US intel predicted Indian nuclear bomb in 1964

The report also assesses the West German, Swedish, Japanese, and other national nuclear programmes.

hidden November 07, 2012 02:00:43 IST
US intel predicted Indian nuclear bomb in 1964

Washington: The US intelligence community predicted India's atomic bomb in 1964 but mistakenly concluded Israel had "not yet decided" to go nuclear, according to newly declassified documents.

The documents were released on Monday by the National Security Archive (NSA) and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

Such an analysis came from the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from October 1964, which had details about the nuclear state of play on a country-by-country level right at the time of the first Chinese atomic test on 16 October 1964.

US intel predicted Indian nuclear bomb in 1964

Former prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the nuke test. Getty Images

The 1964 report said that the "chances are better than even that India will decide to build nuclear weapons within the next few years".

Although India had the capability to produce plutonium and the Chinese test was likely to produce increasing "internal pressures" for a decision, in fact it was years before India made a decision to produce nuclear weapons, it said.

The estimate also concluded that Israeli leaders "probably have not yet decided to develop nuclear weapons," although "strong pressures" to do so could emerge depending on such factors as armament levels of the Arab states or whether Israel was unable to acquire "adequate quantities of conventional weapons."

"By contrast, Avner Cohen's research (in his 1998 book Israel and the Bomb and his 2010 volume The Worst Kept Secret) demonstrates that Prime Minister Ben-Gurion had already taken the basic decisions to develop a nuclear weapons capability in 1962, and that the Israelis started to build their arsenal in 1967," the National Security Archive said.

Interestingly, the 1964 NIE's conclusion differed from an estimate a year earlier, which speculated that "the Israelis, unless deterred by outside pressure, will attempt to produce a nuclear weapon sometime in the next several years."

The CIA produced the 1964 estimate, "Prospects for a Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Over the Next Decade," at a time of great concern whether the Chinese event would generate a wave of national nuclear capabilities.

The report also assesses the West German, Swedish, Japanese, and other national nuclear programmes.

This NIE appeared only days after the first Chinese nuclear test on 16 October 1964; it had been in the works for some months but the news of the test may have created some pressure to finalise the estimate because it includes a discussion of the implications of the test.

That India was the only state that the authors of the estimate thought likely to develop nuclear weapons helps explain why they reaffirmed the statements made in 1963 on nuclear proliferation about the "broad implications" of nuclear proliferation, for example, "there will not be a
widespread proliferation …over the next decade."

Significantly, the drafters argued that compared with the "impact of any further proliferation by smaller powers", the "impact of the proliferation which is already occurring-in France and Communist China-will be far greater" because of the impact of these "acts of defiance" on alliance systems, it said.

The nuclear proliferation (India, Israel, etc) that could occur was not likely to "upset" the world balance of power, but there was a risk that regional conflicts could draw the superpowers into a nuclear confrontation.

Moreover, the "accidental detonation of a nuclear weapons in any part of the world would have far-reaching consequences," which led to an interesting discussion of the implications, the NSA said.

It concluded that Pakistan would try to build a nuclear bomb once India does so, but believed that Islamabad was unlikely to get "sufficient help" to help them produce nuclear weapons.

"..problem could arise with Pakistan in response to India's acquisition of a nuclear capability," says the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from October 1964.

"We think it unlikely to that either the UAR (United Arab Republic) or Pakistan would get sufficient help to enable them to produce nuclear weapons, or would have such weapons transferred to them," the NIE said, a declassified copy of which was released by the National Security Archive.

"We do not now foresee developments which would lead to this type of situation elsewhere in the world in the next decade," NIE said in its 1964 estimates according to which at that time India was three-to five years away from nuclear weapon.

"India now possesses all the basic facilities necessary to produce plutonium," it said adding that the only other nation having plutonium separation facility was China and France.

"We believe that India, given the facilities it now has, could produce and test a first nuclear device in one to three years after a decision to do so. India signed the 1963 partial test ban treaty, but it has areas where underground testing would present no great difficulties," the NIE said.

"A weapon deliverable by the Indian Air Force's Canberra light bombers could probably be produced about two years after the first test. Until near the end of this decade, India will be able to produce fissionable material only from the CIII reactor.

"Consequently, India could produce by 1970 about a dozen weapons in the 20 KT range. Thereafter, when reactor capacity is expected to increase substantially, India's ability to produce fissionable material will increase proportionately," it said.

At the same time, NIE said the economic burden in developing a few simple fission weapons and a delivery capability based on presently available aircraft would not be great.

"It seems clear that India's nuclear program has been carried out in such a way as to allow New Delhi— if it so decides—to move into a modest weapons programme with little delay and moderate expense," it said, adding that the US had no evidence that Indian scientists were working in the field of weapons design, and the Indian Government had not made the decision to build a weapon.

"India traditionally has opposed nuclear weapons on moral and political grounds, and top government officials have recently publicly reiterated that India does not intend to make nuclear weapons. However, now that the 'first Chinese test has occurred, internal pressures will probably rise in
India for some countervailing force," the NIE said.

It said that the Indian decision will depend on a number of factors, the most important being that of the pace and scope of the Chinese program and the nature of Chinese 'policy.'

"If the Chinese carry out a vigorous test program and appear to be moving successfully toward an operational weapons capability, and if they continue their truculent foreign policy, the pressures within India for a weapons programme will grow stronger," it said.

Another important factor will be the development of Soviet policy under the new leadership.

Evidence of a move toward Sine-Soviet rapprochement, oven if not accompanied by a lessening of Soviet military and other aid to India, will likewise tend to make India feel that it must expand its own military capabil1ty.

According to NIE, another factor will be the importance the Indians attach to assurances from the US and others.

"It is conceivable that the Indians would decide not to develop nuclear weapons if they were able to obtain unequivocal assurances from the US or the USSR to come to India's assistance in case of nuclear attack from Communist China.

"The chances of their abstaining from weapons development might be somewhat greater if they were able to obtain such an assurance from both the super powers," it said.

"They would not, however, be optimistic that assurances which they considered adequate could be obtained. India probably could not be persuaded to give up its freedom of choice by any proposals for an atom- free zone in Asia, unless the Chinese Communists were included in the zone and unless
the agreement set up strong inspection and control arrangements," the intelligence estimates said.

"We believe that India will at a minimum continue to build up its capability to start a weapons programme promptly after a decision to do so. This will probably include studies of designs and techniques preliminary to a weapons programme.

"The weapons India could produce by 1970 would be of relatively large dimensions and unsophisticated design."

Indian delivery capabilities would probably be limited to the Canberra bombers presently possessed by the Indian Air Force, or to other aircraft which India might be able to purchase, such as the US B-47 or Soviet TtJ-16 (Badger) medium bombers.

"We believe that it is beyond India's technical and economic capabilities to develop either very small tactical or high yield fission weapons, thermonuclear weapons, or missile delivery systems within the period of this estimate," NIE concluded.


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