International History Review coverIn the aftermath of India’s five nuclear tests in May 1998, one analyst suggested that the motivations underlying its quest for nuclear weapons could be traced to ideas of national modernity and the lack of suitable scrutiny of a secretive scientific enclave. The same assessment argued that explanations that adduced material factors such as extant threats from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were simply chimerical.[1] Others, in a similar vein, contended that the origins of the program could be found in India’s quest for status and prestige.[2] Both accounts, though seemingly plausible, were actually quite flawed. The first was a heavily interpretive analysis, which attributed a series of motives on the basis of ambiguous evidence to a host of key individuals who had helped shape the early stages of India’s civilian nuclear program. More to the point, it mostly ignored the very compelling security threats at critical junctures that had led to the militarization of the program.

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