Nuclear Programs and Policies

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NUCLEAR PROGRAMS AND POLICIES India took the world by surprise when it tested five nuclear explosive devices on 11 and 13 May 1998. Its capability to produce nuclear weapons had been well known within governmental circles even before 1974, when it conducted its first nuclear explosive test. At that time, however, the Indian government labeled the event a "peaceful nuclear experiment" (PNE) and refrained from producing nuclear weapons. After decades of hesitation and delay by successive governments in New Delhi, India's sudden willingness to defy the international proponents of the nuclear nonproliferation regime struck both the Indian public and foreign observers as an uncharacteristically brazen act of resolve. In subsequent years, however, India again appears to have slipped back into a relaxed nuclear policy. It has been slow to turn its nuclear weapons capability into an operational nuclear deterrent, although it has issued a nuclear doctrine and announced the basic outlines of a strategic command and control structure.

India's interest in mastering the technology to build nuclear weapons dates back six decades. Over this period, its nuclear programs and policies can be divided into four distinct phases. The first phase began when India initiated a modest nuclear research effort in June 1944, more than one year before the U.S. nuclear attack on Japan and three years prior to winning its independence from Great Britain. In fact, India was one of the first nations to realize the economic and military importance of nuclear energy. Although India's initial nuclear program had no military orientation, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his chief nuclear adviser, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, built into the program from the very outset the technical, political, and legal features that would enable India to begin serious work on nuclear explosives in 1964, to conduct a nuclear test ten years later, and to become an acknowledged nuclear weapons power at the turn of the twenty-first century.

The second phase of India's nuclear program began in 1954, when Bhabha seized upon new opportunities for nuclear imports enabled by the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. Before this period ended, with the deaths of Nehru in May 1964 and Bhabha nineteen months later, India had nearly the entire infrastructure needed to produce nuclear weapons. However, in the next phase of the program, which began in 1966, Nehru's successors refused to allow the nuclear establishment to build the bomb. Nehru's daughter, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, authorized the 1974 PNE, but this period of hesitation continued until 1998, when India conducted its next round of nuclear tests, this time boldly declaring itself a nuclear-weapon state. The fourth phase of India's nuclear program and policy began in May 1998 and is characterized by a surprisingly lenient effort to field an operational nuclear deterrent—an endeavor that to this day is far from complete.

Phase 1: Initiating India's Nuclear Program

India's path to nuclear weapons acquisition was neither direct nor quick. The Indian government initiated its nuclear research and development program in the mid-1940s not as a response to an immediate military threat to its security, but rather because of the power of certain ideas about the scientific, political, and possibly long-term military utility of nuclear energy. Many of these ideas originated in the West, but Jawaharlal Nehru embraced them and fashioned them into official policy.

Nehru's vision

Nehru thought and spoke extensively about the military and economic utility of nuclear energy. When a reporter asked in August 1945 whether soon-tobe-independent India would seek nuclear arms, Nehru said that India would use atomic energy for peaceful ends, but if threatened militarily, the government "will inevitably try to defend itself by all means at its disposal" (Gopal, vol. 14, pp. 192–193). Despite India's poor scientific and industrial infrastructure, Nehru often asserted that India must obtain the latest military technology.

Nehru specified the role that nuclear energy should play in Indian defense in a key report of 3 February 1947 on "Defense Policy and National Development." First Nehru explained why science and technology must underpin India's defense industry: "Modern defence as well as modern industry require scientific research, both on a broad basis and in highly specialized ways. Even more than before, war is controlled by the latest scientific inventions and devices. If India has not got highly qualified scientists and up-to-date scientific institutions in large numbers, it must remain a weak country incapable of playing a primary part in a war." Calling India an emerging "major power in the military sense," Nehru declared: "The probable use of atomic energy in warfare is likely to revolutionise all our concepts of war and defence. For the moment we may leave that out of consideration except that it makes it absolutely necessary for us to develop the methods of using atomic energy for both civil and military purposes" (Gopal, vol. 2, p. 364).

The defense policy report concluded with an important directive: "An Atomic Energy Commission should be appointed for research work in the proper utilization of atomic energy for civil and other uses." Under Nehru's leadership, independent India embarked on a quest to become proficient in military as well as scientific and industrial uses of nuclear energy. Hardly warranted by India's relatively peaceful security environment, India's early nuclear policy was shaped by Nehru's worldview and his faith in the ability of science and technology to transform India's long-term security and economic welfare.

