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India Reconfirms Its Entry Into Elite Missile Club – Analysis

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India said that it has successfully test-fired its nuclear-capable strategic ballistic missile Agni-IV with a strike range of about 4000 km with the help of a mobile launcher from a test range at Wheeler Island off the eastern coast of an Indian state Orissa on September 19.

Quoting a defense official leading Indian daily Times of India (TOI) said that the Agni IV is equipped with modern and compact avionics to provide high level of reliability.

TOI further referring defense scientist says that the “sophisticated missile is lighter in weight and has two stages of solid propulsion. The payload, with a re-entry heat shield can withstand temperature of more than 3000 degree Celsius”.
Two days earlier Pakistan had also successfully test-fired its Hatf-VII Babur missile with a range of some 700 kilometers and capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

India's missiles
India’s missiles

In last April, India had successfully launched its first indigenously developed three staged long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) ‘Agni V’ from the same launching station. This had placed India ranked among the other handful of nations: China, U.S., U.K., France and Russia, having ICBMs in their arsenal.

The Agni V is the all solid fuel powered, 17-metre tall nuclear capable ballistic missile that weighs 50 ton and has two meter diameter. It has a range of more than 5000 km that can target almost all important cities of China.

It also has the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead weighing over a ton. This capability in due course can be upgraded to carry Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) that can deliver up to ten nuclear warheads in a single launch assigned to multiple targets. Alternatively, with Agni V two or more warheads can be assigned to a single target. According to knowledgeable sources this is being developed to provide a credible second strike capability.

ICBMs are the most complicated weapon system that can be compared with ancient “BRAHMASTRA” and its targeting cannot be changed after it is launched, nor can it be recalled or destroyed in flight. They are guided with infallible higher level of accuracies. These kind of weapons although are developed in regional context, have global implications.

India had launched its first satellite into orbit in 1980. That was followed by missile program of Agni series in 1983. Just in last November too it had successfully launched ‘Agni IV. The others in this family are Agni-I Agni-II and Agni-III from 700 to 3,500 kilometers in ranges.

As quoted by Defense analyst Rahul Bedi Dr. V.K. Saraswat , Chief of Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) said that Agni V was “Fired from a canister-launch system to provide it greater operational flexibility of being either rail- or road-launched, the Agni-V compares favourably with ICBMs in use by nuclear weapons states like Britain, China, France, Russia and the US,”

Mr Saraswat also claims that while missiles available to other nuclear weapons states employ relatively older technology, the technologies incorporated into Agni-V are far ahead of other countries except the U.S.

BBC has quoted another defense expert – former Brigadier Arun Sahgal – the joint director of the Institute of National Security Studies in Delhi, that “Agni-V will provide India with much-needed dissuasive deterrence against China which at present it lacks”.

Indian military strategist is said to have developed this missile to meet the threat posed by China’s nuclear-capable DF21 series of intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) ranging from 1,500km-2,250km -that are deployed across Tibet and South-West China with capacity to strike major Indian cities, including Delhi.

Experts say that the shorter-ranges Agni-I and II were developed to meet the defense threats posed by Pakistan and while other missiles of Agni family (Agni III to Agni V) were developed aiming at major Chinese cities including Tibet – strategically significant to both India and China.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier at the successful launching of Agni V had congratulated the entire scientist and other officials involved in the mission. Speaking with Dr. Saraswat Premier Singh exclaimed “You made the nation proud.” Similarly Defense Minister A K Antony described the successful test flight of Agni V as a flawless success that as a major milestone in national history helped the nation stand tall among the elite club of nations.

India, which for long has been the biggest weapons importer in the world is said to have introduced the most innovative and advanced technology in its missile system.

Response From China, US and Nato

According to Wall Street Journal and Hindustan Times, during the Agni V test, China officially was more careful and guarded in its reaction on India’s missile test. At a daily briefing, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said – as emerging powers “India and China are not rivals but cooperative partners.” When asked about the missile launch and its security implications for China Liu replied “the two countries have a sound relationship” and expressed his hope that Asian countries can contribute to regional stability and peace.

But the real mood of China was reflected by the Global Times, an English language daily owned by Chinese Communist Party. It published an article entitled “India being swept up by missile delusion”. The tone it articulated and the language it used sharply contradicts the official Chinese position.

