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Weapons of Peace by Raj Chengappa: How India Developed and Tested its Nuclear Weapons

Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India's Quest to be a Nuclear Power

Have you ever wondered how India became a nuclear power? What were the motivations, challenges, and consequences of this decision? And what does it mean for India's role in the world today?

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If you are interested in these questions, then you should read Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India's Quest to be a Nuclear Power by Raj Chengappa. This book is a comprehensive and captivating account of India's nuclear journey, from its inception in the 1940s to its culmination in the 1998 tests. It is based on almost 200 interviews with key participants, including scientists, politicians, diplomats, and military officials. It reveals many secrets, controversies, and insights that have never been published before.

In this article, I will summarize the main points of the book and explain why it is important and relevant for anyone who wants to understand India's nuclear history, policy, and future. I will also highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of the book, as well as some of the implications and challenges that it raises for India's nuclear power.

The Origins of India's Nuclear Program

India's nuclear program began with a visionary scientist named Homi Bhabha, who founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in 1945. He was convinced that nuclear energy was essential for India's development and security. He persuaded Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, to support his vision and establish the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1948.

India pursued peaceful nuclear energy with enthusiasm and cooperation with other countries. It received assistance from Canada, France, UK, and the US under the Atoms for Peace program. It built its first nuclear reactor, Apsara, in 1956, and its first nuclear power plant, Tarapur, in 1969. It also signed the Geneva Protocol in 1954, which banned the use of nuclear weapons.

However, India faced many challenges and setbacks from external pressures and sanctions. It was denied access to advanced nuclear technology and materials by the Western countries, who formed the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 1974. It was also threatened by China's nuclear test in 1964, which created a security dilemma for India. It was also disillusioned by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, which divided the world into nuclear haves and have-nots.

The Decision to Go Nuclear

India decided to conduct its first nuclear test in 1974 under Indira Gandhi, who was the prime minister at that time. The test was code-named Smiling Buddha and took place at Pokhran in Rajasthan. It was a fission device with a yield of about 12 kilotons. India claimed that it was a peaceful nuclear explosion (PNE) for civil purposes, such as mining and engineering.

India justified its test as a demonstration of its scientific and technological prowess and as a response to its security environment. It argued that it had the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and that it did not violate any international treaty or obligation. It also asserted that it did not intend to make or use nuclear weapons.

However, India faced international criticism and condemnation for its test. It was accused of violating the spirit of the NPT and the Geneva Protocol. It was also subjected to economic and diplomatic sanctions by many countries, especially the US, which cut off all nuclear cooperation and aid to India. It also faced isolation and ostracism from the global nuclear order and regimes.

The Race with Pakistan

Pakistan responded to India's test by developing its own nuclear weapons program. It had started its program in the early 1970s under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who declared that Pakistan would build a bomb even if it had to eat grass. It acquired nuclear technology and assistance from China, which provided it with a design of a fission bomb and enriched uranium. It also obtained nuclear materials and equipment from other sources, such as AQ Khan, who ran a clandestine network of nuclear proliferation.

Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons in 1998 after India's second series of tests. It conducted six tests at Chagai in Balochistan. It claimed that it had achieved deterrence and parity with India and that it had acted in self-defense. It also declared that it would not use nuclear weapons first against any country.

Pakistan's tests created a new situation of mutual nuclear threat and vulnerability between India and Pakistan. It also increased the risk of nuclear war and escalation in South Asia. It also raised concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and the possibility of nuclear terrorism or proliferation.

The Shakti Syndrome

India conducted its second series of tests in 1998 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was the prime minister at that time. The tests were code-named Shakti (Power) and took place at Pokhran again. They consisted of five devices, including a thermonuclear device with a yield of about 45 kilotons, a fission device with a yield of about 15 kilotons, and three sub-kiloton devices.

India revealed its advanced nuclear capabilities and achievements with these tests. It demonstrated that it had mastered the technology of fusion bombs, which are more powerful than fission bombs. It also showed that it had developed miniaturized warheads, which can be fitted on missiles or aircrafts. It also claimed that it had completed its planned series of tests and that it did not need to conduct any more tests.

India faced global condemnation and sanctions for its tests again. It was denounced for violating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which banned all nuclear explosions. It was also subjected to economic and diplomatic sanctions by many countries, especially the US, which imposed severe restrictions on trade and technology transfers to India. It also faced pressure to join the CTBT and the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.