Bhabha's plan

Nehru's dream for India to become a nuclear power would have gone unrealized had it not been for the achievements of a handful of Indian scientists, most notably Homi Bhabha. Nehru popularized the belief that nuclear energy would enhance India's security and influence, but Bhabha was responsible for establishing the technical and economic feasibility of starting a nuclear research program, building and operating nuclear reactors, and later, developing nuclear weapons. Bhabha's stature as a physicist and his vision for using nuclear energy to pull India out of poverty and backwardness enabled him to establish the credibility of India's nuclear program at home and abroad, which in turn helped Bhabha obtain a very large share of the Indian government's scarce resources and considerable foreign nuclear technology, training, and materials.

Bhabha initiated India's nuclear program in March 1944, when he appealed to the Indian philanthropist Sir Sorab Saklatvala for financial support to develop nuclear energy for power production—several years before a nuclear reactor produced electricity anywhere in the world. Undeterred by the skepticism voiced by his Indian colleagues about obtaining usable energy from the atom, Bhabha was convinced of the possibility of producing nuclear energy on an industrial scale by the proliferation of promising scientific literature on the subject before wartime secrecy terminated all public mention of nuclear energy.

Saklatvala and the government of India agreed to support Bhabha's plan, and in June 1945 Bhabha created the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Initially consisting of a laboratory for work in cosmic rays and theoretical physics, the scientific areas in which Bhabha was most interested, TIFR expanded soon after independence into a broad-based center for training and research on all aspects of nuclear physics.

The Atomic Energy Act

After its independence, India took decisive steps to improve the internal organization of India's nuclear program, the most important of which was the enactment of the Atomic Energy Act, which provided sweeping authority over all nuclear matters to Nehru and Bhabha. Drafted on 15 August 1948 along the lines of the 1946 atomic energy acts of the United States and the United Kingdom, the legislation gave the Indian government exclusive authority to survey and exploit nuclear-related materials and to conduct research on the scientific and technical problems associated with the development of atomic energy. The act also established the Indian Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) to manage all nuclear activities for the government.

Nehru always maintained close control over India's nuclear program. He set up the IAEC as his chief policy-making body for nuclear matters, and mandated it to: survey the country for atomic minerals; collect and develop such minerals on an industrial scale; set up a nuclear research reactor and, more generally, conduct research on the scientific and technical problems associated with the peaceful exploitation of atomic energy; recruit and train the scientific and technical personnel required for this undertaking; and direct fundamental research in nuclear sciences in its own laboratories and in India's other research institutions and universities. He also gave the commission sweeping authority to take such steps as may be necessary to protect the interests of the country in connection with atomic energy. Predictably, Nehru appointed Bhabha as the first chair of the IAEC, a post he held until his death in January 1966.

Right from the start, there was a small but significant domestic opposition to the idea of creating an independent atomic energy agency in India. Political activist Krishnamurthy Rao and India's nuclear physicist-turned-politician, Meghnad Saha, contended that the plan would remove fundamental research from India's universities. Saha opposed the IAEC, refused to be associated in any way with the nuclear establishment, and by 1954 became the country's leading voice of dissent on the general structure and orientation of India's nuclear program.

Saha especially detested the strict secrecy with which Indian atomic activities were shrouded, and he also opposed plans for close collaboration between the Indian government, private industry, and foreign firms. Nehru understood Saha's objections, but insisted that nuclear research had unique requirements. When he introduced the atomic energy bill, Nehru stated, "atomic energy research, if it is to be effective and successful, must be on a big scale" (Gopal, vol. 4, p. 422). Nehru added that the government's unusual secrecy was needed to protect the findings of India's scientific research and to attract the cooperation of other countries which themselves insisted on conducting nuclear affairs under strict secrecy.

