My op-ed in Mint : Ten years after Pokhran-II

The payoffs are clear, unambiguous and long-term

In an op-ed to mark the tenth anniversary of India’s second round of nuclear tests, I argue that they made India a far more credible international actor. And that while India is reconciled to the ownership of nuclear weapons but remains unclear what they are for. I also point out that the conventional military balance remains as important despite nuclear deterrence being in place; and that our political leadership needs an altogether different level of skill to translate the nuclear advantage into foreign policy outcomes.


“Real strength lies in restraint,” Sonia Gandhi said ten days after India conducted its second series of nuclear tests on May 11th and May 13th 1998, “not in the display of shakti.” She could not have been more wrong.

At the time of Mrs Gandhi’s speech, India had spent a decade fighting a proxy war against a Pakistan that China had brazenly armed – with American connivance – with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. India’s protestations that it is a victim of both cross-border terrorism and illegal nuclear and missile proliferation got nowhere. The nuclear powers had perverted the entire edifice of nuclear disarmament by legitimising their own nuclear arsenals in perpetuity. They were coercing India to constrain and give up its nuclear weapons programme. It was abundantly clear that India’s display of restraint was being exploited as a sign of weakness.

Pokhran-II changed that. Because it demonstrated to the world that India was ready to incur costs in the defence of its national interests. [Mint]

Thanks to Kedar Wagle, Anand Sampath & V Anantha Nageswaran for providing inputs and comments

6 thoughts on “My op-ed in Mint : Ten years after Pokhran-II”

  1. Looking at the Italian waitress’ hatred of Nuclear Weapons, why should it come as a surprise that the present Nuclear deal is anything but a sell out of our Nuclear weaponization programme?

  2. Nitin,

    No disrespect to your usual stuff, but this has to be one of your of best.

    Brilliantly argued!

  3. Rohit,

    Thanks. But hush! People will know that you are nothing but a bomb lover 😉

  4. Good article. It was pretty inevitable for India to have developed nuclear weapons. There are some who still mistakenly think that Pakistan developed theirs because we developed them first. It’s just not true; Pakistan was intimidated by India’s conventional superiority long before Pokhran 2. Even before Pokhran 1 influential Pakistani politicians were clamoring for nuclear weapons. Our intervention in Bangladesh in 71 sealed the deal for Pakistan. Clearly Pakistan would have developed nuclear weapons irrespective of us developing them because there was no way their conventional forces could achieve parity with ours.
    Now that we have the bomb, it is very important to pay attention to nuclear power, the cheapest, safest and cleanest source of energy around. In my opinion we have a minimal deterrent now and don’t need to produce more nuclear weapons. Combined with our prowess in delivery systems (exemplified by Agni 3 a few days ago), we can now pay most of our attention to nuclear power. That should be our priority.

  5. Why drag Pakistan’s name in here?

    The Pakistan nuke myth should be buried in a landfill where it properly belongs. A nation that can hardly produce a car engine, nay even a scooter engine, now routinely tests rocket engines (used in missles, at least) and explodes nukes on demand (circa 1998)? How believable is that? Truth is its not Papistan but its sponsors (The US and PRC) who’ve been winking and smiling while secretly passing (in PRC’s case) bomb designs, enriched material and even the assembled product to our lovely neighbours.

    Its not very difficult to see that right from the 1930s onwards, Pak was conceived, lavished, supported and life-supported precisely to constrain India. It worked for a long time. Until POK II and 9/11.

    Its time to take the game to sponsors. India’s N-bomb was in response to the PRC threat, NOT any Pak one. George Fernandes said so in so many words. With good reason. We only have to be careful not to get tricked into a damaging war, or worse an N-exchange with Pak coz its not of our choosing and it only benefits Pak’s sponsors. Our weapons development from here should be aimed at unfriendly regimes propping enemies in our neighbourhood (no prizes for guessing those). Aaj nahi toh kal, the fight will come to us if we don’t take it out to them. But for POK-II, PRC would’ve continued to hem us in without pause. The N-tests certainly gave them pause. And Frenandes’ statements served notice too. India had woken up. No longer would flowery words of deception (remember Chou-en-Lai and MAo with JLN, anyone?) and creepy acquisitions in our neighbourhood (Burma and its coco islands, parts of Nepal, Tawang, Aksai chin, the chumbi valley near Bhutan) be enough to keep India fooled and sleeping.

    POK-II is pathbreaking and revolutionary in more ways than the average aam aadmi realizes. We should not squander what we gained at the negotiating table (like our netas have shown themselves to be adept at doing)

    JMTPs etc.
    /Have a nice day, all.

  6. ..our political leadership needs an altogether different level of skill to translate the nuclear advantage into foreign policy outcomes.

    Oh please. They dont just need the skills to translate the nuclear advantage, they need skills for just about anything that needs a perspective on things beyond the next election.

    Seriously, along with nuclear posturing, most of them dont understand conventional military posturing either, remember Op Parakram?

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