The Quest for Deterrence and Stability

The Quest for Deterrence and Stability

India and Pakistan engaged in a nuclear arms race and a missile race after their tests. They developed various types of nuclear weapons, such as bombs, warheads, missiles, submarines, etc. They also tested their missiles frequently, such as Agni, Prithvi, BrahMos, Shaheen, Ghauri, etc. They also deployed their nuclear forces along the border and adopted alert postures.

India and Pakistan faced several crises and conflicts that raised the specter of nuclear war and escalation in South Asia. Some of the major ones were the Kargil War in 1999, the Parliament Attack in 2001, the Mumbai Attacks in 2008, and the Pulwama-Balakot Crisis in 2019. In each of these crises, both sides exchanged threats and warnings, mobilized troops and assets, and conducted limited military operations.

India and Pakistan pursued dialogue and confidence-building measures (CBMs) to reduce tensions and prevent misunderstandings. Some of the important CBMs were the Lahore Declaration in 1999, the Islamabad Declaration in 2004, the Agreement on Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles in 2005, and the Agreement on Reducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons in 2007. They also established a hotline between their foreign secretaries and a joint anti-terrorism mechanism.

The Future of India's Nuclear Power

India has evolved its nuclear policy and posture over time to suit its changing security environment and aspirations. It has declared a doctrine of credible minimum deterrence and no first use of nuclear weapons. It has also stated that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states or in response to chemical or biological attacks. It has also expressed its willingness to join a universal and verifiable nuclear disarmament process.

India has sought to join the global nuclear order and regimes as a responsible nuclear power. It has signed several bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreements with countries such as the US, France, Russia, Japan, etc. It has also obtained a waiver from the NSG in 2008 to engage in nuclear trade with other countries. It has also applied for membership in the NSG and other export control regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), and the Australia Group (AG).

India has balanced its nuclear interests with its energy needs and environmental concerns. It has pursued a three-stage nuclear power program that aims to utilize its abundant thorium resources. It has also invested in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, etc. It has also committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing its climate resilience under the Paris Agreement.


In conclusion, Weapons of Peace: The Secret Story of India's Quest to be a Nuclear Power by Raj Chengappa is a valuable and informative book that covers the topic of India's nuclear journey in depth and detail. It provides a historical perspective as well as a contemporary analysis of India's nuclear policy and posture. It also offers insights into India's nuclear challenges and opportunities.

The book has many strengths, such as its extensive research, its balanced perspective, its engaging narrative, and its rich anecdotes. It also has some weaknesses, such as its lack of critical evaluation, its omission of some important aspects, such as cyber security and artificial intelligence, and its outdated information on some issues.

The book has many implications and challenges for India's nuclear future. It shows that India's nuclear power is not only a matter of national security but also of national pride and prestige. It also shows that India's nuclear power is not only a source of deterrence but also of dialogue and diplomacy. It also shows that India's nuclear power is not only a responsibility but also an opportunity for global leadership.


  • What is the difference between a fission bomb and a fusion bomb?

  • A fission bomb is a type of nuclear weapon that uses the splitting of atoms (usually uranium or plutonium) to release energy. A fusion bomb is a type of nuclear weapon that uses the fusion of atoms (usually hydrogen isotopes) to release energy. A fusion bomb is more powerful and efficient than a fission bomb.

  • What is the difference between a ballistic missile and a cruise missile?

  • A ballistic missile is a type of missile that follows a predetermined trajectory and re-enters the atmosphere at high speed. A cruise missile is a type of missile that flies at low altitude and can maneuver and change course. A cruise missile is more accurate and stealthy than a ballistic missile.

  • What is the difference between a nuclear weapon state and a non-nuclear weapon state?

  • A nuclear weapon state is a country that has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or device before January 1, 1967. There are five nuclear weapon states recognized by the NPT: China, France, Russia, UK, and US. A non-nuclear weapon state is a country that has not manufactured or acquired nuclear weapons and has joined the NPT as such. There are 186 non-nuclear weapon states that are parties to the NPT.

  • What is the difference between the NPT, the CTBT, and the FMCT?

  • The NPT is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 1970. It aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It also commits the nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament. The CTBT is the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which was adopted in 1996 but has not entered into force yet. It aims to ban all nuclear explosions for any purpose. The FMCT is the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, which has not been negotiated yet. It aims to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

  • What is the difference between minimum credible deterrence and no first use?

  • Minimum credible deterrence is a doctrine that states that a country will maintain only the minimum number and type of nuclear weapons necessary to deter an adversary from attacking it with nuclear weapons. No first use is a policy that states that a country will not use nuclear weapons first against any adversary under any circumstances.


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