Smiling Buddha Nuclear Test – 18 May 1974

smiling buddha nuclear test

Smiling Buddha Nuclear Test – The day the United States of America through a nuclear bomb on two cities in Japan, Every country in the world realized the power of nuclear. Apart from that, it also started a nuclear race in the world, and it also became one of the biggest causes of the Cold War between the United States and Russia.

Currently, the United States, Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel, and probably North Korea own thousands of nuclear bombs, which can destroy the world more than two or three times.

Till the smiling Buddha nuclear test, only permanent members of the United Nations Security Council were doing the nuclear tests, and Indira Gandhi-lead Indian government was the first one, not the permanent member, to do that.

It is believed that several incidents, including the rising tensions with China, American support for Pakistan, and friendly support from the Soviet Union, pushed the Indian government to test nuclear weapons on its own. 

At one point, Back in December 1971, when India was at war against neighboring country Pakistan, the Indian subcontinent was about to become the battleground of nuclear weapons. 

The United States helped Pakistan with its nuclear-powered USS enterprise during the war, and Russia sent its nuclear-powered submarine to help India. The whole incident pushed the Indian government to do anything in order to develop a nuclear bomb.

Why was it Necessary?

Now, you might ask, who was it necessary to perform a nuclear test? India might have faced several sanctions from the United States and United Nations. Why did India take the risk and perform a test?

Yes, it was necessary to perform the nuclear test. It is a simple explanation of every question. 

India was under pressure when the United States sent its USS enterprise at the end of the Pakistan war back in December 1971. USS Enterprise was the first-ever nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sent by the United States to help Pakistan in the war against India.

As you are already aware, from the very first day, India and Russia have been on good terms. The United States was in the Cold War against the Russians. That is why Russia sent submarines armed with nuclear missiles from Vladivostok. 

The whole situation of India becoming the battleground of nuclear war changed the scenario of the Indian nuclear program. Soon after the war, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi decided to manufacture nuclear devices and prepare them for testing.

The whole world knew that India did not have a good relationship with its neighbor Pakistan and the United States decided to help Pakistan with its nuclear-powered carrier during the war.

It was stated that in order to ensure its own security, India had to perform a test and develop nuclear weapons. As per the report, the Indian army was not involved in the test at first. The Indian army was fully informed of the test preparations and alerted to prepare for any retaliation by neighboring country Pakistan, supported by the United States. 

Apart from all that, another Indian rival and neighbor China Was also developing nuclear weapons. The Indian government knew that, and India had already faced a war against the Chinese back in 1964.

India was being pushed from every front to develop its own nuclear weapons as the Chinese did in 1964. 

Smiling Buddha Nuclear Test
Smiling Buddha Nuclear Test

Related History

Most people in India believe that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did the first-ever Indian nuclear tests in Pokhran, But it was Indira Gandhi who did nuclear tests for India back in 1974.

You will be surprised to know that India started its own nuclear program back in 1944 when India was under British rule. Back then, the Tata institute of fundamental research was established by the funding provided by the chairman of the Tata group.

After its independence from the British Empire, Indian Prime Minister Nehru authorized the development of the nuclear program. The government also passed an initiative that focused on the peaceful development of the nuclear program.

Back in the day, India was heavily involved in the development of the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty but did not sign due to several clauses included in the treaty. 

A lot of people believe that the first nuclear test, both Indians named smiling Buddha nuclear tests, was heavily influenced by the Russians. Back in 1968, a group of nuclear scientists from India visited the Soviet Union. 

They also visited a nuclear research facility located in Dubna, Russia. During this visit, Indian nuclear scientists got the idea after they were impressed by the plutonium-fueled pulse fast reactor.

India might never have developed nuclear weapons if the United States had not helped Pakistan with its nuclear-powered carrier back in December 1971 when India was in the war against Pakistan.

The whole charade of events, including the USS enterprise reaching the Bay of Bengal and the Russian submarine sent by the Soviet Union to help India, pushed the Indian government to secure its rights in the world.

World’s Reaction to Smiling Buddha Nuclear test

Before we wrap this session, let’s take a look at the world’s reaction to the smiling Buddha nuclear test. You should not be surprised if you see different nations condemning the action of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Even though the Indian government projected smiling nuclear tests as a peaceful nuclear explosion, Pakistan did not see it like that. 

Reaction of Pakistan

Pakistan has been among the biggest rivals of India since its origin in 1947. India performed a test back on 18th may 1974, and both countries were supposed to talk on the 10th of June for normalization of relations after the war of 1971.

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Vowed in June 1974 that he would never accept Indian hegemony or domination over the subcontinent with its nuclear explosion. One of the leading nuclear scientists in 2011 stated that the smiling Buddha nuclear test performed by India would push Pakistan further into the nuclear arena.

