January 14, 1972
State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research Intelligence Note, 'India to Go Nuclear?'
The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) evaluates the available intelligence on India’s nuclear intentions. There were varying reports that India would test a device that month, sometime in 1972, or that the government was undertaking a program to test a “peaceful nuclear explosive.” According to INR, India had the capability to produce some 20-30 weapons, and it could easily test a device in an underground site, such as an abandoned mine, that would be hard to discover. Because the U.S. government had given a “relatively modest priority to... relevant intelligence collection activities” a “concerted effort by India to conceal such preparations... may well succeed.” What would motivate India to test, the analysts opined, were domestic political pressures and concerns about China and Pakistan.
January 21, 1972
US Embassy Airgram A-20 to State Department, 'India’s Nuclear Intentions'
In response to the State Department's request, the U.S. Embassy in India identified a number of reasons that made it unlikely that India would a test a nuclear device in the coming weeks, but saw “straws” suggesting an underground test “sometime in future.” For example, the Government of India had publicly acknowledged ongoing work on the problem of safe underground testing. Moreover, India might have an interest in making its nuclear capabilities known to “enemies.” Whatever the Indians decided, external pressure would have no impact on a highly nationalist state and society: “we see nothing US or international community can presently do to influence GOI policy directions in atomic field.”
February 23, 1972
Memorandum from Ray Cline, Director, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, enclosing 'Possibility of an Indian Nuclear Test'
At the request of Undersecretary of State John Irwin, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) prepared an assessment which included a detailed review of Indian’s nuclear facilities and their capacity to produce weapons-grade plutonium as well as capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons to a target. While India had signed agreements with Canada and the United States that nuclear reactors were to be used for peaceful purposes, the Indians were likely to claim that an explosive device for “peaceful” purposes was consistent with the agreements. Whether the Indians were going to test in the near future was in doubt. INR could not “rule out” one in the near future. Further, the “strongest incentive [to test] may well be the desire for the increased status of a nuclear power.” All the same, “it our judgment that a decision to authorize a test is unlikely in the next few months and may well be deferred for several years.” Weighing against a test were the financial and diplomatic costs, for example, “India's full awareness that assistance from the US and other countries (possibly including the USSR) would be jeopardized.”
March 07, 1972
US Embassy Canada cable 391 to State Department, 'India’s Nuclear Intentions'
U.S. embassy officials report on an interview with Lauren Gray, the chairman of Canada’s Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), who had recently visited India. Having spoken with Homi Nusserwanji Sethna, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and other officials, Gray believed that Sethna opposed a test and that as long as Sethna and Indira Gandhi were in office “there was no chance” that India would test a nuclear device, which would take three to four years to prepare. Other officials with the AECB disagreed with Gray's estimates - based on their assessment of Indian’s ability to produce weapons grade plutonium, they argued that it would take no more than a year to produce a device. They also pointed out that about 18 months earlier there had been a “blackout” of statistical information on plutonium production in India.
March 09, 1972
State Department cable 40378 to US Embassy Ottawa, 'Indian Nuclear Intentions'
During a discussion with the Canadian embassy counselor, U.S. country desk director David Schneider opined that Indian was unlikely to test a device in the “near future” but he wanted Ottawa’s prognosis. Schneider was also interested in whether the Soviets, with their close relationship with India, might be able to use their influence to “deter” a test. If India tested, the U.S. could respond with a “strong statement,” but whether “punitive” measures would be taken would depend on whether the test “violated existing agreements.” In October 1970, the State Department had cautioned the Indians that a “peaceful nuclear explosion” was indistinguishable from a weapons test and that the test of a nuclear device would be incompatible with U.S.-Indian nuclear assistance agreements.
March 14, 1972
US Embassy Canada Cable 430 to State Department, 'India’s Nuclear Intentions on South Asia Situation'
Elaborating on his earlier cable and responding to the general issues raised by the Department’s 9 March message, science attaché Hudson questioned Lauren Gray’s evaluation of Sethna, suggesting that by combining “guile” and “technical proficiency,” the latter could easily have “easily misled” the Canadian. Based on consultations with a variety of Canadian insiders with knowledge of and experience with the Indian nuclear program, the Embassy saw no technical or fiscal barriers to an Indian test. Moreover, any pressure on India not to test would increase the “likelihood” of that happening.
March 24, 1972
State Department Cable 50634 to US Embassy Canada, 'Indian Nuclear Intentions'
Further discussions with the Canadian embassy counselor disclosed Ottawa’s view that it had no evidence of Indian intentions to test a nuclear weapon or a PNE. The Indians were “leaving their options open.” If they decided to test, however, it would be “impossible” for them to move forward “without revealing some indication of their intentions.”
April 22, 1972
State Department Cable 69551 to US Embassy United Kingdom, 'Indian Nuclear Intentions'
The Canadian embassy had asked the State Department for information on the intelligence reports from earlier in the year that an Indian nuclear test was “imminent.” The State Department denied the request, but informed the Canadians that the reports were so numerous and their “congruity, apparent reliability, and seeming credibility” so striking that it had become necessary to update official thinking about Indian intentions.
