Washington: US tilt towards Pakistan and its
overtures to China in the early 70s apparently led India to go
ahead with the decision to conduct its first nuclear test in
Pokharan in 1974, which caught the entire western intelligence
A secret State Department intelligence note, dated
January 14, 1972, acknowledged that US policy had an impact on
India`s decision making on nuclear weapons, saying there was
"little doubt" that the then president Richard Nixon`s
announcement of his trip to China changed New Delhi`s
The late US president, who was forced to step down in the
wake of Watergate scandal, had troubled relations with India
because of his tilt towards Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pak war
and his moves to reconcile with China.
Declassified American documents of the era reveal that
as of early 1971, all evidence indicated that the Government
of India had decided to defer indefinitely the development and
explosion of a test device.
"In early August, however, the cabinet undertook a review
of Indian nuclear policy in the wake of President Nixon`s July
16 announcement of his proposed trip to China. There can be
little doubt that the July 16 announcement has had major
implications for India`s security calculations and its nuclear
policy," the six-page intelligence note said, which was
released by the National Security Archive.
"In New Delhi`s view, the announcement appeared to rule
out all hope that India (not a signatory to the NPT) could
anticipate a joint US-Soviet umbrella against the threat of
Chinese nuclear attack," it said, adding that the decision to
detonate a nuclear device may have been triggered by the
deepening crisis in Indo-Pakistani relations.
"India may have concluded that an early test would
demonstrate its increasing military strength to Pakistan and
remind the latter`s Chinese and American friends of its
potential power," the intelligence note said.
"Although the immediate issue with Pakistan has been
settled, a test still would probably be regarded as very
useful by the Indians," it added.
The documents claim that US assessment was that a nuclear
test would constitute dramatic support for India`s contention
that it is the only important power on the subcontinent.
"India also may hope that a demonstrated nuclear
capability would quash any thoughts of revenge the Pakistanis
might still entertain," the State department said.
Six months later in June 1972, the then Secretary of
State, Henry Kissinger, wrote to president Nixon about
intelligence reports which also came from other sources that
India has decided to go nuclear.
"Such a test would likely affect the attitudes of the
USSR and the People Republic of China toward South Asia, and
would probably generate Pakistani pressures for enhanced
security guarantees. Again, we should be carefully consider
our position," Kissinger wrote in his note.
Analysing the latest round of declassified documents of
the era, the National Security Archives writes that relations
between New Delhi and Washington were already cool during the
Nixon administration which treated India as a relatively low
"Henry Kissinger`s secret trip to China underlined
India`s low priority by suggesting that if New Delhi ever
faced a crisis with Beijing it could not count on Washington
for help, it said.