What Nehru did not reveal may have been his main motivation for creating a highly centralized and secret nuclear establishment—his abiding desire to develop a military nuclear option. After India achieved its independence, Nehru rarely talked about developing nuclear weapons, in contrast to his pre-independence musings on the necessity of military nuclear research for India. On more than one occasion, however, the prime minister implied that the development of nuclear energy for scientific and industrial purposes would provide India with a significant capability for pursuing military applications. On 29 February 1948, Nehru urged Defence Minister Baldev Singh to appoint a scientific adviser for the Defence Ministry to consider the defense aspects of nuclear energy:

Dr. Homi Bhabha . . . has given me a long report about atomic energy research. I am very much interested in this and I am sure that we should seriously start taking steps in this direction. I think this is important from many points of view. It will not, of course, bring immediate results. But the future belongs to those who produce atomic energy.. Of course, Defence is intimately concerned with this. Even the political consequences are worthwhile. (Gopal, 2nd series, vol. 5, p. 420)

Nehru then told the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India's Parliament) that Indian scientists must create a nuclear program to serve military as well as industrial ends:

The point I should like the House to consider is 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. (ibid., p. 427)

Nehru always declared that India would use nuclear technology for peaceful ends. On several occasions, however, he revealed his interest in exploiting the military potential of nuclear energy—an option that he and Bhabha had created in the initial design of India's nuclear program. Apart from the establishment of government control over all nuclear materials, facilities, and scientific activities, extreme secrecy was the most important feature built into the program for potential military uses. When Krishnamurthy Rao asked why secrecy was required for the entire program when the British insisted upon secrecy "only for defense purposes," Nehru replied: "I do not know how you are to distinguish between the two" (ibid., p. 426). Nehru could not have been more honest. He ensured that the nuclear weapons option was an integral part of the nuclear program from its beginning until his death in 1964. And even after Nehru's death, his legacy continued. Every subsequent prime minister secretly protected this option until Atal Bihari Vajpayee exercised it in May 1998.

Phase 2: Developing the Nuclear Infrastructure

While Saha and other Indian politicians, scientists, and bureaucrats were wondering whether India's costly nuclear practices would ever lead to the operation of a nuclear reactor, Nehru and Bhabha took decisive steps to move the program back on course. Recognizing that the pace and scope of further growth was restricted by the nuclear program's outdated administrative structure, Nehru decided in August 1954 to fund a new nuclear laboratory at Trombay, near Bombay, and to create a Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to give the Atomic Energy Commission more resources and improved access to Nehru and the growing executive branch of the government.

Bhabha lobbied Nehru to locate the DAE headquarters in Bombay—close to the new atomic energy establishment at Trombay, but over 700 miles (1,126 km) away from the capital, where all other governmental departments were located. (After Bhabha's death, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi renamed this facility the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.) The DAE was endowed with executive authority to carry out policies formulated by the Atomic Energy Commission. Nehru made himself the first minister of the department and appointed Bhabha as his secretary. With Bhabha serving simultaneously as DAE secretary, IAEC chairman, and TIFR director, and answerable in each of these positions only to the prime minister, he gained nearly absolute authority over India's nuclear program.

At this point, Bhabha's concept for India's nuclear future was fairly vague. He wanted to set up an electricity-generating reactor, but in 1954, no power reactor had gone into operation anywhere in the world (the first small-scale power reactor, Britain's 37-megawatt Calder Hall plant, did not produce electricity until 1956). So Bhabha decided to construct a small laboratory reactor as a research facility and then work on acquiring a larger reactor when the opportunity arose. Bhabha traveled to England to meet with the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Sir John Cockroft, then director of the United Kingdom Atomic Research Establishment. Perhaps because Bhabha and Cockroft had worked together at Cambridge, Cockroft offered enriched-uranium fuel elements and the technical support that India needed to build a research reactor.

This still left the matter of obtaining a power reactor. Nuclear reactor technology was not widely understood at the time, but Bhabha knew that three varieties of power reactors were under development in the West: light-water (ordinary water) moderated reactors, heavy-water (deuterium oxide) moderated reactors, and graphite moderated reactors. American scientists were working on light-water reactors, but these facilities were fueled by enriched uranium, which India would have to import. In contrast, heavy-water reactors were fueled by natural uranium, which India already possessed. Apart from mining and milling the uranium and fabricating it into fuel rods, Bhabha's key challenge would be to produce heavy water to moderate the facility, but this appeared to be a manageable task (in fact it turned out to be very challenging). India soon started construction on a small facility in the north Indian state of Punjab to produce heavy water.

