The friendly Indian intercontinental missile

Agni-V is an intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India. On 19 April 2012 at 8.07 am, the Agni V was successfully test-fired by DRDO from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha. S

Agni-V is an intercontinental ballistic missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) of India. On 19 April 2012 at 8.07 am, the Agni V was successfully test-fired by DRDO from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha. S

There was a frenzy surrounding the failed launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea just a week ago. How to explain calm reaction on the Indian Agni-5 launch then?

Perusing the front pages of Delhi newspapers, one gets the impression that launching of the Agni-5 intercontinental missile with a striking range of 5,000 km by India was a prominent but by no means sensational event even for the Indians. There have been no overly emotional responses to it outside India, either. One can’t help drawing a parallel between this calm reaction and the media frenzy surrounding the failed launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea just a week ago. And when something of the kind happens in Iran, the reaction is even stronger. 

People kill people

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan once commented on the right to bear arms in America with the memorable phrase, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” The international games surrounding nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles illustrate the point nicely.

On May 11, 1998, India held underground nuclear tests in an attempt to outdo Pakistan, which had also planned (and successfully conducted) such tests a few days later. And with that two more nuclear powers were born. Like many other countries, Russia condemned the new nuclear powers for ignoring the universally accepted ban on expanding the nuclear club. Back then, many commentators observing Russia’s harsh reaction to these developments rightly noted that no one feared France’s nuclear arsenal, because France is a country that gave the world Dumas, Moliere, cheese and wine. It simply has no reason to use its nuclear weapons against Russia or any other country for that matter. The same reasoning was applied to India: Our friend has become stronger, so it is good news not bad.

This is also why Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo react differently to missile tests in North Korea. The first two countries don’t want any trouble just because the Japanese and Americans are afraid of the North Koreans. However, Pyongyang is very unlikely to fire a missile at China or Russia.

In other words, the intentions and interests of superpowers are more important in strategic planning than their capabilities. What are the intentions of Russia’s friend India, which has increased the striking range of its nuclear arms delivery vehicles?

The source of the threat

The most obvious answer is that this is bad news primarily for China, which is, by the way, Russia’ friend, too. Indeed, there’s no reason for India to aim its nuclear weapons against Africa or the United States, all the more so since Agni can’t reach U.S. shores anyway. However, all of China’s territory is now within reach.

For several years now, various political forces in India have been saying officially (and especially in private) that Indians aren’t dumb enough to turn their country into a missile base against China just because, for example, the United States wants it to be this way. Both major Indian parties agree on that.

Pakistan, whose government either unwilling or unable to control the jihadist groups residing on its territory, remains India’s primary threat. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is not the only concern here. The philosophy underlying the establishment of Pakistan as a Muslim alternative to Hindu India is another major consideration. It’s not clear what this nation will become without this idea, and whether Pakistan will remain a nation without it.

This is not all there is to it. Jihadism is not only about Pakistan. Let’s not forget that in addition to nuclear tests in 1998, India stepped up its political involvement in the Middle East and became very close with Israel. Today, with the Gulf monarchies successfully promoting the jihad philosophy across all Arab nations, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to name a few, it has become clear that India’s policy was quite reasonable and the expansion of its missile  range won’t hurt, either.

Next comes Iran. The Indian opposition strongly criticizes its current government for its incoherent policy towards Iran. However, the real threat to India doesn’t come from Iran. Hypothetically, if the United States or the Gulf monarchies manage to sow the seeds of chaos in Iran as well, then, in the worst-case scenario, extremist regimes will spring up from neighboring Pakistan westward all the way to the shores of the Atlantic.

This is something that China would like to avoid as well, because it has more shared strategic interests with India than with its old friend Pakistan.

Who’s your friend?

It is assumed that India’s failed war against China in 1962 and the loss of an uninhabited glacier in the Himalayas is a major problem that makes these two key international partners of Russia bitter enemies. If this were the case, then the launch of the Agni would spell real drama for Russian foreign policy.

Let’s keep in mind that Russia is India’s key partner in the area of armaments. This month Russia supplied to India the nuclear submarine Nerpa aka Chakra for a long-term lease. By late 2012, India will at long last receive the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov aka Vikramaditya. There’s a whole list of armaments that Russia is either selling to India or designing together with India. If Beijing viewed India similar to the way Japan looks upon North Korea… And if India saw China – which, by the way, became Delhi’s first trading partner – as a source of permanent threat…

Things are different in reality, though. The foreign ministers of Russia, India and China (RIC) met this month. As it turns out, the original triangle of this group exists as a separate entity despite its expansion to include Brazil and South Africa (BRICS). And the three have more and more reasons for private meetings. Among other things, an important topic for discussion is coordinating efforts in Afghanistan once the U.S. and NATO forces withdraw. The problem is that the spread of jihad policies in Afghanistan represents a direct threat to northwestern China. As a result, Beijing and Delhi now have more reasons for rapprochement and Moscow has long been a willing intermediary.

As for nuclear arsenals and their delivery vehicles, even with an enhanced strike range, they do not interfere with such efforts. On the contrary, they are a source of calm for the partners in their complicated relations with each other.

First published in RIA Novosti

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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