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The United States’ Response to the India Nuclear Test

By the time of the 1974 India nuclear test, the U. S. found itself entangled in the political affairs of Southern Asia, and indeed, the world. Courtesy of the Cold War and the desire to rid the world of the threat of Communism as well as the spread of it to other nations such as India, the U. S. by the early 1970s had been involved in armed conflict in Vietnam for over a decade, and as a result, was on high alert for any spread of Asian aggression .

With this sort of apprehension in the air, the Indian nuclear test could not have happened at a worse time as far as the U.S. , and its President, Richard Nixon, were concerned. Throughout the discussion of the India nuclear test of 1974 after news of it reached the world, India stood by the assertion that the test was meant as a non-violent way to assert itself as a developing nation, with the technological and industrial power to be taken seriously in a growing global economy.

On the part of the U. S. , however, the viewpoint was dramatically different. Perhaps because of the other entanglements of the U. S. in India, and the ever present possibility that a poor nation like India could be seduced by the false promises of Communism, Richard Nixon took the stance on behalf of the U. S. that nuclear activity on the part of India was unacceptable and that it would need to be held in check for the betterment of the world, echoing back to the NPT of several years before . In fairness to the U. S. , the nation was facing a great deal of internal and external turmoil- politically, socially, and economically- much like India was at that same time.

Additionally, there were other unique factors at work within the presidency of Richard Nixon which may have inspired the mistrust of India from a nuclear point of view. By 1974, the Nixon administration, the world would later know, was in the terminal state because of the Watergate scandal which, because of Nixon’s attempts to cover it up, became his downfall . Accompanying the problems that Watergate brought into the White House was an increasing level of paranoia on the part of Nixon, which may have inspired him to denounce the nuclear activities of India, whatever their motivation.

If Nixon would have felt the same way in an administration without the pains of Watergate is impossible to determine, but one thing is for sure- in retrospect, the U. S. could not have afforded a full blown nuclear weapons program in a nation as vulnerable and chaotic as the India of the 1970s. Conclusion India’s first nuclear test, and the United States response to it, came at a time of huge challenge for the two nations, as well as its respective leaders.

While the analysis of history is typically done in hindsight, and this topic is no exception, it can still fairly be said in closing that if India had embraced a total nuclear arsenal, and if the United States did nothing to stop it, it is doubtful that the world of today would exist in its present form, for better or for worse.


Carras, Mary C. 1979. Indira Gandhi: In the Crucible of Leadership. Boston: Beacon Press. 1975. The Emergency in India. Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 7, no. 4: 2-16. Hanhimaki, Jussi. 2004. The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy.

New York: Oxford University Press. Mcquaid, Kim. 1989. The Anxious Years: America in the Vietnam-Watergate Era. New York: Basic Books. Nizamani, Haider K. 2000. The Roots of Rhetoric: Politics of Nuclear Weapons in India and Pakistan. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. Shuja, Sharif M. 2002. India’s Nuclear Decision. Contemporary Review, December, 335+. Tellis, Ashley J. 2001. India’s Emerging Nuclear Posture: Between Recessed Deterrent and Ready Arsenal. Santa Monica, CA: Rand. Watson, Cynthia. 1990. U. S. National Security Policy Groups: Institutional Profiles. New York: Greenwood Press.

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