Foreign assistance

India's next task was to develop a complete nuclear fuel cycle. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Bhabha took steps to produce, or import if necessary, all the facilities needed both to supply fuel for nuclear reactors and to make use of the reactor products for commercial and scientific purposes. His plan called for the acquisition of unsafeguarded plutonium-producing reactors (reactors for which there are no foreign inspection arrangements or other controls to ensure that the reactor products are not diverted to weapons uses) and then the construction of a reprocessing facility to separate plutonium from the other elements in the spent reactor fuel (uranium and radioactive wastes). He claimed that the plutonium produced at the "back end" of the fuel cycle would be returned someday to the "front end" as fuel for a sophisticated energy-producing fast-breeder reactor. What Bhabha did not advertise was his intention to create an abundant stockpile of plutonium for the possible production of nuclear explosives.

India was not the only country to assemble a complete nuclear fuel cycle during the relatively permissive Atoms for Peace era, but its ability to avoid the strict safeguards that the United States and other nuclear exporters generally required was unique. This was a remarkable achievement considering the problematic relationship India had with the United States from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, when India opposed Western interests on nearly every vital world issue: nuclear disarmament, the Korean War, the Suez crisis, U.S. regional security alliances, Vietnam, and China. U.S. officials accepted New Delhi as an imperfect partner because they feared that if India or Pakistan came under communist influence, chain reaction effects, going as far as Western Europe, would result. With India positioned as a mainstay in their cold war struggle against communism, therefore, Washington and its allies took pains to enhance India's security, internal stability, and economic development. Especially during the Eisenhower administration, the peaceful uses of atomic energy played an important role in the American strategy to make India strong and to keep communism out of South Asia. What U.S. policy and intelligence experts failed to understand, however, was that Nehru and Bhabha secretly planned to use imported nuclear technology to produce nuclear weapons.

India's first plutonium production reactor

The plutonium India used to detonate its 1974 "peaceful nuclear experiment" came from the spent fuel of Cirus, a 40-megawatt research reactor supplied by Canada in the late 1950s. Canadian and U.S. officials knew that if Indian scientists reprocessed the spent fuel from this reactor, they could separate about 22 pounds (10 kg) of bomb-grade plutonium annually. However, Ottawa curiously did not insist on intrusive inspections or other control mechanisms to prevent the reactor from being employed for military ends. Because of India's stubborn refusal to accept safeguards, the bilateral reactor agreement simply contained a clause committing India to employ Cirus and its by-products for "peaceful purposes only." With uncharacteristic disregard for the proliferation potential of its exports, Canada provided India with its only unsafeguarded source of fissile material until the locally built Dhruva reactor went into operation in 1985.

U.S. assistance and safeguards

After the Canadian Cirus deal, Washington agreed to lend India the money it required to construct two American power reactors at Tarapur, but only with strict safeguards as a condition of the deal. U.S. officials had become worried that India might be toying with the idea of producing nuclear explosives. In April 1961, India began construction on a plant at Trombay, named Phoenix, to extract plutonium from the spent fuel produced in the Cirus reactor. Nehru had authorized this secret project in July 1958. The unsafeguarded facility, which was based on the Purex (plutonium-uranium extraction) reprocessing technology developed and declassified by the United States, could provide India with a stockpile of bomb-grade plutonium. U.S. officials still believed that Nehru would not sacrifice his reputation as a crusader against nuclear weapons, and they accepted Bhabha's claim to use plutonium to fuel breeder reactors, though a growing body of evidence suggested that India was trying to keep its options open.

Then, in January 1961, Prime Minister Nehru told the Indian National Development Council: "We are approaching a stage when it is possible for us make atomic weapons" (Beaton and Maddox, p. 144). This statement came shortly after Cirus went into operation. The following month, Bhabha declared that India could build a nuclear bomb in two years or so if it wanted to.

U.S. officials became even more concerned when, on 31 August 1961, an Indian government spokesman declared: "We are against all tests and explosions of nuclear material except for peaceful purposes under controlled conditions." The implication was that Indian officials were now considering the use of peaceful nuclear explosives, which were becoming the fascination of scientists all over the world. Despite mounting Western concerns, Bhabha was able to negotiate amazing deals for the Cirus research reactor, the heavy water needed to moderate it, and the uranium required to fuel it, all at bargain-basement rates and without the provision of strict safeguards to prevent diversion to military uses. As a result, India was able to assemble in a period of ten years a complete nuclear fuel cycle, which produced a substantial supply of plutonium to fuel advanced power-production reactors and possibly to build nuclear bombs.

