Declassified 1964 National Intelligence Estimate Predicts India’s Bomb But Not Israel’s

Published on The National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book No. 401, by William Burr, November 6, 2012.

  • New Release Reports Country-by-Country Nuclear Capabilities, Fresh Data on Global Proliferation Trends in Mid-1960s
  • Finds “Better than Even” Chance India Will Soon Build a Bomb; But Mistakenly Concludes Israeli Leaders “Probably Have Not Yet Decided”
  • NIE’s Findings Add to Debate about How One State’s Acquisition of Nuclear Capability Could Affect Decisions by Regional Rivals

Washington, D.C., November 6, 2012 – The U.S. intelligence community predicted India’s nuclear bomb in 1964 but mistakenly concluded Israel had “not yet decided” to go nuclear, according to newly declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project.

Highlighting the posting is the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from October 1964, now declassified in its entirety by the CIA and including fresh 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.

The report (Document 3) held 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, even describing its 1974 test as a “peaceful nuclear explosion.”

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.

Interestingly, the 1964 NIE’s conclusion differed from an estimate a year earlier (Document 1), 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. (A similar debate about regional impact currently swirls around the prospect of Iran acquiring such a capability.) The report also assesses the West German, Swedish, Japanese, and other national nuclear programs.

For the other countries, the estimate was more cautious: … //
(full text, Documents 1 to 3 and Notes 1 to 3).

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