Commenting acerbically on India’s $480 million project of Agni V test, Global Times says “India is still poor and lags behind in infrastructure construction, but its society is highly supportive of developing nuclear power”. Snapping a heavy sarcasm against the Western countries Global Times commented “the West chooses to overlook India’s disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties” but “remains silent on the fact that India’s military spending increased by 17 percent in 2012 and the country has again become the largest weapons importer in the world”.

Global Times had also threatened India not to overestimate its strength even though Indian missiles could reach most part of China. India can gain nothing with its missile arrogances as China’s nuclear power is stronger and more reliable than India’s and for “the foreseeable future, India would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China”. While claiming this, Global Times must have reflected on China’s massive nuclear arsenal including the 11,200 km long range Dong Feng-31A missiles capable of hitting any part of India from any place however deep inside China. Further it directed its ire and warned India not to “overstate the value of its Western allies and the profits it could gain from participating in a containment of China. If it equates long range strategic missiles with deterrence of China, and stirs up further hostility, it could be sorely mistaken”.
On the other hand, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had earlier commented that NATO does not consider India as a threat despite the country’s advanced missile development program. Similar was the response from the Spokesperson of U.S. Department of State Mark Toner who when asked about India’s new missile launch commented – “They have a solid nonproliferation record and that they’re playing a significant role internationally on the issue”. Toner reminding the questioner further said that India has participated in the nuclear security summits, the one in Washington and the other in Seoul most recently; however he reiterated U.S. position that they urge “all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint regarding their nuclear and missile capabilities”.

Nuclear Missiles: Are They Weapons Of War Or Weapons Of Peace?

In May 1998, just three days before the nuclear tests Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a top secret meeting with three army chiefs and his National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra to assess whether the United States could carry out a pre – emptive strike against India’s nuclear installations and after such a possibility was ruled out, the tests was carried on. (Raj Chengappa : Weapons of Peace)

But after a fortnight of India’s tests Pakistan retorted with six nuclear tests, Vajpayee was convinced that the tension between the two countries would now be reduced and he told an aide ‘when we both have nuclear weapon we cannot afford to go to war. We will come closer and it will open the road to cooperation’ (Chengappa). After this although India and Pakistan fought a limited war on Kargil, they refrained from staging an all out war.

The greatest irony of human history is that the invention of nuclear weapon – with the most destructive capacity, has led the world witness the longest period of peace among major world powers. And it is equally true that billions of dollar used in developing and deploying nuclear weapons if were used otherwise could have resulted the more sustainable peace and prosperity around the world –an issue that perhaps remains the biggest moral challenges to nuclear weapons today.
However these weapons do have no combative values but have worked as an excellent deterrent in major power relations. A veteran U.S. security strategist- Brent Scowcroft, who has served from President Gerald Ford to President Barrack Obama in different capacities, has said “Nuclear weapons are like fire insurance; you buy them even if you don’t want to use them”.
India has always maintained that its missiles development is aimed to maintain deterrence parity with other military power especially against Pakistan and China. To increase its deterrent ability it is also closer to complete a nuclear submarine to defend its long coast lines. In a recent report – “Assuring Destruction Forever – Nuclear Weapon Modernization around the World”, M.V. Ramana, a nuclear-energy expert in Princeton University has stated that India would soon have an operational triad of aircraft, land based missiles and nuclear powered submarine – launched missiles for delivery of nuclear warheads.
Margherita Stancati of Wall Street Journal has quoted Bharat Karnad, a security expert at the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, saying that “India has finally reached deterrence parity with China.”

People may go into war as they are going now, but for their deterrent capacities nuclear power countries are unlikely to go into an all out war. Therefore nuclear weapons system have worked as a weapon of peace, however the moral question remains the same.

Published in The Reporter Weekly and reprinted with permission

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai is the former President of Nepal Teachers' Association, Teachers' Union of Nepal and General Secretary of SAARC Teachers' Federation. Currently, he is the Advisor of Nepal Institute for Strategic Affairs (NISS). Mr. Bhattarai has also authored four books -- two of them are about Nepal's Relations with India and one each on educational Issues and Nepal in global Geopolitics.

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