose logic he understood well from his Cambridge education and his reading in science and European history. Indian leaders from Nehru on have preferred to avoid binary, black-or-white choices. As one longtime Indian defense official said regarding India's nuclear decision making: "[T]he Hindu mind does not accept the `either/or', `black or white', `yes or no' template of the West. We prefer `grays and browns' and `yes and no.'"

    Nehru struggled to synthesize the power emanating from Western technical culture and the humanistic wisdom of India. Whereas Gandhi loathed the modern, technological world and celebrated the virtues of rusticity, Nehru believed that the well-being of India and its poor masses depended on the adoption of modern technology. With an impoverished, burgeoning population, the challenge of producing rapid economic growth while preserving democracy was daunting. Nehru sought a "third way" to transform India's exceptionally complicated socioeconomic order, an approach that "takes the best from all existing systems--the Russian, the American and others--and seeks to create something suited to one's own history and philosophy." To effect this third way, Nehru would rely on science and technology, including the scientific spirit, as valuable tools. This led to state economic planning, heavy investment in large industrial enterprises including the nuclear establishment, and public sector control over large industry. Agriculture and small, decentralized development received shorter shrift as less modern priorities.

    Atomic science and technology assumed a special place in the overall plans for the technological development and modernization of India. The need to increase availability of electrical power was a paramount objective, and Nehru saw atomic energy as the most dramatic means of achieving it. Thus, in 1948, the Indian government took direct responsibility for the atomic energy sector, one of three industrial sectors over which public monopoly was established.

    Yet, in the late 1940s the memory of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also informed considerations of atomic energy. This was especially true in India, where Asian identity and Nehru's position on the global stage induced reflection on the meaning of nuclear weapons. Nuclear technology provides human beings with godlike power to exploit nature and enhance their well-being as well as to destroy. Nehru recognized and grappled with the duality of nuclear know-how and technology, and specifically the dilemmas presented by nuclear weapons.

On the one hand [Nehru noted], the nuclear bomb and the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima illustrates the horrendous revolution that has taken place in military technology and on the other, the application of nuclear energy to peaceful and constructive purposes has opened limitless possibilities for human development, prosperity and overabundance. This major challenge confronts our times with a choice between co-destruction and co-prosperity and makes it imperative for the world to outlaw war, particularly nuclear war.

But what if war, particularly nuclear war, could not be outlawed? That prospect certainly occurred to a man as learned and worldly as Nehru. In that case, as Nehru said in the 1946 speech in Bombay and intimated at other times (as discussed later in this chapter), India must possess the option to wield the greatest of military technology.

    This chapter describes the beginning of India's nuclear program and explains when and how the program acquired its potential military dimension. It explores the factors affecting the program's development--the roles of key individuals, the economic and technological dynamics driving it, the political and psychological importance of nuclear capability for India, and the influence of the external environment and foreign actors on it, particularly the United States. This chapter shows that Bhabha and Nehru took India to a unique position of restrained nuclear weapon capability with little regard for particular security concerns.


India's nuclear program was born from the visionary mind and dynamic leadership of Homi Bhabha. Scion of a wealthy Parsi family, Bhabha combined Western tastes and attitudes with a nationalistic determination to raise India's rank in the world. He favored Western dress, enjoyed deep friendships with leading British and continental European scientists, and partook of Viennese opera whenever he could. At the same time he negotiated defiantly and confidently with Western representatives to overcome the legacy of colonialism and elevate Indian science onto the world stage. As a former protégé in the Atomic Energy Commission recalled, "Bhabha displayed none of the diffidence that many Indian scientists felt in front of White men. This was inspiring to many of us."

    Bhabha earned his Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University in 1935, writing on cosmic ray physics. Before returning to India in 1939, Bhabha visited the institutes and laboratories of some of Europe's greatest physicists. There he met, among others, Niels Bohr, James Franck, and Enrico Fermi, who would play important roles in the U.S. Manhattan Project, roles that Bhabha apparently deduced as early as 1944. They represented the elite community of world-class scientists to which Bhabha was drawn by virtue of his talent, education, tastes, and upbringing. If race and colonial roots kept Bhabha and other Indian scientists from being fully embraced by this community, creating a world-class atomic energy establishment could overcome the hurt.

