Testing in South Asia
Joseph A. and Jolie M. F. Wood
Research Officers, IPCS
discussion followed two themes: the
motivations for the tests by India, and the
technical parameters of the tests. Mr. P. R.
Chari, co-director of IPCS, presented a
short paper outlining the first theme,
motivations. Dr. G. Balachandran presented
an overview of the technical issues.
Chari commenced by spelling out the
motivations, as informed by Prime Minister
Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Parliament on 27th
May1998 and also from the statement issued
by PM’s Principal Secretary, Brijesh
Mishra on 12th May. The following
motivations as detailed by the Government.
nuclear environment in India’s
environment"- Brijesh Mishra stated
this paramount reason prompted the
Government to take the nuclear decision. The
tests have reassured the people that their
national security interests have been
protected and will be further promoted.
Government was faced with a difficult
decision. The touchstone that has guided us
in making the correct choice clear was
national security."- The PM in
Parliament on May 27, 1998.
deterioration of our security environment as
a result of nuclear and missile
proliferation"- The PM added that the
induction of sophisticated delivery systems
in the neighbourhood was also a security
the global level, we see no evidence on the
part of the nuclear weapon states to take
decisive and irreversible steps in moving
towards a nuclear - weapon - free -
world."- The PM pointed out that the
indefinite extension of the NPT only proved
were the motivations stated by the
Government. But were these the real
motivations? Mr. Chari listed the other
probable motivations that could have led to
the nuclear tests.
security rational advanced by the BJP
Government was vastly exaggerated. The
irrepressible Defence Minister’s constant
iteration that China, apart from Pakistan,
comprised the security threat to India has
become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
is very likely that pressures from the
scientists in the Atomic Energy Commission/
Defence Research and Development
Organisation were operating.
to Art. XIV (2) of the CTBT India might have
faced sanctions on the attempt "to
accelerate the ratification process."
Therefore, Indian policy makers believed
that the window of opportunity to go nuclear
was closing and India would have been
sanctioned after September 1999 for not
signing the CTBT. Thus, India had to test
now or never.
the tests were conducted now there was
adequate time for the dust to settle before
Clinton’s scheduled visit to the
testing of the Ghauri by Pakistan provided a
perfect excuse for the India BJP Government
to justify their case.
is very likely also that motivations of
prestige were operating at the level of
seemed to be a general consensus in the
discussion that the tests were more
laboratory-driven rather than arising from
security concerns. The reasons were two.
Firstly, the security threat argument holds
no water as a review of the post-test
security scenario depicts a crisis situation
far more acute than the original situation
which apparently prompted the nuclear tests.
Thus, the tests had less to do with the
immediate security environment than with the
long-term objective of bringing stability to
South Asia. The second reason was that the
scientific expertise gained by the
scientists after Pokharan-I was getting
dated and their prot?g?s needed to prove
themselves. What substantiated this argument
were the many statements issued by the
scientists including Dr. Abdul Kalam and Dr.
Chidambaram. These articulations by
scientists and engineers rather than policy
makers, as is the norm all over the world,
does raise more than a few eyebrows.
the "window of opportunity was
closing" with the CTBT ratification
process in Sept, 1999 was not accepted. The
entry-into-force clause requires the listed
forty four countries ratifying the treaty by
September 1999. Otherwise the UN
Secretary-General must convene a conference
to see how the treaty can be progressed.
There are no sanctions mandated at this
point, contrary to popular perceptions.
Hence the argument that BJP Government was
trying to test before this window of
opportunity closed is not valid. One other
motivation was pointed out by one of the
discussants to be the impact of nuclear
ambiguity on the morale of the armed forces.
The discussant went ahead to debunk such a
on Sino-Indian relations after the nuclear
tests, with particular reference to the
Indian Prime Minister’s letter to the US
President naming China as the threat and
reason for going nuclear, was deferred to
another total session to be held in future.
Balachandran spelt out the technical
parameters of the tests. He noted that
technical information released was very
restricted. Of the five tests, the
thermonuclear explosion has created doubts
among experts worldwide, some of whom
believe that it was actually a boosted
fission device. Balachandran said the
general conclusion was that it was a
thermonuclear explosion, since the yields
cited were for two stages (the first a
fission explosion of 12 kt and the second a
thermonuclear explosion of 31 kt, for a
total yield of 43 kt), and a boosted fission
explosion has no second stage.
issue that remains uncertain is whether the
yields reported refer to designed yields or
actual yields. Generally, the actual yield
is closer to the designed yield for a
fission explosion (margin of error about
five percent) than for a thermonuclear
explosion (margin of error about ten to
fifteen percent, as it is more difficult to
predict two stages than one). Balachandran
noted that the yields cited for the Indian
tests were much higher than those cited for
the Pakistani tests. However, Pakistan has
not made public whether their figures refer
to designed or actual yields.
major issue was weaponisation. Firstly, how
to define weaponisation is complex. A weapon
does not have to be fully assembled; in some
cases it can be put together very quickly.
He described the different components of a
weapon—nuclear and non-nuclear—and
different features of each, including, the
chemical explosive, the fusing mechanism,
and the nuclear core. The overall design of
the weapon is obviously important. The
consistency of the chemical explosive is a
crucial element. Balachandran believed that
India has all the necessary elements for
discussion on the technical issues followed.
The first issue was the thermonuclear
explosion. One participant, a prominent
scientist, challenged the assertion that
boosted fission devices have no second
stage. Israel and the United States are the
only countries known to have manufactured a
low-yield fusion device. He argued that the
so-called thermonuclear device was actually
a fission-fusion-fission device. If the
actual yield was around 45 kt, then Israeli
know-how was probably used. However, he
said, it is hard to believe that India could
obtain such a low yield in its first
also questioned the assertion that, with
only five field tests, Indian scientists
could now move to sub-critical tests. He
maintained that further field tests would be
necessary to maximize the yield-to-weight
ratio, which cannot be done in the
laboratory. Another participant cited an
official statement indicating that the field
tests completed thus far have provided
scientists with the critical data needed to
begin conducting subcritical tests. It was
also suggested that this was a political
statement intended to provide justification
for India signing the CTBT.
question raised was why the tests were done
simultaneously. Was there any technical
advantage, and could the data be separately
analyzed? The scientist thought there was no
problem in separating and analyzing the data
from different explosions. The question was
then raised, why were two devices tested in
the same shaft? There was no satisfactory
answer. Other questions included, why
conduct two additional tests of lower yields
two days later? Why test a fusion bomb of
only a few kilotons? The answer to the
latter question was that fusion bombs have a
higher yield-to-weight ratio. The scientist
added that a fusion bomb is a
"cleaner" weapon than a fission
bomb, yielding more radioactivity with less
explosive power (thus preserving property
while killing people).
issue of weaponisation was then raised. The
official stand, said one participant, is
that India has been capable of weaponising
nuclear bombs since 1990. The
command-and-control system is said to be in
place. The engineer maintained that
weaponisation had been achieved. The
scientist challenged this evaluation, citing
Chidambaram's statement that the 45-kiloton
device weighed about one thousand pounds;
the weight must be reduced to weaponise this
device. Reducing the weight and maintaining
the yield requires further field tests. In
the US, two different laboratories, Sandia
Laboratories in New Mexico and Livermore
Laboratories in California, certify the
tests completed and guarantee the weapons'
serviceability. Without such a system India
and Pakistan cannot be confident of their
weaponisation programs. A Pentagon spokesman
was cited as saying that it would take India
and Pakistan a year or two to weaponise.
Another participant noted that the gap
between India and China in this endeavor was
at least five years.