Not so. And once again, India's efforts have taken everyone by surprise.
Also familiar is the reaction by Pakistan. Even if India did not follow its 1974 test with a full-fledged nuclear-weapons program, it convinced Pakistani leaders that they had to counter this threat.
In the often-quoted words of then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, even if Pakistan had to ``eat grass,'' it would somehow manage to get the bomb, too. And it did.
And now, Pakistan has the best opportunity ever to use it. Just as the Soviet Union followed the United States in the early years of the Cold War, bomb for bomb, missile for missile, calls have come from all over Pakistan for a quick and comparable response to India's act.
It appeared, in these last few years, that South Asia was finally catching the bug that had infected the rest of the world: if not a peace virus, then at least the disease of detente. But now, India has surely stalled any effort toward accommodation between these two states any time soon.
The tests also will discredit the small but important anti-bomb movement in Pakistan. Generals and hard-liners can now turn to these activists and repeat what they have always said to dismiss any serious efforts at making peace: ``You can't trust these Hindus.''
The third familiar sound from 1974 is that of the Indian public's broad pro-nuclear sentiment. The response to the recent tests has been almost uniformly positive across India.
We saw hints of this in the summer of 1996, during the debates over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, when the usual political poles of left and right vanished into a hysterical mass of nationalist pride at India's opposition to the treaty.
Why do things nuclear matter so much in India? As the disillusioned nation reels toward the next millennium with so much of its early promise devoured by years of cynicism, corruption and compromise, the nuclear issue stands out as perhaps the last common ground where that promise can be realized.
``At least on this one issue, we can take pride,'' Indians say. ``The world has to take us seriously if we have the bomb.''
But the Indian public is also soft on the bomb because it knows so little about it. From the inception of the Indian nuclear program, the government has managed to control the flow of nearly all information about nuclear matters.
Far more is known abroad, for example, of safety violations rampant in the civilian nuclear program than by those living a few kilometers upwind of a failing Indian nuclear reactor. A more-informed Indian public would be far less sanguine about the efficacy of nuclear power.
For all these well-known refrains, there are important differences between the old and new tests.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi conducted the 1974 test from a position of strength. India's present rulers are in a very different situation, although they may be making similar projections. The pro-Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party governs with a loose, heterogeneous and fragile coalition. Clearly, it seeks to strengthen its electoral position by appealing to popular nationalism through these explosions.
The BJP acts from a position of weakness. The government claims that the possible economic effects of international condemnation have been thought through and dismissed as temporary. But are they right? International capital is extremely mobile today. Major donors can quickly withdraw grants-in-aid. The World Bank could cut off cheap financing. The impact of world displeasure remains to be seen.
The effects of an arms race with Pakistan - which will no doubt renew its old alliance with China - ensures that Indian defense expenditures, declining in real terms for the last few years, will swing upward again.
The BJP seems to have forgotten that the Indian electorate has shown its ready displeasure with incumbents, especially those who do not manage the economy well. Nuclear explosions notwithstanding, if the economic growth of the last decade continues to flag, all these calculations may come to nothing.
The BJP might do well to remember that a year after the last explosion, Indira Gandhi was scrambling for her political life and was forced to declare a national emergency - a de facto dictatorship - to hold onto power.
The BJP also seems to forget that these decisions are irreversible and have impacts well beyond their immediate context. In the last few years, the world has moved slowly toward a non-nuclear future. All that is now threatened by India's triumphant return to a discredited currency of power.
All we can hope is that in international politics, unlike economics, Gresham's Law - bad money drives out good - may not apply.
Itty Abraham is director of the South Asia program at the Social Science Research Council and author of the forthcoming The Making of the Indian Atomic Bomb: Science, Secrecy and the Postcolonial State.