Pokhran II – UPSC GS1

  • It was series of five nuclear bomb test explosions conducted at the Indian Army’s Pokhran Test Range in May 1998.
  • Pokhran-II consisted of five detonations, of which the first was a fusion bomb and the remaining four were fission bombs.
  • In the 90’s came the (negotiations for) CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). It was a tricky situation. If India signed on to CTBT, it would mean closing our nuclear option forever.
  • If it refused to sign, it would have to explicitly state why we do not want to sign.
  • And since the deadline was approaching in May India had to decide.
What was the necessity?
  • The global nuclear governance set-up after the second world war had the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) as its basis and it 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.
  • Atal Bihari Vajpayee said “I have been deeply concerned at the deteriorating security environment, especially the nuclear environment, faced by India for some years past. We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962. Although our relations with that country have improved in the last decade or so, an atmosphere of distrust persists mainly due to the unresolved border question.”
  • Turning to Pakistan, Vajpayee’s letter noted that China had helped Pakistan to become a “covert nuclear weapons state,” and that “this bitter neighbour” has committed “three aggressions in the last 50 years.” Moreover, Pakistan had inflicted “unremitting terrorism and militancy” in several parts of India.
  • Nuclear weaponisation has a security connotation. The country becomes stronger, there is a deterrence, and one can stabilise the security situation.
  • Indian diplomacy triumphed in turning a grave crisis into an opportunity by securing legitimacy for its nuclear arsenal and removing obstacles in generating nuclear power.
  • India to the nuclear mainstream and opened up the global nuclear market for development of nuclear power without signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
  • there were also many countries, who were hammering us publicly but passed on congratulatory messages through unofficial channels.
The immediate challenge was to mitigate international opposition and eventually bridge the trust gap with the US.
  • The tests shocked the world, particularly because they were done with utmost secrecy and the India-U.S. ties hit rock bottom. For nearly two months, the U.S. refused to have any dialogue with India and implemented the Glenn Amendment for the first time. Newer sanctions were imposed, and at one point it looked that relations would never recover.
  • Immediately after the tests, the US suspended foreign secretary-level talks; over the following two years, it put more than 200 Indian entities under the sanctions list.
  • The list included not only the facilities of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and entities of Department of Space, but also a clutch of private sector firms that had worked for them.
USA’s non-proliferation goals to normalise relations:
  • signing the CTBT,
  • halting production of fissile material,
  • strategic restraint,
  • strengthening export control regimes,
  • normalization of relations with Pakistan.
Steps taken by India
These were strongly rejected by India, but the talks proceeded on the assumption that India’s security concerns should be fully understood and that India would take certain measures to suit its new status
  • India met the U.S. demands more than halfway, leading to an understanding, which led to President Bill Clinton’s visit to India and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to the U.S. in 2000.
  • India refused to sign the CTBT, but declared a moratorium on testing;
  • agreed to join the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations without halting fissile material production;
  • reaffirmed minimum deterrent without giving any number of warheads; and
  • agreed to strengthen export controls.
  • Additionally, India declared no-first-use and commitment to disarmament.
Though no deal could be struck, the foundation was laid for what became the nuclear deal in 2008. India’s sovereign right to test a nuclear device in the future has remained intact.

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