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"India's Nuclear Odyssey: Implicit Umbrellas, Diplomatic Disappointments, and the Bomb"

Indian soldiers raise the Indian flag at the test site Shakti 1, where India tested five nuclear devices last week, before a visit by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Pokaran Wednesday, May 20, 1998.
AP Photo

"India's Nuclear Odyssey: Implicit Umbrellas, Diplomatic Disappointments, and the Bomb"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 36, issue 2, pages 120-153

Fall 2011

Author: Andrew B. Kennedy

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



Why did India merely flirt with nuclear weapons in the 1960s and 1970s only to emerge as a nuclear power in the 1990s? Although a variety of factors informed India’s prolonged restraint and subsequent breakthrough, new evidence indicates that India’s “nuclear odyssey” can be understood as a function of Indian leaders’ ability to secure their country through nonmilitary means, particularly implicit nuclear umbrellas and international institutions. In the 1960s and 1970s, India was relatively successful in this regard as it sought and received implicit support from the superpowers against China. This success, in turn, made acquiring the bomb a less pressing question. At the end of the Cold War, however, nonmilitary measures ceased to be viable for India. In the late 1980s, waning Soviet support and the failure of Rajiv Gandhi’s diplomatic initiatives led to the creation of India’s de facto nuclear arsenal. In the 1990s, India developed a more overt capability, not simply because the pro-bomb Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, but also because its external backing had vanished and because its efforts to improve its security through diplomacy proved unsuccessful.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Andrew B. Kennedy. "India's Nuclear Odyssey: Implicit Umbrellas, Diplomatic Disappointments, and the Bomb." International Security 36, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 120-153.

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