When India caught US off guard- Pokhran –I and II

Wikileaks has made an interesting revelation.  India caught US off guard not only once but twice. First in 1974 and then in 1998 when India conducted its underground nuclear tests. This leak by Wikileaks reveal as to how drastically, the US misunderstood the capabilities of India. US believed that owing to India’s existing political and economic difficulties, any nuclear misadventure by India was a distinct possibility.

In fact if one looks back into history, interesting assumptions surface. As per a cable to Washington in January 1974, it was assumed that US had seen no evidence so as to confirm that India has decided to explode a nuclear device.

This assumption by US embassy was based on a number of factors. The end of Bangladesh war had created new dimensions with people least interested in hostilities, a defeated Pakistan seemed no longer a threat and good relations with Soviet Union too had been maintained. This in itself strengthened India’s position and US was inclined to believe that India will not conduct any nuclear exercise. US infact praised India for the poise and elegance it maintained at that point of time.

However, things changed drastically in a matter of few months and US was caught off guard when India conducted a nuclear test. Reacting to the nuclear tests, US pointed out that the tests have been conducted at a time when the country is marred by large scale corruption and political unrest is prevailing high in different parts of the country.


The cable made an interesting observation here. It maintained that India had felt sidelined in the international system. It assumed that India had explored the possibility of conducting nuclear tests in order to be taken with full seriousness by the international community. This in fact contradicts the earlier assumption raised by US that India will not conduct nuclear tests, given the peaceful scenario in the country.

Both US and China had at that time maintained that they will take a low key approach as far as India’s nuclear tests were conducted. This despite the fact that some US diplomats had expressed the assumption that Japan will not sign the NPT as India had conducted nuclear tests. China infact maintained that it was not surprised that India had conducted nuclear tests. China in fact blamed US for helping conduct the nuclear tests. It maintained that both US and USSR had helped India conduct the nuclear tests.

Infact, India was able to catch US off guard not only once but twice. During the 1998 nuclear tests, India fooled US into believing that it was conducting regular military exercises in Pokhran. Army units were deployed and large scale movement of these units was ensured, so that US believes that some military exercise is taking place. Before US could apprehend on what was going, India conducted the nuclear tests. US reacted cautiously and was obviously angered by the fact that it could not apprehend on what India was doing.


History is full of live examples as to how the world community has been taken by its stride, whenever the need for the same has arisen. Pokhran-I and II are perfect examples of this.


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