    Upon his return to India, Bhabha took a post as Reader in Theoretical Physics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. He was promoted to Professor of Cosmic Ray Research in 1941, when he was also elected Fellow of the Royal Society at the remarkably young age of 31. In 1944, a year before the first nuclear explosion at Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bhabha wrote a grant-request letter to the Sir Dorab Tata Trust, a philanthropy named after the patriarch of the great Indian industrial family, to whom Bhabha was related through his paternal aunt. Bhabha proposed that the Trust fund an institute of fundamental research that would enter India into the field of nuclear research. "When nuclear energy has been successfully applied for power production in, say, a couple of decades from now," Bhabha prophesied, "India will not have to look abroad for its experts but will find them ready at hand." To strengthen his appeal, Bhabha reflected that he had previously been motivated to accept a position at a "good university in Europe or America" but now was inclined to stay in India "provided proper appreciation and financial support are forthcoming." Subtly, Bhabha revealed his ambition to establish himself and India as sources of world-class science. His confident demand for autonomy and resources set the tone for the development of the Indian nuclear program under his direction. The Tata Trust funded Bhabha's proposal, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) opened in 1945 with Bhabha as director and a budget of Rs. 80,000. Bhabha would frequently refer to the institute as "the cradle of the Indian atomic energy programme."

    As the nuclear program grew from infancy at TIFR, it was singularly unfettered by bureaucratic interference from the central government and exceptionally endowed given the scarce financial resources available. According to M. G. K. Menon, a later director of the institute, its budget "grew at the rate of about 30% per annum over the first ten years, and about 15% per annum over the second decade." The institute, as well as the Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay, benefited from Bhabha's refined tastes and his determination that the facilities under his control should be adorned with art and elaborate gardens, notwithstanding India's poor fiscal health. The Atomic Energy Establishment became the home of offices, laboratories, and eventually nuclear reactors, plutonium reprocessing, and uranium enrichment plants.

    In 1946 the Atomic Energy Research Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Bhabha. It aimed to promote education in nuclear physics in Indian colleges and universities. Through the Tata Institute and the Atomic Energy Research Committee, Bhabha sought to modernize India by cultivating the talent and knowledge required to master the most advanced field of science and technology at the time, atomic energy. He, like Nehru, whom he first met in 1937, accepted the looming view that mastery over the energy potential in the atomic nucleus represented the apogee of science. The colonial British regime had purposely retarded Indian industrial development, but Nehru and Bhabha envisioned that Indian science would overcome this legacy and achieve the highest symbol of modernity.

    In this period, no field of science and technology appeared more promising and prestigious than atomic energy. Proponents of nuclear power believed that electricity from atomic reactors held the key to economic development. This belief stemmed from an axiom that economic development derives in direct proportion to energy consumption, and energy consumption depends on energy supply. Therefore, a major leap in energy supply should translate directly to a major leap in economic development. Many experts saw atomic energy as the best or only source for rapid increases in energy supply in countries not endowed with other sources of fuel.

    The euphoria over the economic potential of atomic energy in the late 1940s tended to blind observers to the great economic and technical uncertainties ahead. At this stage, "experts" could only guess at the costs of constructing, fueling, and operating nuclear plants. In India, however, debate over the true costs and great technical difficulties of harnessing atomic power generally did not occur. Bhabha and Nehru were determined to move ahead on the supposition that nuclear power would provide the nation with cost-effective electricity, development, prestige, and, if needed, nuclear weapon capability.

    In 1948 Nehru introduced before the Constituent Assembly an Atomic Energy Act to create an Atomic Energy Commission and the legal framework for its operation. The act was modeled on Britain's Atomic Energy Act but imposed even greater secrecy over research and development than did either the British or the American atomic energy legislation. The act called for research and development of atomic energy in complete secrecy and established state ownership of all relevant raw materials, particularly uranium and thorium. The AEC was created to train scientists and engineers for work in the relevant fields of physics, chemistry, and metallurgy and to manage the surveying and locating of atomic mineral deposits. (The Atomic Energy Act would be revised as India's nuclear program advanced and moved into reactor design, construction, and operation.)