The reaction of the United States

Every country in the world thought that the United States would condemn the action of Indira Gandhi leading the Indian government after smiling that it would run a nuclear test, but The United States did not react like that.

Officials of the United States concluded that the test did not violate any agreement between both the countries, and they further approved the shipment of Richard uranium for the Indian reactor in June 1974. 

Reaction of Canada

Completely opposite to the United States, a close friend of the United States, Canada responded very aggressively as the plutonium used in the test was created in the reactor supplied by Canada. After the test, Canada said that the test had violated a 1971 agreement between the two States, and they are going to freeze nuclear energy assistance for two heavy water under construction reactors.

What changed after the First Nuclear test by India?

Now the big question is what has changed since the smiling Buddha nuclear test, the first-ever nuclear test by the Indian government and any country outside the permanent members of the United Nations security council. 


Soon after smiling at the Buddha nuclear test, the Prime Minister of Pakistan also started its own nuclear program. The government initiated the program on 20th January 1972 and tested nuclear weapons for the first time on 28th May 1998. 

Most Indo-Pak relations experts believe that smiling Buddha nuclear tests trigger the horde of nuclear weapons in the Indian subcontinent. As China had already tested its nuclear weapons back in 1964, Pakistan did not have any motive whatsoever before India did its first nuclear test.

Other countries

After smiling Buddha nuclear test, a lot of countries, apart from Pakistan, have also tried to make nuclear bombs for themselves. It is believed that South Africa also produced six nuclear weapons back in the 1980s to early 90s. 

In 2006, North Korea also claimed that they have more than 20 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Their rivalry against South Korea and the supporters of South Korea, including the United States, forced North Korea to do the experiment and invest heavily in their nuclear program.

During 1960 and 1979, people believed that Israel did some testing and they already had weapons of mass destruction. Most historians believe that Israel was the 6th country in the world to develop nuclear weapons. 

The authorities of Israel neither confirm nor deny a nuclear weapon program in their arsenal. Federation of American scientists, natural resources defense council, and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute believes that Israel has approximately 80 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

Most people believe that the Vela incident of 1979 was a test conducted by Israel in collaboration or in support of South Africa. Both the countries have not accepted or denied such allegations.

Indo Pak wars

Another interesting fact is that during the first 25 years of Indian independence, India fought three wars against Pakistan and one against China. 

And after 1971 to 2022, which is a time period of around 50 years, India fought only one war of Indo Pak 1999. It was a very controversial war as Pakistan claimed that people fighting in Kargil were not their soldiers.

Even though Nawaz Sharif later said that 4000 Pakistani troops were killed during the operation of 1999, they did not accept it as a war but as an internal conflict of India. 

Even if we accept the 1999 conflict of Indo Pak as a war, India is not indulging in any fight against any neighboring country. The nuclear warheads developed by India and Pakistan have ended the wars in the Indian subcontinent. 

Now, all three countries, India, Pakistan, and China, are not indulging in any war or conflict. A lot of people are calling it Peace of Terror. A similar thing also happened with the United States and Russian Federation back in the Cold War era. Every country understands the damage of nuclear warheads. 


The smiling Buddha nuclear test by the Indian government was the first-ever nuclear test performed by any country not part of permanent members of the United States Security Council. The rest was performed on 18th May 1974, in Rajasthan. It is the same site where India performed three more tests after 24 years of the First Test.

The test shook the whole world. The Canadian government responded very aggressively after the Indian government used plutonium provided by the Canadian reactor. 

At first, the United States showed its disappointment, but later they mentioned that the Indian government did not breach any agreement between the two countries. Apart from that, the United States also delivered the uranium for the Indian reactor in June 1974.

The history of nuclear power in India is very old as you can trace it back to 1944, when India was under British rule. The chairman of the Tata group funded the Tata institute of research under the request of Homi Bhabha. He’s also known as the father of the Indian nuclear program.

The Indian government did not decide one day to start its nuclear program, but it was supposed to because of several incidents. First of all, the Chinese have been doing nuclear tests since 1964, and they are not on good terms with India.

Apart from that, during the Indo-Pak war, Back in December 1971, The United States of America helped Pakistan during the war by sending its USS enterprise aircraft carrier equipped with a nuclear weapon. 

Even though it was called back by the United States as Russia sent its submarine loaded with nuclear weapons to help India in case the United States attacked India during the war. 

All these incidents pushed India to seek nuclear weapons, and it resulted in smiling with the nuclear test. 

Who did the first nuclear test in India?

Indira Gandhi did the first Indian nuclear test in 1974. The first nuclear test of India was named smiling Buddha. At the same time, most people in India believe that Atal Bihari Vajpayee Did the first nuclear test in India in 1998. Those tests were also equally important to declare India as a nuclear country, but the first-ever test was done by Indira Gandhi.