There are few things more politically sensitive in the world of international politics than the subject of nuclear weapons. So it is with some surprise that the world responds to the development of India’s Agni V rocket in such a different way given the climate of only a few decades ago when similar tests were met with heavy sanctions and fear. India has come a long way in a nuclear world.
The rocket, which was part of an ongoing development by the DRDO is an upgraded version of the Agni III and contained no warhead on it. In 2007 defense official M Natrajan revealed that the country would be developing a new missile with a range of over 3,100 miles. The revelation was further evidence that India, a country where 41.5% of the population earns less than $1.25 (US) intended to become one of the biggest players in the nuclear scene.
The response was mild to say the least compared to the international outcry in response to “Operation Smiling Buddha” in 1974. Smiling Buddha was the code name for the first nuclear test on Indian soil, and brought the nation into a very exclusive club of nuclear armed nations. The test resulted in both fanfare for the fledgling nation and a number of sanctions levied against it for many years. But as India has demonstrated, things change – and so do countries. Even the aforementioned 41.5% poverty rate of the average citizen is expected to be halved in the coming years. According to a study conducted in 2011, (MDG) India will strike its poverty rate in half down to 22% by 2015.
The missile is an upgrade from the Agni IV missile, which is capable of reaching all but the furthest tip of China. China has spoken very little on the subject, but suggests the actual range far exceeds the reported 5,000 kilometers and could in fact likely reach as far as 8,000 kilometers away. Politicians additionally urged cooperation between the two nations in the light of the recent development while simultaneously downplaying the threat it may pose to Chinese interests.
Not only was the most recent rocket an important event globally as it slightly changed the nuclear stage, but also because North Korea recently attempted its own rocket launch – which ultimately failed. North Korea, which has been threatening its sister country with war for years, attempted to launch the missile earlier this month amid great concern internationally. Meanwhile, a report by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested that China may have assisted North Korea in development of the rocket. Despite this, China publicly criticized the test by its isolated ally.
The primary barometer of the international likelihood for nuclear war is the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and their iconic “Doomsday Clock.” The Scientists have yet to update the clock, despite the recent developments. Is this because it changes little on the international front, or because the change is not yet evident? Whether this will have a strong effect on international nuclear politics or not is yet to be seen.