Jeffrey LewisWill India Test Again?

A colleague of mine notes that Indian PM Manmohan Singh, in his address to the conference Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons, omitted any mention of India’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing. Here is the key paragraph:

India is fully aware of its responsibilities as a nuclear weapon state. We have a declared doctrine of no first-use that is based on credible minimum deterrence. We have in place strict controls on export of nuclear and fissile related materials and technology. India has no intention to engage in an arms race with anyone. Above all, India is fully committed to nuclear disarmament that is global, universal and non-discriminatory in nature.

The omission is important — though George Perkovich and I both missed it at the moment. Once one notices the absence of any reference to a test moratorium, though, it is quite striking. Compare Singh’s recent statement with another from 2005:

June 9, 2008 February 25, 2005
India is fully aware of its responsibilities as a nuclear weapon state. We have a declared doctrine of no first-use that is based on credible minimum deterrence. We have in place strict controls on export of nuclear and fissile related materials and technology. India has no intention to engage in an arms race with anyone. Above all, India is fully committed to nuclear disarmament that is global, universal and non-discriminatory in nature. There is today growing recognition of India as a responsible nuclear power. We remain committed to our unilateral moratorium on testing, and our policy of no-first use. We reaffirm our willingness to work with the international community to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to work towards the ultimate goal of universal nuclear disarmament.


The wording is almost identical — so much so that I can’t believe the failure to mention the test moratorium was an accident. It was quite on purpose.

Sing has mentioned the moratorium on at least two other occasions (once in 2005 and again in 2006), as well as in the July 18 2005 statement in which Singh agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices … as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology” including “continuing India’s unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing.” There is that word — “responsible” — again, defined in part by India’s moratorium.

Which leads me to ask, why is Singh suddenly leaving his options open to drop the moratorium and resume testing?

One possibility is suggested by the fact that the yield of India’s May 1998 event is inconsistent with the claim that India successfully detonated a thermonuclear device among the five bombs said to have gone boom. Certain Indian scientists have argued that India needs to resume testing in order to master that particular technology. (For more on the failed May 1998 test and possible pressures for a resumption of Indian testing, see: The Bomb, Dmitry. The Hydrogen Bomb, April 10, 2005).

Maybe Singh is under some pressure on that front.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the US-India nuclear deal is a license for India to conduct another round of nuclear tests, the Hyde Act be damned.


  1. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Actually, P.M. Singh’s omission of his July 2005 reiteration of India’s test moratorium pledge is not all that surprising given that he is furiously trying to save the nuclear deal and may bring down his government in the process.

    In recent weeks, Singh has been trying to rebut arguments from Indian critics who say the deal will limit India’s weapon program. On June 12, Singh said:

    “… we have also said that if CTBT came into being, we will not sign it, there is no pressure from the US on India to sign NPT or any other international arrangement of that sort to enter into nuclear cooperation for civil energy.” It is unfortunate and true that there is no pressure right now to sign the CTBT. That is one reason why the deal is terrible policy.

    Remember that BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee stated in 1998 that India would not be the last country to hold up CTBT entry into force — a formulation that does not rule out an Indian signature and ratification.

    What is perhaps far more interesting is the possibility that Singh will convince his Congress party colleagues to risk a rupture with left parties in the United Progressive Alliance government over the deal, which could lead to elections by the fall and a possible victory by the BJP.

    If the Singh government decides to go for it and risk an election, they will also be taking a big risk they can get what they want at the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group: a “clean exemption” from NSG rules.

    As I have noted before, there is ample evidence that there is sufficient concern and opposition NSG member states as to deny India a “clean” exemption and a sufficient number of states are going to hold out for conditions and restrictions on nuclear trade with India that match or exceed the terms of the U.S. implementing legislation known as the Hyde Act. (For further analysis and recommendations regarding the NSG see my May 13 presentation at a Berlin conference on the Indian N-Deal at <;.

  2. Mike (History)

    Just curious on that last paragraph – I thought the US-India nuclear deal was dead?

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    The only way they are going to avoid testing is if they somehow acquired a simulator with a much better data set than they have and better alogarithms.

    There are only a handful of sources for this —- and none is likely to oblige.

    The alternative is for them to have access to the same or similar tools to validate their designs —- something quite clearly banned by the NPT but much harder to police.

    Even if provided with such tools, the Indian nationalist will insist on at least one test to be sure they were not given a spoof.

    Not many ways out of this box without revising the NPT, I am afraid.

    The US initiative to India was, for practical purposes, a move in a game to counter China. The only problem is, India have other ideas and interests beside being just a piece of the US strategic puzzle.

    Not even a state visit can paper over these fault lines.

  4. Yale Simkin (History)

    A nice review article by Sublette:
    What Are the Real Yields of India’s Test?

