The Science and Politics of Testing in India: What to Expect After the Nuclear Deal?



Bharath Gopalaswamy,

Date and Time

June 4, 2009 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM


Open to the public.

No RSVP required


Reuben W. Hills Conference Room

FSI Contact

Justin C. Liszanckie

Abstract: Nuclear testing has a special place in the Indian nuclear discourse. India's activism on disarmament issues can be traced back to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's 1954 call for a test ban. In recent times, at three critical junctures: CTBT negotiations (1994-96), the dialogue with the U.S. after the nuclear tests of May 1998 (1998-2000) and the negotiations on the civil nuclear agreement with the U.S. (2005-2008), the testing issue has made a demand for answers on fundamental questions. Gill and Gopalaswamy believe that the debate on the politics and science of nuclear testing in India reflects two larger questions: firstly, in the manner in which India should relate to the wider nonproliferation regime pending nuclear disarmament and secondly what should be the nature and extent of the Indian nuclear deterrent in a world with nuclear weapons? Neither of these questions has been satisfactorily answered and thus it is still an open debate.

There are significant international dimensions to this debate. The first aspect is the fate of the CTBT, which India refused to sign after two and half years of engagement. The second aspect is the perceptions of the credibility of India's deterrent in a fluid strategic landscape. Gill and Gopalaswamy argue that while India has begun to be relatively more engaging with the nonproliferation regime, it is unlikely that New Delhi will ratify the CTBT anytime soon. Rather, engagement with India on fissile material/fuel cycle control and delegitimization of nuclear weapons may turn out to be a more productive use of scarce political capital in New Delhi and elsewhere in the short run. As this engagement develops, the CTBT would be seen less as a step child of the regime from which India was kept apart but more as one among a number of regimes that involve India in a network of mutual restraints, thus improving the prospects for India's participation in a formal, global ban on testing.

On the scientific aspects, Gill and Gopalaswamy argue that a ‘perceptual set' induced by U.S. nuclear history is at the heart of the controversy over the two-stage device tested on May 11, 1998. They believe that in the light of new data made available by Indian scientists, the option of renewed explosive testing should be considered by India only as a demonstration of intent to maintain the credibility of India's deterrent if certain redlines were to be crossed. The fact that India has such redlines in mind would act to induce more responsibility on part of the other nuclear weapon states relevant to India's decisions, thus reducing the probability of renewed testing by India.

Amandeep Singh Gill is a visiting fellow at CISAC. He is a member of the Indian Foreign Service and has served in the Indian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the Indian Embassy in Tehran and the High Commission of India in Colombo. At headquarters in New Delhi, he has served twice in the Disarmament and International Security Affairs Division of the Ministry of External Affairs from 1998 to 2001 and again from 2006 to 2008 at critical junctures in India’s nuclear diplomacy. He was a member of the Indian delegation to the Conference on Disarmament during the negotiations on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. He has also served as an expert on the UN Secretary General’s panels of experts on Small Arms and Light Weapons and on Missiles.

His research priorities include disarmament, arms control and non proliferation, Asian regional security and human security issues.  He is currently working on the interaction of nuclear policies of major states, particularly in Asia.

Before joining the Indian Foreign Service, Amandeep Gill worked as a telecommunications engineer. He retains an abiding interest in the interaction of science, security and politics. He is founder of a non-profit called Farmers First Foundation that seeks to reclaim agriculture for the farmers and demonstrate the viability of integrated agriculture in harmony with nature.

Bharath Gopalaswamy is a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University's Peace Studies Program. He has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Numerical Acoustics. He has previously worked at the Indian Space Research Organization's High Altitude Test Facilities and the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Company's Astrium GmbH division in Germany.

If you would like to be added to the email announcement list, please visit