    In passing the Atomic Energy Act, the Constituent Assembly engaged in a brief but illuminating debate overlooked by many subsequent histories and commentaries. The debate revealed the essential ambiguity of the incipient nuclear program and provides useful evidence for evaluating the common claim that India's nuclear program began with no intention to develop nuclear weapon capabilities.

    The debate centered on the stringent secrecy in which the AEC was to operate. A lone vocal critic argued that the secrecy provisions went beyond the legislation governing the U.S. and British Atomic Energy Commissions, despite the difference that the latter two nations possessed nuclear weapons and India's purpose was peaceful. Nehru, anticipating questions to come, introduced the bill with a defensively couched offensive. He noted that "[m]ost people probably think of atomic energy [as] something producing atomic bombs," which therefore casts a shroud of secrecy over the field. However, he argued that the case for secrecy in India derived from the need to protect Indian materials and prospective know-how from being exploited by the industrialized countries in a colonial manner, and also to assure secrecy-minded states like the United States and the United Kingdom that if they cooperated with India in this field their secrets would be protected.

    Nehru was followed by three parliamentarians who emphasized the importance of pursuing atomic energy only for peaceful purposes and who evinced concern about India's wherewithal to fund such research. Then Dr. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya of Madras rose for a long and interesting speech bemoaning the tendency of the advanced technological states to use science secretively "to promote the war-spirit and preparation for war." As the scholar Itty Abraham has noted, Dr. Sitaramayya, a chemist, feared that monopoly and secrecy would inevitably corrupt the enterprise in India, as elsewhere, and cause "the preparations of war, more than of peace."

    Thus the stage was set for the Atomic Energy Act's only forceful critic, S. V. Krishnamurthy Rao, who began by saying, "[T]he Central Government is taking very extraordinary powers and these powers will have very far-reaching effect on the nuclear research in India." He asked why India should impose greater secrecy than the United States and the United Kingdom, which were, unlike India, also building nuclear weapons. Rao continued by questioning whether India had "the wherewithal for all this secrecy and research" and positing that the Indian bill did not allow for the oversight and checking and balancing mechanisms contained even in the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

    In response, Prime Minister Nehru singled out Rao for having "criticised every feature of the Bill," despite Rao's claim to support the act. Nehru addressed concerns about cost and the availability of requisite scientific and technical equipment. Then he dismissed as "undesirable" Rao's call for an advisory committee to oversee the nuclear scientists. Nehru ignored Rao's challenge over the secrecy issue. So Rao interrupted, "May I know if secrecy is insisted upon even for research for peaceful purposes?"

NEHRU: Not theoretical research. Secrecy comes in when you think in terms of the production or use of atomic energy. That is the central effort to produce atomic energy.

RAO: In the Bill passed in the United Kingdom secrecy is restricted only for defence purposes.

NEHRU: I do not know how you are to distinguish between the two.

Here the debate stopped with Nehru acknowledging that rhetorical distinctions between military and peaceful atomic projects could not obscure the reality that development and application of atomic know-how and technology is essentially dual-purpose. The bill, with minor amendments, passed.

    Then Professor Shibban Lal Saksena asked for the floor and, wearing the mantle of a hardened Realist, evocatively criticized the naïveté of the foregoing debate:

Science is power, both for good and for evil.... If we have not got the knowledge and the ability to use this power, there is no virtue in our saying that we shall not use it for destructive purposes and that other people should not so use it.... Besides, as a realist I must say that in today's world when the clouds of war hang all around us we cannot but prepare ourselves for our defence. It is also a fact that the respect that a nation enjoys is directly proportional to its armed might. We might not engage in war and we might do our best to stop war but the effective way of stopping war is only when we have got the means or power to have our might felt all over the world. Today although we are the second biggest nation in population we have not got a seat on the Security Council and we have the humiliating spectacle of our delegate withdrawing from the contest for a seat on it. I think if India which has been a slave country for the last two hundred years is to come unto her own she must very soon come inline with the great powers of the world; and for that we must develop our military potential.... We all know that atomic energy is today the most important scientific discovery. Unless we spend upon it lavishly and unless we use all our resources, both in men and in materials, for its development, we shall not be making the best use of our talents and materials.... Until we have the capacity to use atomic energy for destructive warfare it will have no meaning for us to say that we shall not use atomic energy for destructive purposes .

