In May 1998, India detonated five nuclear devices in the Thar Desert, crossing the threshold from a nuclear-capable to a nuclear-armed state. Indian Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee authorized the tests, fulfilling the Bharatiya Janata Party’s long-time pledge to exercise India’s “nuclear option.” In a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Vajpayee cited the “deteriorating security environment, [e]specially the nuclear environment” — thinly veiled references to China and Pakistan — as the primary justification for Pokhran-II. Reflecting on Washington’s post-test diplomacy, former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott later wondered why India had gone through the trouble of testing “given the likelihood of consequences that would make India less secure.”
Twenty years later, it is worth asking: have nuclear weapons made India more secure? We attempt to answer this question by assessing India’s security through the lens of three security challenges: 1) Pakistan’s support to anti-India militant groups, 2) the state of India’s relations with China, and 3) the China-Pakistan axis.
The piece was originally published in The Diplomat. Read the full piece here.