U.S. security assurances

The victory of Chinese forces over India in the 1962 Himalayan border war and Beijing's race for its own nuclear bomb created a serious security predicament for India. Although Nehru rejected a U.S. military plan for a semipermanent U.S. air and naval presence on Indian territory, he did believe that U.S. military threats helped deter China from both widening the 1962 war and launching subsequent incursions into India. The fact that these threats included a nuclear component strengthened Nehru's interest in a covert nuclear weapons capability. After 1962 it became difficult for Nehru, Bhabha, and a widening group of other senior politicians and bureaucrats to think about India's security without a nuclear weapons capability.

India's liveliest nuclear debate was sparked by China's nuclear explosive test in October 1964. Even before the detonation, Homi Bhabha had established the technical and economic feasibility of building nuclear bombs in India, and then he lobbied to persuade key political elites to approve the development of a limited nuclear deterrent capability. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, the humble politician who succeeded Nehru, initially rejected the bomb option, preferring a diplomatic solution to counter China's nuclear threat. But Bhabha lobbied him to reconsider the nuclear option. Finally giving in to the wellspring of political opinion favoring the bomb, in early 1965 Shastri authorized Bhabha to start work on the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion Project, a top-secret program to design and develop nuclear explosives. The project slowed after Shastri died of a heart attack in January 1966. When Bhabha perished two weeks later in an airplane crash in the Swiss Alps, the bomb program came to a virtual standstill. If Bhabha had survived, he might have persuaded Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter and Shastri's successor, to authorize a nuclear explosive test well before 1974.

Phase 3: Delay and Hesitation

Homi Bhabha died just one day after Indira Gandhi became the prime minister of India. Under her leadership, three key developments transpired to shape Indian nuclear policy for many years to come. The first was her controversial decision in the late 1960s not to sign the newly negotiated nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), which would have bound India to the legal status of a nonnuclear weapons state in perpetuity. The second was India's perception of a U.S. nuclear threat during the Indo-Pakistani war, which created Bangladesh as an independent country in 1971. And third, because of the cumulative impact of the first two developments, Indira Gandhi ordered the detonation of the India's first nuclear explosive test, which she called a peaceful nuclear experiment, in May 1974. Although diverse political, economic, and military factors affected all of these issues, Prime Minister Gandhi's NPT and PNE decisions were shaped heavily by the domestic political legitimacy that the nuclear program had acquired as a result of Bhabha's assiduous efforts a decade earlier.

India's PNE turned out to be a landmark event for the world as much as for India. It represented the first case of a country developing and detonating a nuclear explosive from an ostensibly peaceful nuclear effort. Stung by this experience, the world's leading nuclear suppliers, many of whom unwittingly had assisted the Indian program in one fashion or another, resolved not to make the same mistake again—in India or elsewhere. The explosion beneath the sands of Pokhran, therefore, fundamentally altered the manner in which the international community would henceforth handle the export, and even the indigenous development, of nuclear technology and materials. The present-day nuclear nonproliferation regime owes its present composition more to India's 1974 nuclear blast than to any other event or condition.

While not ruling out further experiments with nuclear explosives, Prime Minister Gandhi declared that a second Indian nuclear explosion would be held only "when the need for a peaceful experiment is established." Whether because of the lack of an acute security threat, continued international pressures, severe domestic resource constraints, or possibly the lack of a proponent of Bhabha's stature, no subsequent Indian leader established the "need" for a second nuclear detonation—until May 1998, when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ordered another series of nuclear tests and openly proclaimed India a nuclear weapons power.

From the mid-1970s until the late 1990s, India's leadership was unwilling to defy the United States and other powerful proponents of international nuclear nonproliferation by testing another nuclear device. But the Indian nuclear establishment was not idle. They continued Bhabha's two-track plan of setting up numerous power production reactors across the country while at the same time secretly assembling the components to manufacture, test, and ultimately deploy—if the need ever arose—several nuclear weapons. The nuclear bomb program actually was accelerated in the mid-1980s after India learned that its chief rival, Pakistan, had also acquired the means to make nuclear weapons. It was also during this period that India put significant resources behind two ballistic missile systems—the short-range Prithvi and the intermediate-range Agni—the latter of which would become India's primary nuclear delivery system.

