This morning India launched the Agni-V missile into the Indian Ocean, close to Indonesia. The test went off without a hitch and all official reports were positive. The missile’s range (5,000km–3,100 miles) can extend to Chinese targets, and although Indian officials deny it, the BBC has reported these new missiles are aimed at deterring China. This missile is the most advanced weapon in the Indian arsenal and has been used in Indian political rhetoric as a deterrent for all wars without country specification.
Sino-Indian relations date back in a relatively peaceful way for thousands of years, with a few recent, 20th century major skirmishes and conflicts marring the ties–these geared mainly at border disputes. The ties have been strained by economic competition, because, despite the incredible Indian export market, China has dominated the international export scene.
These tensions have extended into the military posturing sphere. “China is the only one of five original nuclear weapon states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal”, and this has spurred India to join the nuclear armed countries in the deterrence game. Although China has always defended that it’s nuclear arms program would be minimally deterrent with a no first-use policy, the details of the program remain opaque. The estimates still have China as the second smallest nuclear arsenal, with only 72 operational missiles.
The nuclear game is still a dangerous option for countries with nuclear capabilities. It catapults them to a strategic location where all eyes are focused on their every move. It seems a tired game, though. The reality of living in a nuclear world has sunk in, and now we have room to maneuver and think through newer, more empowering options. Instead of continuing to play watchdog over nuclear facilities, time could be better spent resolving both the environmental and diplomatic issues at stake with nuclear power. While it is always necessary to track changes in the number of missiles and aim for open policies when dealing with WMDs across the globe, it is high time that leaders got together to discuss the arms reduction that the world desperately needs.
The number of nuclear weapons a country needs to cause mass chaos and complete destruction is relatively low, especially when compared to the number of actual nuclear arms we have (for further, technical information I suggest Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War, by Robert Pape). In the face of evidence, continuing to play a nuclear deterrence strategy seems not only ridiculously expensive and dangerous, but juvenile.