Race in Space

As the mis­sile race be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan speeds up, China too en­ters the equa­tion. Such strate­gic and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances do not bode well for an al­ready un­sta­ble South Asia.

Southasia - - Contents - By S. Mu­rari S. Mu­rari is a se­nior In­dian jour­nal­ist who has been cov­er­ing Sri Lanka for the past 25 years. He was as­so­ci­ated with the Ban­ga­lore-based English daily, Deccan Her­ald and re­tired as an as­so­ci­ate edi­tor of the news­pa­per.

As In­dia makes tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, a nu­clear South Asia gears up for fur­ther com­pe­ti­tion

and in­sta­bil­ity

The test fir­ing of two bal­lis­tic mis­siles by In­dia and Pak­istan, one fol­low­ing the other, has sparked new ten­sions be­tween the two al­ready un­easy neigh­bors, thus el­e­vat­ing wor­ries about an in­creas­ing nu­clear arms race in South Asia. Cu­ri­ously, In­dia, Pak­istan as well as China have taken the tests in their stride. In fact, In­dia and Pak­istan in­formed one an­other in ad­vance about the tests as per a 2005 agree­ment.

The nu­clear race be­tween the two South Asian neigh­bors started in 1974 when New Delhi con­ducted a nu­clear ex­plo­sion in Pokhran. In­dia con­ducted fur­ther tests on May 11, 1998, con­vey­ing the mes­sage that by mak­ing nu­clear de­vices and mas­ter­ing tech­nol­ogy in long-range de­liv­ery sys­tems, it had added a new di­men­sion to its strate­gic ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Since nei­ther In­dia nor Pak­istan are sig­na­to­ries to the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it is a mat­ter of great con­cern for other nu­clear pow­ers. More wor­ri­some is the mis­sile race be­tween the two nu­clear neigh­bors. If a nu­cle­ar­armed mis­sile is launched it can­not be re­called, un­like an air­craft. For two pop­u­lous coun­tries, so ge­o­graph­i­cally close to each other, the re­sponse time is also very short.

The only time the US and the Soviet Union came close to a war was dur­ing the Cuban cri­sis in the early 1960s. On the other hand, In­dia and Pak­istan have fought four wars: 1948, 1965, 1971 and the lim­ited Kargil con­flict in 1999. Since the first war in Kash­mir, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries has be­come hostage to the fes­ter­ing dis­pute over the re­gion.

An­other rea­son to worry about is the safety of weapons and their like­li­hood of fall­ing into the hands of ter­ror­ists. In­dia has for long ac­cused Pak­istan of wag­ing a proxy war in Kash­mir by train­ing and fund­ing ji­hadis. In­dia has also ex­pe­ri­enced two

ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Mum­bai - the se­rial bomb blasts in March 1993 and the more dar­ing 2008 at­tack, though the ori­gin of the ter­ror­ists has not been es­tab­lished with cer­tainty in both in­stances so far.

For its part, Pak­istan is also a vic­tim of Is­lamist ter­ror, es­pe­cially on the border with Afghanistan and in the South and North Waziris­tan tribal belt. In this mi­lieu, In­dia test fired Agni-V, a 5000 km range in­ter-con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile from the Wheeler Is­land off the Orissa coast on April 19; a move that is bound to es­ca­late ten­sions in the re­gion. Iron­i­cally, while the mis­sile may have been tar­geted at China, this did not stop Pak­istan from test­ing its own in­ter­me­di­ate range mis­sile, HATF-4, six days later.

The Agni-V is a 50-tonnes three­stage solid fuel-pro­pelled mis­sile ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing a pay­load of 1.1 tonnes and can re­lease mul­ti­ple nu­clear war­heads, mak­ing it the most ad­vanced in­dige­nously built mis­sile. Only last Novem­ber, In­dia suc­cess­fully test fired the 3,500 km range, Agni-IV.

