No dissent as India fires long-range missile

20.04.2012 - New Delhi - Tony Henderson

As was widely reported: the Agni-V missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, has a range of 5,000km – which would give India the capability to hit most major cities in China, Iran and South East Asia… Why would India want to do such a thing?

To speak of the weapon itself, it has been in the works for over 20 years and cost the Indian government more than $500m and is among India’s most sophisticated armaments.

The test attracted none of the criticism from the West that North Korea faced when it sent a similar rocket into the stratosphere a week previous. China belatedly criticised the West’s silence, saying it is ignoring India’s disregard for nuclear treaties.

India has now joined that group of countries that openly boast of having long-range weapons that can carry nuclear warheads. That club includes the US, Britain, France, Russia and China itself.

China’s military arsenal includes the Dongfeng 5A with an estimated range of 13,000km. China also has as many as 66 land-based intercontinental missile launchers; India has none. India says the Agni-V is the answer to China’s missiles deployed in the Tibetan Autonomous Region – so that’s why Tibet is always under scrutiny and tight rule by Beijing…

Rahul Bedi from Jane’s Defence Weekly told Al Jazeera’s Prerna Suri: *”India is developing the missile as a dissuasive deterrent against China because all its nuclear programmes, as well as missile programmes, are focused on China. In fact, when India carried out its 1998 nuclear tests, it declared that it was doing so in response to what the Chinese were doing as far as their nuclear weapons were concerned.”*

India’s nuclear programme started in 1998 when it last tested a nuclear device. Sanctions that were previously against such tests were withdrawn when India and the US signed a Civilian Nuclear Agreement, in 2008. Any later test was not expected to attract new sanctions, partly because of this tacit support.

Possessing and developing nuclear weapons and missiles makes no logical sense in a country where more than half of the people live on less than a dollar-and-a-half a day, but few question the high costs. In 2011, India spent over $46bn buying weapons; that compares to $11bn spent on education and $6bn on health.

Though India and China are competing economic powers and despite there are niggling border disputes, there is no obvious antagonistic factor that merits such arms development as the two powers have been going there separate ways, with brief cultural links in particular moments – like when Buddhism entered China – for generations. Is it on the level of the macro-politic where this apparent ‘problem’ exists? Why should the one population fear the other?

In *South Asia’s Geography of Conflict* Robert D. Kaplan says: *“As the United States and China become great power rivals, the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of geopolitics in Eurasia in the 21st century. India, in other words, looms as the ultimate pivot state. But even as the Indian political class understands at a very intimate level America’s own historical and geographical situation, the American political class has no such understanding of India’s. Yet, if Americans do not come to grasp India’s age-old, highly unstable geopolitics, especially as it concerns Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, they will badly mishandle the relationship.”*

The military men on both sides need to snap out of their hypnotic and myopic stand-points and realign their mistrusts.

Categories: Asia, International, Politics

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