India's Nuclear Tests: The Consequences for International Security (Case Study #19)


India's nuclear tests of 1998 shattered a global norm against proliferation and posed a serious concern to the international community. Yet technically speaking, India faced no legal constraints to developing and testing nuclear weapons because it had not signed international treaties such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

India rejected the NPT and kept open its nuclear option from the 1960s onward because it perceived security threats from China's nuclear program. Nevertheless, it refrained from formally declaring itself a nuclear power and enthusiastically supported a CTBT for several decades.

In 1996, however, India rejected the CTBT, arguing that the treaty was not conceived as a measure towards universal nuclear disarmament. It then conducted nuclear tests in 1998, after which Pakistan retaliated with its own nuclear tests. Nuclear testing in South Asia had ominous implications for international security: it signaled the formal emergence of two new nuclear powers and broke the global norm against proliferation and testing.

What effect did India's rejection of the NPT and CTBT and its subsequent nuclear tests have upon the cause of disarmament? Did India gain any national security benefits from its nuclear tests? And what steps can the international community and the nuclear states take to further nuclear disarmament?

To purchase this case study, go to the GUISD Pew Case Study Center.