Once the Agni V is in­ducted in the In­dian nu­clear arse­nal, New Delhi will achieve a de­ter­rent ca­pac­ity against China. In­dia’s strate­gic es­tab­lish­ment had been ea­gerly wait­ing for the Agni-V ICBM since Bei­jing started de­ploy­ing strate­gic mis­siles in Ti­bet and Xin­jiang against In­dia and build­ing ca­pac­i­ties of its land forces in the re­gion. Last year, In­dia dis­cov­ered mul­ti­ple mis­sile si­los at Xiadulla across the Karako­ram Pass in China’s Xin­jiang re­gion. Fol­low­ing this, the In­dian Air Force strength­ened its air bases along the line of ac­tual con­trol that is the de-facto border be­tween In­dia and China. Though In­dia is fast catch­ing up, China is al­ready at a much ad­vanced stage in its mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity. China’s nu­clear arse­nal is more than dou­ble of In­dia’s es­ti­mated 100 war- heads and it con­tin­ues to de­ploy both land and sub­ma­rine launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

China has taken In­dia’s en­try to the ICBM club in its stride. A spokesman for China’s For­eign Min­istry, Liu Weimin, said, “China and In­dia are not com­peti­tors but part­ners. We be­lieve that both sides should work hard to up­hold friendly strate­gic co-op­er­a­tion to pro­mote peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion.” Chi­nese ex­perts, how­ever, feel that Agni V has the po­ten­tial to reach tar­gets 8,000 km away and that the In­dian gov­ern­ment has “de­lib­er­ately down­played the mis­sile’s ca­pa­bil­ity in or­der to avoid caus­ing con­cern to other coun­tries.”

The United States has lauded In­dia’s non-pro­lif­er­a­tion record and said it has en­gaged with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity on such is­sues. At the same time, Mark Toner, State Depart­ment spokesman said, “We urge all nu­clear-ca­pa­ble states to ex­er­cise re­straint re­gard­ing nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­va­tive Wash­ing­ton-based think tank, has com­mented that “The lack of US con­dem­na­tion of In­dia’s lat­est mis­sile test demon­strates that the US is com­fort­able with In­dian progress in the nu­clear and mis­sile fields and ap­pre­ci­ates In­dia’s need to meet the emerg­ing strate­gic chal­lenge posed by ris­ing China.”

In­dian of­fi­cials say that the Agni V mis­sile can be launched from a mo­bile plat­form, a claim that raises im­me­di­ate con­cerns in Pak­istan. A mo­bile mis­sile launcher will prove much more dif­fi­cult to de­stroy in the event of a war.

In a pa­per pre­sented to the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and Ed­u­ca­tion (IISTE), In­dian pro­fes­sor, Suresh Dhanda ar­gues that the in­tro­duc­tion of a bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense sys­tem will trig­ger an arms race in the re­gion. He says, “China and In- dia fought over their dis­puted bound­aries in 1962, and In­dia and Pak­istan have also gone to war four times. All three share ‘lines of ac­tual con­trol’ apart from in­ter­na­tional bor­ders. In this sce­nario, the in­tro­duc­tion of mis­sile de­fense will dis­turb ex­ist­ing pat­terns of de­ter­rence. Al­though all three states pledge to min­i­mum de­ter­rence, lead­ers in all three capitals have also said de­ter­rence is not a static con­cept; the re­quire­ments of each state would, there­fore, de­pend on what the oth­ers are do­ing or might seek to do.”

Amer­i­can an­a­lysts say that as long as Pak­istan feels threat­ened by In­dia’s su­pe­rior con­ven­tional forces, it is likely to con­tinue its nu­clear buildup. Since the Pak­ista­nis of­ten per­ceive the United States and In­dia as be­ing in col­lu­sion against them, tak­ing mea­sures to se­cure their nu­clear de­ter­rent against for­eign plots would be nat­u­ral.

How­ever, In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Shivshankar Menon has re­it­er­ated New Delhi’s com­mit­ment to the doc­trine of “no first use against non-nu­clear weapons states.” This has been in­ter­preted by some to mean that In­dia re­serves its right to use nu­clear weapons first, against nu­clear weapons states like Pak­istan and China.

Pak­istan’s de­fense es­tab­lish­ment ar­gues that it does not want war, and cer­tainly not a nu­clear war, with In­dia. De­spite this stated de­sire, New Delhi and Islamabad are caught in a spi­ral of ten­sions and mis­trust that could cause the next re­gional cri­sis to flare into armed con­flict and even a lim­ited war.

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