  5. manoj joshi (History)

    The omission is a result of the fraught domestic debate which claims that the Indo-US nuclear agreement has “banned” future tests. The leader of the opposition, Mr. L.K. Advani just yesterday (june 23) declared that while his party was for “strategic ties” with the US, “What we oppose is the clause which prohibits the right to tests.“He was a Cabinet minister of the government of the BJP-led coalition that did the Pokhran tests in 1998.
    In these circumstances, a reference to not testing would be political hara kiri. But in my view, this is not quite the same thing as saying that India is likely to test again.
    The simple fact is that India knows 1) It did not need anyone permission to test in the first place, and will not need it in the future. 2) That if it takes the lead in breaking the de facto global moratorium, it will have to pay a big price.
    On the other hand, a close reading of the 123 Agreement will show that the US has a nuanced understanding of what could happen should another Indian test be an outcome of some other parties breaking that moratorium first.

  6. Andreas Persbo

    I get the feeling that neither India nor Pakistan wants to rule out the development and testing of a thermonuclear device. They know the fission and the boosted fission types, and have probably been working quite hard at developing the Super. So, the moratoria is unsurprisingly under a bit of stress.

  7. Daryl Kimball (History)

    I agree with Manoj Joshi’s take on this except that the 123 language is subject to the language in the U.S. implementing legislation of 2006 (the Hyde Act), which would revoke the waiver allowing for nuclear trade with India if it resumes testing for whatever reason.

  8. manoj joshi (History)

    Daryl is right because the waiver in Hyde is for tests till May 1998. But in my reading, the 123 does provide what I insist is a “nuanced” position. Indians will say we are committed to the 123 since that is what we will sign. Both the US and India have not agreed to the 1969 Vienna Convention on the law of the treaties, but both work as though they have. This is very clear in stating that international agreements always trump domestic legislation. Were it otherwise, states would regularly escape from international obligations by passing domestic legislation and having it act retroactively (as in the case of the NNPA of 1978 and India).
    But I don’t think legalities are the issue. Neither the US nor India expect that things will come to this pass. They are right. We cannot cite the most extreme probability to tear down an agreement which in this case merely pertains to civil nuclear cooperation.

  9. Daniel (History)

    Well, you’re right that Singh is certainly under some pressure to do such a test

  10. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    Now that the US-India deal failed, the question is, can China and India find a way to get around their historic differences to work together on the energy issue?

    The failed deal is a good precedent because it opened the door and broadly defined the parameters under which a Nuclear Weapons State can cooperate with a non-signatory to the NPT.

    Now that the US tried to do it, it is hardly in a position to say to another NWS that it cannot do the same.

    While China cannot offer India advanced nuclear energy technologies at this time, China can solve India’s most pressing problem, which is the supply of uranium.

    Not having access to nuclear energy technology may not be as much a handicap as it sounds, as the world is ready for a new generation of safer, better, smarter, and smaller reactors.

    This race has not begun yet, and it is not clear that India and China, working together in a joint venture, could not come up with a competitive or superior design to what is presently on the drawing boards in the US.

    China might be more respectful of India’s need to test and insist on less onerous terms and conditions and safeguards than the US.

    Such a deal would bring closer ties to two Asian countries with very similar energy needs together —- not a bad thing for regional stability.

  11. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    From NY Times:

    July 5, 2008
    No Rush, Please

    Three years ago, President Bush offered India a far-too-generous nuclear deal. India’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons would effectively be forgiven. And for the first time in 30 years, it would be allowed to buy nuclear fuel and equipment for its civilian energy program from the United States and other nations.

    Instead of celebrating a big political win, the deal quickly turned into a political nightmare for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, nearly toppling his government. India’s Communist Party, his junior coalition partner, is dead set against the agreement and any broader strategic relationship with the United States.

    President Bush, who is eager for any foreign policy win before he goes back to Crawford, Tex., is pressing Mr. Singh hard to finally work this out. Mr. Singh is now looking for new allies.

    As far as we’re concerned, there is no reason at all to rush. President Bush gave away far too much and got far too little for this deal. No promise from India to stop producing bomb-making material. No promise not to expand its arsenal. And no promise not to resume nuclear testing.

    Mr. Bush may be running out of time, but Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (the 45 nations that set the rules for nuclear trade) will need plenty of it to review the agreement before deciding whether to grant their respective approvals. At a minimum, they must insist that international suppliers halt nuclear trade if India tests another nuclear weapon, as it last did in 1998. And they must insist that India accept the fullest possible monitoring of its civilian nuclear facilities by I.A.E.A. inspectors.

    The United States must ensure that any rule the suppliers’ group adopts for selling technology to India is not weaker than anything already in American law. Otherwise, New Delhi will be able to end run Washington and buy technology and fuel from states — like Russia and France — that are even more eager for the business and even less punctilious than this country.

    Mr. Bush was right to build on the Clinton administration legacy and forge stronger ties with India, a burgeoning power whose democratic values provide a unique basis for cooperation. But it was a mistake to let India and industry lobbyists persuade him to make the nuclear deal the centerpiece.

    If Mr. Singh finds a way to push the deal forward, it would be a mistake for the United States to try and ram through the remaining approvals — by the I.A.E.A. board, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Congress — just to meet the artificial deadline of Mr. Bush’s presidency.