    Now, Nehru stepped forward for his peroration. Given his prior insistence on the peaceful essence of the nuclear project, Nehru might have been expected to rebuff or decisively recast Saksena's invocation of military nuclear power. Instead he did not challenge Saksena's portrayal but merely acknowledged that the nuclear project in India, as in the United States and Great Britain, was a potential source of military as well as economic power:

There is just one aspect to which I should like again to draw the attention of the House. Somehow we cannot help associating atomic energy with war. That is the present context of our lives. Nevertheless, the important thing today is that atomic energy is a vast source of power that is coming to the world and it is something even more important than the coming in of wars and the like.... Consider the past few hundred years of history, the world developed a new source of power, that is steam--the steam engine and the like--and the industrial age came in. India with all her many virtues did not develop that source of power. It became a backward country in that sense; it became a slave country because of that.... Now we are facing the atomic age; we are on the verge of it. And this is obviously something infinitely more powerful than either steam or electricity.... The point I should like the House to consider is this, that if we are to remain abreast in the world as a nation which keeps ahead of things, we must develop this atomic energy quite apart from war--indeed I think we must develop it for the purpose of using it for peaceful purposes. It is in that hope that we should develop this. Of course, if we are compelled as a nation to use it for other purposes, possibly no pious sentiments of any of us will stop the nation from using it that way. But I do hope that our outlook in regard to this atomic energy is going to be a peaceful one for the development of human life and happiness and not one of war and hatred.

     The reactors, facilities, and experts that make up nuclear establishments are inherently dual-purpose. Therefore, it would be technically specious to insist that a nuclear program is inherently peaceful. Intentions are what determine usage. Here, at the level of intention, Nehru did not rule out military use. He recognized the military potential of the new project on which India was embarking under his and Bhabha's leadership. Contrary to most Indian and external historiography and conventional understanding, the founders of India's nuclear establishment recognized and welcomed from the beginning the options its military dimension gave to India, notwithstanding Nehru's genuine hope that India could retain a purely peaceful mission. They did this in 1948, before the Communist takeover of China, before any military threat from China was appreciated, and, indeed, before any major external military threat to India was posited.

    The Indian AEC was established on August 10, 1948, pursuant to the Atomic Energy Act. A Department of Scientific Research was responsible for both the Atomic Energy Research Committee and the AEC. Joining Bhabha on the three-member AEC were Dr. S. S. Bhatnagar and Dr. K. S. Krishnan; all three had been named to the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Defence, which had been created in July.

    The AEC fell formally under the direct personal oversight of the prime minister. In practical terms, however, Bhabha called the shots, conceptualizing and implementing the program. Indeed, India's evolving nuclear policies cannot be explained without recognizing the central role of this individual. Bhabha insisted that the AEC would operate with unusual freedom from governmental control. He would take large shares of precious government funds available for scientific research and development, and he would manage them autonomously, sometimes lavishly. His autonomy grew after 1954 when the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was created with Bhabha as its secretary. With a generally quiescent Parliament and a protective shield of secrecy, Bhabha's primary interaction with the Indian government came through his frequent private meetings with Nehru. The two men shared similar backgrounds and enjoyed a good rapport: both were born to wealth and influence, Cambridge educated, connoisseurs of culture, and world-class in knowledge, ability, and outlook. Bhabha, a lifelong bachelor, and Nehru, a widower, devoted their time and energies to achievement, with few distractions. In many ways, the Nehru-Bhabha relationship constituted the only potentially real mechanism to check and balance the nuclear program. Yet, rather than being watchful and balancing, the relationship appears to have been friendly and symbiotic.



From the beginning, there was friction between India's nuclear program and the larger international effort to control nuclear technology and materials. In 1948, the United Nations grappled with the U.S.-inspired attempt to establish international control over fissile materials and the facilities that could mine, process, and utilize them, both for peaceful and military purposes. The Baruch Plan had been proposed in 1946 and had not yet been put to rest. That proposal to create an international Atomic Development Authority to own and operate all materials, technologies, and facilities with potential nuclear weapon applications caused significant consternation for newly independent India. Holding great stock in an atomic future, India feared that the Baruch Plan amounted to a colonial strategy by the United States. Thus, the Indian delegate to the UN discussions of the plan, Nehru's sister, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, insisted that international ownership of fissile ores such as thorium would deprive the country of an important economic asset in the future. India took a stance that would characterize its nuclear diplomacy for decades: it supported the principle of ensuring that nuclear materials and capabilities would be used only for peaceful purposes, but it resisted any measures that would allow some states to retain nuclear weapons while denying others the full freedom to exploit their resources as they saw fit. India was and would remain fiercely jealous of its sovereignty, resistant to any inequalities and inequities, wary of any semblance of colonialism, and righteous in its demands for disarmament.