June 23, 1972
State Department Cable 113523 to US Embassy India, 'Japanese Views Regarding Indian Nuclear Plans'
In response to a request from the State Department, Ryohei Murata, an official at the Japanese embassy, reported that the Japanese government believed that for prestige reasons and as a “warning” to others, the “Indians have decided to go ahead with a nuclear test” which could occur at “any time.” The Thar Desert in Rajasthan would be the test site.
June 26, 1972
US Mission Geneva Cable 2755 to State Department, 'Japanese-Pakistani Conversations Regarding Indian Nuclear Plans'
Report on conversations between Japanese officials and a Pakistani source who indicated the location of the upcoming Indian nuclear test. The cable expressed doubts about the information, suggesting that the "stir" "may have been created largely on personal basis" by the Pakistani source.
July 04, 1972
Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Proposed NSSM on the Implications of an Indian Nuclear Test,' with cover memorandum from Richard T. Kennedy
National security assistant Henry Kissinger asks President Nixon to approve a proposal for a national security study memorandum [NSSM] on the implications of an Indian nuclear test for U.S. interests.
July 26, 1972
US Embassy India Cable 9293 to State Department, 'Indian Nuclear Intentions'
The Embassy acknowledged that India had the “technical know-how and possibly materials to develop [a] simple nuclear device within period of months after GOI decision to do so.” Nevertheless, it saw no evidence that a decision had been made to test a device. Moreover, capabilities to deliver nuclear weapons were limited, with no plans in sight to “develop [a] missile launch system.”
August 03, 1972
Special National Intelligence Estimate SNIE 31-72, 'Indian Nuclear Developments and their Likely Implications'
Prepared as part of the NSSM 156 policy review, this Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) concluded that the chances of India making a decision to test were “roughly even,” but the post-mortem analysis [see "Why now?," 18 May 1974] argued that based on its own findings, the conclusion ought to have been 60-40 in favor of a decision to test. In its analysis of the pros and cons of testing, the SNIE found that the “strongest factors impelling India to set off a test are: the belief that it would build up [its] international prestige; demonstrate India's importance as an Asian power; overawe its immediate South Asian neighbors; and bring enhanced popularity and public support to the regime which achieved it.” The drafters further noted that a test would be “extremely popular at home, where national pride is riding high” and that supporters of a test believed that it would make the world see India as “one of the world’s principal powers.” The arguments against a test included adverse reactions from foreign governments that provided economic assistance, but the estimate noted that foreign reactions were “becoming less important” to India.
September 21, 1972
Memorandum of Conversation, 'Indian Nuclear Developments'
A meeting between British Foreign Office and State Department officials on the Indian nuclear problem occurred the same month that Indian Prime Minister Gandhi approved the “final preparations for a PNE.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Christopher T. Van Hollen (the father of the future Maryland Congressman) and his colleagues followed the approach taken by the Special National Intelligence Estimate, which was close to that taken by the British Joint Intelligence Committee. According to country director David Schneider, the “odds were about even” that India would make a decision, but once it was made, India could test very quickly. There was “no firm intelligence” that a “go-ahead signal” to prepare for a test had been made. Schneider reviewed bilateral and multilateral steps, proposed in the NSSM 156 study, that the U.S. and others could take to try to discourage an Indian test and the range of reactions that would be available if India went ahead. A “weak” U.S. reaction, Schneider observed, would suggest that Washington would “acquiesce” if other countries followed India’s example.
January 16, 1973
H. Daniel Brewster to Herman Pollack, 'Indian Nuclear Developments'
The interagency group prepared a response to NSSM 156 on 1 September 1972 and it was sent to Kissinger. The summary of the study reproduced here includes the conclusion that an Indian test would be “a set-back to nonproliferation efforts” and that Washington should “do what [it] can to avert or delay” one. Thus, recommendations included a number of unilateral and multilateral actions that the United States government could take, noting that “given the poor state” of Indo-American relations, an “overly visible” U.S. effort would more likely speed up an Indian decision to test a device, Even non-US efforts were likely not to “be per se effective.”
April 04, 1973
Bombay consulate cable 705 to Department of State, 'India’s Nuclear Position'
The possibility that India had made a decision to test surfaced in a message from the U.S. consulate in Bombay (Mumbai) signed off by Consul David M. Bane. The latter reported that Oak Ridge Laboratory scientist John J. Pinajian, then serving as the Atomic Energy Commission’s scientific representative in India, had pointed out several “indications”—-notably his lack of access to key individuals and facilities in India’s atomic establishment--suggesting that India “may well have decided” to test a nuclear device. While stating that Pinajian’s evaluation was “subjective and impressionistic,” Consul Bane agreed that the atomic energy establishment did not want this American poking around because he might find out too much. Bane further observed that a nuclear test “in the not too distant future” could meet India’s political goals and help attain “greater recognition major power status.”
May 17, 1973
US Embassy India Cable 5797 to State Department forwarding Bombay consulate cable 983, 'India’s Nuclear Position'
A follow up to John J. Pinajian's 4 April 1973 report on "India's Nuclear Position." Pinajian got some access to the Bhabha Atomic Research Center, but noticed the absence of personnel responsible for experimental work. Moreover, he was getting cooperation from the Institute for Fundamental Research to conduct an experiment.