The ease at which the international community took into its stride the ICBM test of India certainly indicates a growing acceptance and importance of a nuclear India in the context of changing world power structure. When India tested the Agni missile technical demonstrator in 1989, a lot of pressure was put on India to roll back both its nuclear as well as ballistic missile program. India all but abandoned the Agni program due to this pressure only to revive it in full force post Kargil.
Since then, India has conducted many tests. Though we faced condemnation for our nuclear tests from some quarters and sanctioned, those sanctions were removed in double quick time. Since then, indian economy has boomed and the US and India have been on a honeymoon notwithstanding Obama.
The US has been on a downward spiral for the last few years. China has been marching ahead and in fact caught the US strategic and military planners off guard with its military technological advances in the last few years. The J-20, DF21A “carrier killer” and also its moves to acquire aircraft carriers in a hurry has put Washington in a tizzy. So much so that Obama became more than willing to abdicate US pre-eminence to the Chinese and started the notion of G2 until he realized that the Chinese aimed to make the world a G1 place with the Chinese at the top of the heap.
So when India recently tested its Agni V ICBM, the US more or less welcomed it though not in direct words. There was no negative reactions.
“US is comfortable with Indian progress in the nuclear and missile fields”, Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow for South Asia, and Baker Spring, research fellow in National Security Policy, at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank said in a commentary.
“India’s successful test of the Agni-V, a nuclear-capable long-range missile, is a major step forward for New Delhi in attaining nuclear deterrence against regional rival China,” they said calling it as “telling that no country has criticised India’s missile test.”
Curtis and Spring also noted that the US State Department simply called on all nuclear-capable states to exercise restraint and underlined India’s solid record on non-proliferation and its cooperation with the international community on nuclear issues.
“This is a far cry from Washington’s position on Indian ballistic missile development throughout the 1990s, when Washington pressured New Delhi to modify its nuclear and missile posture,” they said suggesting “the new US stance also demonstrates a welcome evolution in US non-proliferation policy.”
“The US change in position with regard to Indian missile capabilities demonstrates how far the US-India relationship has evolved over the last decade,” Curtis and Spring said.
“Now the US views India as a strategic partner with growing economic and political clout that will contribute to promoting security and stability in Asia.“
The above comments are telling. The US is probably comfortable with India pursuing an independent defence and foreign policy and allow it to grow its nuclear and missile stockpile to defend itself from the ever growing and aggressive Chinese military which is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea as well as trying to assert itself in the border dispute against India. The Chinese use of Pakistan as a proxy and proliferation of nuclear and missile technology is also not lost on the US.
In the next couple of years, India will further test the Agni V missile and also develop even longer range land based ICBMs and also SLBMs. This will only add to the pressure within the DRDO to make sure that the nuclear arsenal is reliable and also validate new designs and different types of warheads and yields to suit its growing arsenal of missiles. This means that another round of nuclear tests would be required.
At the current time, it may not be tenable for India to conduct nuclear tests, but as India’s economy grows and the US and the west at large gets more involved in India and also face growing Chinese threats, India could well test the western governments by first testing a 10,000 km range ICBM for its reaction and also privately make it known to the west that India requires another round of nuclear tests to check for reliability as well as validation of technology that has been developed since the last round of tests in 1998. India could then announce a round of 12 tests or so over a period of 6 months or so which should include some higher yield warheads and also test the capacity to make megaton warheads just to check capability though it is not desirable to maintain a megaton arsenal.Along with that, we should announce that we will sign the CTBT. If there is no outrage with this announcement and it does not lead to any effect on the civil nuclear deal and other defence deals that india has signed over the last few years, India could go ahead with the tests. If the reaction is not conducive, we could wait for some more time. India should not try to conduct any tests on the sly without taking into confidence the US and other western nations with whom India is developing a very strong partnership.
I am more than certain that in a five year timeline, the situation will be ripe for India to conduct nuclear tests.