Phase 4: Building an Operational Nuclear Deterrent

After India conducted five nuclear explosive tests in May 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee declared that India would pursue a "minimum but credible" nuclear deterrent and would not use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. A government-appointed panel formulated the draft of a nuclear doctrine in August 1999, calling for India to ensure the effectiveness and survivability of its nuclear deterrent by developing a triad of air-, sea- and land-based nuclear forces, a robust command and control system, and the ability to shift rapidly from peacetime deployments to full operability. In January 2003 New Delhi formally reiterated its "credible minimum deterrent" doctrine and announced the creation of a National Command Authority, in which a political council, chaired by the prime minister, would be responsible for authorizing the use of nuclear weapons, and a Strategic Forces Command would manage India's nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

In keeping with India's long tradition of civil-military relations in which democratically elected civilians control the military, India's nuclear weapons program has always been under the firm control of the prime minister and his carefully selected confidants. Largely because of the system Nehru had established in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the prime minister continues to deal directly with scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defence Research and Development Organization, whereas the armed forces generally have been kept out of the nuclear decision-making and advisory loop. Despite the creation of the Strategic Forces Command and other organizational changes implemented since the 1998 Pokhran tests, the Indian government's reluctance to more fully integrate the military into the strategic planning process has slowed the development of an operationally usable nuclear deterrent capability, especially compared to the state of affairs across the border, where the armed forces control all elements of Pakistan's nuclear program and policy.

Leaders of India's longtime rival, Pakistan, believe that they might have to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. If Islamabad were unable to deter a conventional attack, it might feel compelled to employ nuclear arms to prevent India from destroying Pakistan's armed forces or occupying large portions of its territory. Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, director of Pakistan's Strategic Plans Division, said in 2002: "Nuclear weapons are aimed solely at India. In case that deterrence fails, they will be used if India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory; India destroys a large part either of its land or air forces; India proceeds to the economic strangling of Pakistan; or India pushes Pakistan into political destabilization or creates a large-scale internal subversion in Pakistan."

Today each rival is increasing its stockpile of nuclear weapon components and could assemble and deploy a few nuclear weapons within a few days to a week. Because neither has signed the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which limits ownership of nuclear explosives to the first five nuclear powers, Indian and Pakistani nuclear policies are not illegal. However, many countries viewed their nuclear tests as a challenge to the norm of nuclear nonproliferation, which underpins the NPT regime. Even today, the international community has not managed to integrate India and Pakistan into the NPT-based nuclear order.

The size, composition, and operational status of the Indian nuclear arsenal are closely guarded secrets. According to published sources, India produces approximately 55 to 88 pounds (25–44 kg) of weapon-grade plutonium each year. It probably has accumulated between 617 to 1,323 pounds (280–600 kg) of plutonium from the operation of its Cirus and Dhruva plutonium-production reactors. Based on these assessments, it could possess enough fissile material to manufacture between 40 and 120 weapons.

India has several aircraft and missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons to their targets. In 2001 the U.S. Defense Department speculated that India would most likely use fighter-bomber aircraft—Jaguar, Mirage-2000, MiG-27, or Su-30—for nuclear delivery because its ballistic missiles probably were not yet ready for this role and because its superior air force could be expected to penetrate Pakistani air defenses. India's Prithvi missile can carry a 2,200 pound (1,000-kg) warhead, but because of its short 93 mile (150-km) range, India most likely will turn to its newer solid-propellant Agni 1 and Agni 2 missiles. The Agni 1 has a 435–560 mile (700–900 km) range and was rushed into development after the 1999 Kargil conflict. The Agni 2 has a 1,243–1,864 mile (2,000–3,000 km) range but is not yet operational.

The nuclear deterrent capability that India now possesses owes much to the pioneering decisions and activities of Jawaharlal Nehru and Homi Bhabha some fifty years ago, when they set about developing a secret nuclear weapons option. Subsequent political and scientific leaders have perpetuated the nuclear policies and programs created by Nehru and Bhabha, albeit on many occasions with hesitation and restraint. Since 1998 India's political leadership has demonstrated much more boldness and resolve, but even today, because of lingering concerns about radically revamping long-standing civil-military relationships, India remains several steps away from fielding a truly operational nuclear deterrent. Therefore, in many important respects, India's original policy of creating a nuclear deterrent option remains in place today, even though the capabilities of the nuclear program are much more sophisticated and somewhat less secret.

Peter R. Lavoy

See alsoChina, Relations with ; Nuclear Weapons Testing and Development ; Pakistan and India ; Strategic Thought ; United States, Relations with ; Wars, Modern .


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