    By 1952, following the demise of the Baruch Plan and other efforts to impose international controls on national nuclear programs, India's plans for the application of nuclear energy began to take more programmatic form. India had signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France in 1951, and in 1952 Nehru unveiled a four-year plan to begin developing India's nuclear capability, starting with surveying for atomic materials and processing monazite to obtain thorium. Applications of atomic energy in medicine and biology were also announced. Bhabha began discreetly to seek technical information on reactor theory, design, and technology from the United States, and soon, from Canada and the United Kingdom, while negotiating with all three to sell or trade them raw materials such as monazite and beryl ore--the source of beryllium, which was vital for British and American nuclear weapons. The thrust of these activities was to move beyond theoretical research to applications of technology, leading soon to the construction and operation of research reactors.

    India's movement toward nuclear independence soon ran afoul of U.S. interests. In July 1953 an Indian government-owned company prepared to put two tons of thorium nitrate on a Polish ship in Bombay slated for eventual delivery to China. Thorium nitrate is a material useful as a potential nuclear fuel. American law--the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1951--required that the United States deny any form of military, economic, or financial assistance to a country trading such material to the Soviet Union or its satellites, which included China. Thus, U.S. Ambassador to India George V. Allen informed Nehru that transfer of the thorium nitrate would compel the United States to cut off all aid programs in India. Nehru responded vehemently that India would never vitiate its sovereignty and allow the United States to dictate what India could trade with whom. Nor would India accept political strings attached to aid. The dispute brewed through the summer as Nehru remained intransigent and U.S. officials confronted an unbending legal mandate. Finally, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles offered a compromise whereby India agreed to state that the thorium nitrate was going to China only for commercial purposes, and that India had contracted with China without knowledge of the U.S. legislation's applicability. India declared that although it did not accept the U.S. legislation as binding, there was no plan for further shipments of such commodities to destinations prohibited by the American law. The United States agreed to buy all of the thorium nitrate that India wished to export in the future at a mutually acceptable price.

    The thorium nitrate episode exacerbated already-strained Indo-American relations and foreshadowed similar disputes between India's sovereign interests in nuclear independence and American laws and policies designed to prevent nuclear proliferation.


Nineteen fifty-four saw an even more important precedent-setting interaction between the United States and the newly independent subcontinent. Since 1947, the United States had placed India and Pakistan on the lower rung of its strategic concerns. Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia were higher priorities. To the extent that Washington had a policy toward the subcontinent, its aim was to be evenhanded and not get drawn into the diplomatic imbroglio over Kashmir. Still, in the late 1940s, American policymakers tended to see India as more important to U.S. interests than Pakistan. However, they refrained from solidifying the relationship by extending economic aid sought by India. Nehru's moralistic, independent streak and apparent contempt for the United States alienated key American leaders who in any case did not see regional interests compelling enough to divert resources from other areas. Meanwhile, in the early 1950s, Pakistani leaders began courting the United States, hoping to win the military and economic assistance required to address Pakistan's weaknesses and shore it up against India's relative strength. Unlike Nehru, Pakistan's leaders did not hesitate to express respect for the United States and disdain for communism. They highlighted their nation's strategic location near the Persian Gulf to the south and near the Soviet Union and China to the north.

