Interpreting the Meanings of India's Nuclear Tests
in 1974 and 1998
THE POLICY OF NUCLEAR NONPROLIFERATION seeks to prevent the spread of weapons-related nuclear technologies to countries not possessing them in 1967. For quite some time, it appeared that the policy was relatively successful. Although John F. Kennedy famously predicted in his third debate with Richard Nixon that, by 1964, “10, 15, or 20 nations [would] have a nuclear capacity,” for nearly three decades from the entry into force of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970, only one new country—India—made a public claim to being a nuclear power, when it set off a “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974. The hostile international reaction that followed that event, along with the imposition of a variety of sanctions, appeared to have worked. No new tests followed, and India's nascent nuclear weapons program, if there was one, seemed to be on hold. By the 1990s, much-touted successes like the removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine following the demise of the Soviet Union; the renunciation of nuclear weapons programs by South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina; and the unexpected indefinite extension of the NPT led to the feeling that the policy had evolved into an international norm against the possession of nuclear weapons.1 This optimism was reinforced by the recognition that these developments were taking place in spite of the fact that countries identified as nuclear weapon states (NWS) had done little to meet their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the treaty.
Then came May 1998. Eleven nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in the span of three weeks forced a major reconsideration of this optimism. A year later these new nuclear powers fought a war in Kargil that, although relatively limited in scope, included multiple threats of use of nuclear weapons by both