How India Dodged Pakistan, China And The West To Become a Nuclear Power

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Nuclear bombs are the most powerful weapons ever invented by mankind. As such, they play a vital role in deciding the balance of power in international relations. A country like India, with nuclear weapons is not only capable of resisting foreign pressure from unfriendly countries, but also in a position to do great power negotiations on the diplomatic level.

Why Are Nuclear Weapons So Important For A Great Power?

The usefulness of nuclear weapons became apparent after Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japanese surrender and abruptly ended World War II. Josef Stalin immediately commenced the Soviet nuclear program, and in 1949 conducted its first nuclear test. This was followed soon by Great Britain in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. These countries were the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and were considered the five most important global powers. Their possession of nuclear weapons only cemented this position.

These five states soon acted to monopolize this situation, and in 1968, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was announced. This treaty aimed to prohibit any other country apart from these five to possess or pursue any sort of nuclear weapons whatsoever. It served as an important tool in the imperialist and colonialist plans of these countries, and through diplomatic and economic pressure, almost all countries of  the world were soon forced to join the NPT, and the nuclear monopoly seemed complete.

Breaking of the Nuclear Cartel

Three states had initially refused to join the NPT. These were India, Pakistan and Israel. India and Israel rightly pointed out that the NPT was a tool of imperialism, and refused to join, which prompted India’s arch-enemy, Pakistan, to also stay out of the treaty. Apart from this, North Korea and Iran also eventually began their own nuclear weapons programs.

India, having finally achieved independence from the British Empire in 1947 after much sacrifice, was now unwilling to compromise its sovereignty and independence. In the environment of the Cold War, we were under constant pressure by imperialist forces in the West. Subsequently, PM Jawaharlal Nehru, while opposed to nuclear weapons, approved a civilian program, which could be leveraged into weapons capability if need be.

The Indian nuclear weapons program started being considered after the 1962 war with China. This imperative was only underlined in subsequent years, when China conducted its first nuclear test. The 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, where Pakistan was supported by China, the USA and the UK finally led to the decision by PM Lal Bahadur Shastri to commence nuclear armament. Under the triumvirate of Dorabji Tata, Dr. Homi Bhabha and PM Shastri, this program saw rapid progress, and soon Dr. Bhabha felt confident enough to proclaim that India was just 18 months away from a bomb. However, suspiciously, Dr. Bhabha died in an aeroplane accident just 3 months later, and soon after that, PM Shastri died in Tashkent as well.

The second phase of our nuclear development came in the dire days of 1971. With the genocide of Bengalis in East Pakistan, and the subsequent refugee crisis, the Indian state came under massive strain. When Pakistan attacked us and initiated the Bangladesh Liberation War, its strategic allies, the USA and the UK tried to pressure us into rolling over and admitting defeat. They sent their fleets into the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, respectively, and threatened to bomb us if we did not bow down before them. President Nixon openly admitted that he would have nuked India if he could.

Luckily, at the last minute, our staunch ally- the USSR drew a red line and sent their own submarine fleet into the Bay of Bengal as a warning to the Americans. This made the West back down. However, this only underlined the need for autonomy to PM Indira Gandhi, and she soon conducted the 1974 Smiling Buddha nuclear tests, which proved to the world that India was now a nuclear-capable country.


India: A Full-Fledged Nuclear Power

The Smiling Buddha tests were simply a declaration of India’s nuclear capability, and not a guarantee of nuclear power. The need for fully developing a nuclear triad to ensure deterrence grew after Indian intelligence discovered the Pakistani nuclear weapons program (supported by the West and China), and the fall of the USSR. Subsequently, the nuclear weapons program was supported by the consecutive administrations of Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and we were soon ready for the final tests. In this program, special praise must be given to Dr R Chidambaram and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who helmed the nuclear weapons and the missile programs.

However, conducting these tests was difficult, as the CIA was constantly spying on India, and threatened to impose terrible consequences on India if we should ever attempt a test. Thus, the Indian Army had to work in great secrecy, timing our work to avoid US spy satellites. But eventually, these efforts were successful, and India conducted the Pokhran-II tests in 1998. Though America imposed sanctions on India, the government had prepared for this, and we were able to weather the storm. The US eventually had to accept this fait accompli and sealed it in the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement signed under Dr Manmohan Singh.

Reaping The Fruit Of Strategic Autonomy We should all be appreciative and grateful for the determination of our past politicians, scientists and administrators, who, despite immense international pressure, did what was good for India, and ensured that we would never be beholden militarily to the West and its imperialist ways. Their sacrifices, as well as those of the common people in the country, ensures that now, as the world enters a new period of instability after the Ukraine War, India has the freedom of following its national interest. The hypocrisy of the West shows that common values of tolerance and democracy are not enough to safeguard ourselves – India, a nuclear power, can engage with the world, but must never depend on it.

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