    The Pakistani seduction worked. The courtship began in earnest during Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's May 1953 trip to India and Pakistan. Determined to build a global network of relationships to contain communism, Dulles hoped to size up opportunities along the southern periphery of the Soviet Union and China. From Pakistan, Dulles cabled Washington that he had "encountered ... genuine feeling of friendship.... Pakistan is one country that has moral courage to do its part resisting communism." Dulles elaborated on this impression in a June 1 meeting of the U.S. National Security Council, where he expressed high regard for the "martial and religious qualities of the Pakistanis," and contrasted this impression with a view of Nehru as "an utterly impractical statesman." Desperate to leverage the favorable American attitude into military aid, Pakistan's army chief, General Mohammad Ayub Khan, came to Washington in the fall of 1953 to press for an arms supply arrangement. Ayub cleverly leaked his proposal and Washington's sympathetic reception of it to the New York Times in early November. This prompted an outcry in India, where denunciations of the United States' perfidy only reaffirmed much of Washington's disdain for India's leadership.

    Nehru reacted to these press warnings privately at first. He conveyed to Pakistan's Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Bogra that "if vast armies are built up in Pakistan with the aid of American money ... [a]ll of our problems will have to be seen in a new light." Nehru amplified his concerns in a letter to his chief ministers in which he argued that U.S. aid would change the balance of power in the region and exacerbate threats against India "whether the U.S. wants that or not." The effect, he wrote, would be to intensify India's nonalignment with and "resentment against the U.S." Of course, Nehru as prime minister could make his prediction of India's reaction self-fulfilling. Yet his analysis of how U.S. military aid to Pakistan might be used was prophetic, even if he misperceived Washington's intentions, which were anticommunist, not anti-Indian. The military aid issue, coming in tandem with the dispute over India's thorium nitrate shipment to China, made Nehru ill disposed to indulge Washington's geopolitical priorities.

    U.S. military aid to Pakistan was officially reported to Nehru in late February 1954 in a letter from President Dwight Eisenhower emphasizing that the United States would strive to prevent Pakistan's use of U.S. military assistance against India and offering military aid to India itself. Nehru calmly informed the American emissary, Ambassador George Allen, that the problem was not American motives but rather the effects of its action internationally and within India and Pakistan. Nehru's private calm belied what would soon be a public storm. The Indian press, public opinion, government leaders, and Nehru himself decried the American move as an export of militarism and the cold war to the subcontinent, threatening the peace and stability of the region. Nehru rejected Eisenhower's offer of military aid to India (a rejection he would rescind during the 1962 war with China). Among other things, Nehru sought to cut back on people-to-people contact between the United States and India, particularly the sending of Indian students to the United States. This gesture bespoke Indian weakness: the most India could "do" to the United States was withdraw from a program intended to benefit Indian students. However, the episode illuminated an important and lasting dynamic. India had neither the power nor the resources with which to hurt the United States, but it was willing to hurt itself in the process of defying Washington over principle. The act of "saying no" to the United States became a manifestation of Indian sovereignty and dignity.

    U.S. military assistance to Pakistan upset India for years. Responding to the issue in a Lok Sabha debate on the defense budget in March 1956, Nehru urged the body to take the long view of how India should build up its strength and not preoccupy itself with the role of outside powers. In a world with major nuclear powers, he concluded, "The equation of defence is your defence forces plus your industrial and technological background, plus, thirdly, the economy of the country, and fourthly, the spirit of the people." With this equation in mind, Nehru asserted that, "industrially considered," India was somewhat ahead of China." In the field of atomic energy, he noted, "we are in the first half a dozen countries of the world or somewhere near that." It was here, in industrial development, including atomic energy, that India should concentrate its attention in order to strengthen its national defense. In the meantime, Nehru declared, "The right approach to defence is to avoid having unfriendly relations with other countries." This speech, including the subtle reference to atomic energy, reflected Nehru's general belief that Indian greatness required first and foremost industrial development that would strengthen the nation's overall well-being, political stability, and potential.

    The military-aid-to-Pakistan episode set a lasting pattern that significantly inhibited the United States' ability to engage India on matters such as nuclear proliferation. The U.S. government clearly did not understand the psychology and politics of India and of Indo-Pak relations. Nor did Dulles, Vice President Nixon, and others understand Pakistan's intentions. Washington badly underestimated the possibility that Pakistani officials were playing on U.S. anticommunist policy to establish a security relationship aimed at rivaling India. When Indians saw how American military aid emboldened Pakistani leaders, they became highly mistrustful of and resistant to American diplomacy in the region.


