25 years to Pokhran nuclear tests



May 11, 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the historic Pokhran nuclear tests conducted by India. These tests, codenamed Operation Shakti, were a significant milestone in India's journey towards becoming a nuclear power.

The first series of tests were conducted on May 11, 1998 at the Indian Army's Pokhran Test Range in the desert state of Rajasthan. Five nuclear devices were detonated underground, showcasing India's nuclear capabilities to the world. This was followed by another successful round of tests on May 13, 1998.

The Pokhran II tests were a response to global pressure and the changing geopolitical dynamics of the time. India had been facing regional security threats, particularly from its nuclear-armed neighbors, Pakistan and China. The tests were seen as a necessary step to secure India's national security interests and establish its credibility as a nuclear power.

The Pokhran tests received mixed reactions from the international community. While some countries condemned India's actions and called for sanctions, others acknowledged India's right to defend itself and saw the tests as a reflection of its growing power. The tests also triggered concerns about nuclear proliferation, leading to tighter international norms and treaties regarding nuclear weapons.

The successful nuclear tests at Pokhran not only demonstrated India's scientific and technological capabilities but also had significant political and strategic implications. It solidified India's position as a nuclear weapon state and provided a boost to its global standing. The tests also had a profound impact on India's national security doctrine, shaping its deterrence strategy and nuclear posture.

In the 25 years since the Pokhran tests, India has pursued a policy of credible minimum deterrence, emphasizing a no-first-use policy and maintaining a nuclear arsenal solely for self-defense. It has also made efforts to engage with the international community in promoting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The Pokhran tests remain a defining moment in India's history, highlighting its determination to safeguard its national security interests. The anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made over the years and the challenges that lie ahead in maintaining peace and stability in the region.

On May 11, 2023, India celebrated 25 years of Pokhran-II nuclear tests. 

Pokhran I and Pokhran II tests

 ●India declared itself a nuclear weapon state after it carried out a series of three nuclear detonations on May 11, 1998.  
■These included thermonuclear device, along with a fission device. 
■A second test followed two days later and having attained the requisite degree of techno-strategic capability, India announced a self-imposed moratorium on further testing. 
● The operation was code-named ‘Operation Shakti’. It was second nuclear test by India.
  ●India conducted its first nuclear tests on May 18, 1974, in Pokhran. 
 ■ Its code name- Operation Smiling Buddha came from the test’s date being on the same day as Buddha Jayanti. 
● India’s rationale and intentions regarding the development of nuclear weapon were outlined in the Official nuclear doctrine.
   India's nuclear doctrine 
 ● A nuclear doctrine states how a nuclear weapon state would employ its nuclear weapons both during peace and war.  
● India first released Draft Nuclear Doctrine (DND) in August 1999. In January 2003, India released its official nuclear doctrine.

Why did India choose to exercise the nuclear option in 1998?

  China as nuclear weapon state: China had acquired its nuclear weapon in October 1964. By the mid-1990s, China had already conducted as many as 45 nuclear tests, which increased concerns of India.   Reports of Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons: China had also conducted a nuclear test for Pakistan, reportedly in May 1990, thereby boosting Pakistan’s nuclear confidence and emboldening it to foment insurgency in J&K and Punjab. Pressure to sign NPT and CTBT: If India signed on to CTBT, India would have been closing nuclear option forever. If India refused to sign, it would have to explicitly state why it does not want to sign.  Existing discriminatory nuclear order: Global nuclear governance setup based on NPT had divided the world into the P-5 and others. India, though fully embedded to the peaceful uses of atomic energy, was not very happy with this discriminatory world.

Significance of India becoming nuclear weapon state 

 ●Improved international standing: India is now a member of three out of four multilateral export control regimes — MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement, Australia Group — and is in the reckoning for membership of the NSG.
  ●Security situation along the border: With respect to China and Pakistan, it has helped balance the military asymmetry by ensuring a credible deterrent

●India among foremost global military powers: India is part of an elite group of global military powers having an operational nuclear triad capability. That means India can launch nuclear weapons from land, air, and sea. 
● Energy security for the future: India has installed generating capacity of 2,225 MW in 1998-99 which increased 205 per cent to 6,780 MW in FY23. 
 ●Transformation in relations with USA: Post tests, by the turn of the century, India’s relations with the US and the West had begun to crystallise into a substantive relationship. With Indo US civil nuclear deal in 2008, India became a de facto nuclear power. 
● Expression of technological capability: The most important fall-out has been with regards to access to international technology. 
 ■ For example, with the United States, we now have a hightech defence cooperation, the NSSP (Next Steps in Strategic Partnership). 
●Perception of India and national pride: The tests not only helped India prove its scientific capabilities, but also gave a boost to the global stature of the nation. India has been recognised as responsible nuclear power.

Do we need to revise No first use (NFU) policy? 

●India’s NFU policy has been criticised on following grounds.
 ■ It limits strategic space for Indian decision-makers in crisis situations where they have limited room to execute escalation-related measures. 
■Continuation of attacks like- Kargil in 1999, and the Mumbai attacks in 2008 is seen as evidence of the failure of nuclear deterrence.  
■Nuclear-armed states, including in India’s neighbourhood, are undertaking arsenal expansion and an offensive and defensive capability build-up, like developing tactical nuclear weapons. 
●Arguments in favour of the NFU policy.
■ It obviates pre-emption, which would otherwise place considerable pressure on Indian decision-makers to carry out a nuclear First Strike in the heat of a crisis. 
■ It helps India avoid the pitfalls of building a technologically advanced nuclear capability deployed on hair-trigger alert, which is a financially costly nuclear posture. ■ It also conveys nuclear restraint to the world and India’s adversaries, ensuring stability. 
■ Conventional attacks and incursions can be tackled at the conventional level, keeping nuclear weapons out of the equation. Surgical strikes by India in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in 2016 and air strikes in Balakot in 2019 are illustrative of this.


At the first level India needs to address immediate security threats by intelligently building sufficient and resilient retaliatory capability to signal credible deterrence. And at the second level, India needs to make long-term innovative diplomatic investments towards the creation of a global environment conducive to peace and universal nuclear disarmament.

●Thermonuclear device 

■ The thermonuclear device was a two-stage device of advanced design, which had a fusion-boosted fission trigger as the first stage and a fusion secondary stage. 
■ Thermonuclear weapons, utilize both atomic fission and nuclear fusion to create an explosion. 

●Nuclear Fission reaction 
■ Fission occurs when a neutron slams into a larger atom (like Uranium or plutonium), forcing it to excite and split into two smaller atoms.  
■ When each atom splits, a tremendous amount of energy is released. 

● Nuclear fusion reaction 
■ Fusion occurs when two atoms slam together to form a heavier atom, like when two hydrogen atoms fuse to form one helium atom. 

■This is the same process that powers the sun and creates huge amounts of energy—several times greater than fission.


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