Smiling Buddha was the code name for India's 1974 test explosion of its first nuclear "device." India was the sixth nation to develop nuclear weapons, the first five being the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. In response to the Smiling Buddha test, an editorial in the June 1974 edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) observed:
[India's] acquisition of nuclear weapons... is an ominous portent. Israel has probably acquired such weapons, Egypt may do it, and Pakistan probably will try... America, Britain, Russia, China and, not least of all, France have shown the weaker countries the way: national pride requires muscle, which means nuclear muscle... The arms race has its own mad logic and India has done little more than follow it.
Going backward, we can see the same mad logic at work when China became the fifth nuclear nation. Shortly after the Chinese test, Dr. Bernard T. Feld (who worked on the Manhattan project) wrote in the December 1964 BAS,
The fundamental problem is that the nuclear supoerpowers continue to rely on nuclear weapons as a major ingredient of their military forces... With each addition to the nuclear club, it will become more difficult to hold the line. Thus, today, it may still be possible to convince India, for example, that Chinese nuclear weapons need not be matched by an Indian nuclear force. But will it be possible to convince Israel not to match Egypt, or vice versa...?
Going further back, to the year before France would become the fourth nuclear power, David Inglis warned of the dangers of the forthcoming test in his January 1959 BAS article titled, "The Fourth-Country Problem: Let's Stop at Three." Wrote Dr. Inglis,
If France does carry through and become number four, as widely anticipated, there will probably be no stopping Communist China, perhaps as the fifth country.
We should take away three lessons from the Smiling Buddha and all the tests that have come before and since. First, nuclear weapons are so obviously vital to the national security of a state that feels threatened that even a Gandhi will build them. Second, deterrence apparently can be made to work in a multilateral context across the developed and developing worlds: apocalyptic pronouncements are unwarranted. Third, we can learn to cooperate with our nuclear neighbors. Bush's 2006 nuclear agreement with India shows how far we have come in the past thirty-three years.
It is time our leaders acknowledge the simple truth that the mad logic driving Iran's nuclear program is the same logic that has driven nuclear proliferation for sixty years. Iran will follow the path blazed by Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea (and probably also Israel) and no threats or hand-wringing over the "Nth Country" will stop them. By declaring a nuclear Iran to be "unacceptable" and hinting at military action we merely compound the mad logic with urgency. We should instead begin preparing a new world order that includes a place at the table for a nuclear Iran.