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Appeared in Choice on 2000-04:
Perkovich has written the definitive account of nuclear decision-making in India. At the same time, he makes a major contribution to nonproliferation scholarship in general. In clear prose and with impressive documentation, Perkovich argues that India's nuclear program was driven largely by domestic political factors rather than outside security threats. This means that American nonproliferation policy that fails to take into consideration India's unique set of circumstances and complex democratic politics is unlikely to have much success. More importantly, Perkovich uses the Indian case to develop an effective critique of theories in international relations that emphasize generic, rational, and security-based factors in the decisions of nations to acquire or renounce nuclear weapons. Accessible to readers at all levels, this is a particularly important book for international relations scholars who study nonproliferation and policy makers who deal with this vexing issue. R. A. Strong; Washington & Lee University
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-10-15:
Perkovich (W. Alton Jones Foundation) painstakingly describes the evolution of India's nuclear arsenal from 1947 to 1998. The stockpile resulted not from military need but rather from the efforts of India's scientific community and an extremely small number of politicians. Opposition groups, including several prime ministers, lambasted the diversion of funds from education, health, sanitation, and welfare programs to building bombs. Perkovich interweaves the complex relationships among India, the United States, Pakistan, and China regarding nuclear bombs, pointing out that none remained steadfast to principles. The work concludes with sets of principles that are then applied to other nuclear programs. Essential for any library concerned with nuclear issues.ÄDonald Johnson, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, October 1999
Library Journal, October 1999
Choice, April 2000
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Publisher Fact Sheet
The definitive history of India's long flirtation with nuclear capability, culminating in the nuclear tests that surprised the world in May 1998.
Long Description
In May 1998, India shocked the world--and many of its own citizens--by detonating five nuclear weapons in the Rajasthan desert. Why did India bid for nuclear weapon status at a time when 149 nations had signed a ban on nuclear testing? What drove India's new Hindu nationalist government to depart from decades of nuclear restraint, a control that no other nation with similar capacities had displayed? How has U.S. nonproliferation policy affected India's decision making? India's Nuclear Bombis the definitive, comprehensive history of how the world's largest democracy, has grappled with the twin desires to have and to renounce the bomb. Each chapter contains significant historical revelations drawn from scores of interviews with India's key scientists, military leaders, diplomats and politicians, and from declassified U.S. government documents and interviews with U.S. officials. Perkovich teases out the cultural and ethical concerns and vestiges of colonialism that underlie India's seemingly paradoxical stance. India's nuclear history challenges leading theories of why nations pursue and hang onto nuclear weapons, raising important questions for international relations theory and security studies. So, too, the blasts in Rajasthan have shaken the foundations of the international nonproliferation system. With the end of the Cold War and an even more chaotic international scene, Perkovich's analysis of an alternative model is timely, sobering, and vital.
Bowker Data Service Summary
In May 1998, India shocked the world by detonating five nuclear weapons in the Rajasthan desert. This text offers a history of how the the nation of Ghandi, has grappled with the twin desires to have and to renounce the bomb.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Developing the Technological Base for the Nuclear Option 1948-1963p. 13
The First Compromise Shift toward a "Peaceful Nuclear Explosive" 1964p. 60
The Search for Help Abroad and the Emergence of Nonproliferation December 1964-August 1965p. 86
War and Leadership Transitions at Home August 1965-May 1966p. 106
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Secretly Renewed Work on a Nuclear Explosive 1966-1968p. 125
Political Tumult and Inattention to the Nuclear Program 1969-1971p. 146
India Explodes a "Peaceful" Nuclear Device 1971-1974p. 161
The Nuclear Program Stalls 1975-1980p. 190
More Robust Nuclear Policy Is Considered 1980-1984p. 226
Nuclear Capabilities Grow and Policy Ambivalence Remains November 1984-December 1987p. 261
The Nuclear Threat Grows Amid Political Uncertainty 1988-1990p. 293
American Nonproliferation Initiatives Flounder 1991-1994p. 318
India Verges on Nuclear Tests 1995-May 1996p. 353
India Rejects the Ctbt June 1996-December 1997p. 378
The Bombs That Roared 1998p. 404
Conclusion: Exploded Illusions of the Nuclear Agep. 444
India's Nuclear Infrastructurep. 469
Notesp. 473
Indexp. 583
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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