India’s ballistic missiles; derivative of peaceful space cooperation

By Ahsan Ali Zahid and Hasan Ehtisham

An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a potential source of power projection and hegemonic desires. Latest report of Federation of American Scientists, which refers to India’s ICBM project that it is deepening the nuclear competition between two Asian nuclear powers, India and China. Meanwhile, West is proposing that Indian missile program has two potential targets Pakistan and China, but picture is murky when longer range is desired by DRDO. In future, there is a theoretical possibility that India will aim United States and Europe if it feel threatened by any “high-tech aggression” originated from U.S. or any European country.

While the identification of the ICBM range is uncertain, it should be from 8000 km to more likely 12000 km. Indian local media refers the Agni-V missile as its first ICBM. Agni-V is a three stage, solid fuel missile can target up to 5000 km. currently it is the India’s longest range missile, tested twice in 2012 and 2013. Based on the space launch program, it has all ingredients of ICBM with navigation and guidance capabilities. It can be fired from mobile launcher anywhere in India, giving the ability of second strike and hit the large parts of China, Europe and Africa. India is going to induct the missile in armed forces with three multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle warheads.

China was conscious when India in 2012 publicized the test of its long-range nuclear-capable Agni V missile. While giving ultimatum to India that it should not overemphasize its strength, China’s leading paper Global Times penned that, “The West chooses to overlook India’s disregard of nuclear and missile control treaties. The West remains silent on the fact that India’s military spending increased by 17 percent in 2012 and the country has again become the largest weapons importer in the world.”

Undoubtedly, Indian aspirations such as to become a permanent member of UN security council, illustrate it’s desires to become a global power on the cost of becoming offensive military state, as on the successful test of Agni-V missile it announced itself a major “missile power”. India’s next furtive project is ICBM named “Surya”, which has planned range of 12000 km. Though its most tests have failed but the range of both missiles raise some serious questions about India’s aim and risks of nuclear arms race, which could be the cause of conflict threatening the entire globe.

The pace Indians have adopted in augmentation of their long-range ballistic missile capabilities is missing a dynamic circumstance that Pakistan and China are employing a strategy that goes beyond conventional nuclear deterrence. India is still surrounded in ambiguous strategies generated by its two arch rivals and India’s strategic planners have no clues that how they will control escalation of a conventional conflict into a nuclear one. There is a chance of preemption against Indian ICBM program in times of crisis because an ICBM with PSLV dimensions can easily be targeted.

This means that ICBM is a first strike weapon, which has no survivability in a conflict because of its exposure to a preemptive strike. As Richard Speier explains, “In strategic theory, this leads to “crisis instability,” the increased incentive for a crisis to lead to strategic attacks because of each side’s premium on striking first.” Therefore induction of long-range ballistic missile capabilities without any appropriate planning to deal with situations that might lead to a nuclear war will further deteriorate the complex security environment of the region.

Indian thinkers feel that there is need to develop long range high speed nuclear capable missiles and MIRV capabilities, which is also an excuse to their nuclear expansion. Keeping war scenario in mind, policy is the first thing to throw out in waste, therefore India’s “no first use” (NFU) doctrine is just a disguise to get nuclear assistance from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and Russia for military use.

The foundation for the Indian ICBM is the space launch vehicle technology delivered by foreign sources under the pretext of peaceful scientific development. The United States, France and Germany assisted India in different span of times in creating India’s biggest nuclear-capable missile. Contemporarily ISRO is enjoying unconditional support from Britain and U.S. in space technology, notwithstanding when this fact is established that there is no significant discrepancy between India’s civilian and military rocket programs. In 2005, when U.S. and India were involved in constructing closer ties in space exploration and satellite navigation, there were resolute reports that Indian scientists were organizing to produce an ICBM. Whereas recently, Michael Elleman, a former UN weapons inspector raised alarms that India’s missile development pattern was “highly unusual.”

India claims that it is adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rules but the reality is quite opposite, in fact it is not preventing the spread of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. So how, India can become the member of 35-nation MTCR? For which India has applied recently when India is already involved in exporting the missiles and technology to many African, Gulf and Southeast Asian states below the MTCR threshold. How a state which is deliberately violating the treaty not being a member, will not violate being a member?

P5 states used their ballistic missile programs as space launch vehicle but India had used peaceful foreign aided space program to develop ballistic missiles. Useful but now other states like Iran, Brazil, Japan, South and North Korea can follow India’s example.

Once, India shocked the world by diverting Canadian-supplied fuel for research and generating power to make nuclear weapons. In 1989 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article, in which Gary Milhollin had specified the detail chronology that how peaceful Satellite Guidance System Gets into Indian Missile Program. Milhollin was of the view that Indian 1974 nuclear blast destroyed illusions about the “peaceful atom” and it is not surprising that India will again use the slogan of “Peace” for its space program to develop deadly missiles.

The U.S. has been the biggest donor of economic aid to India and currently facilitating India’s nuclear expansion. So far it is intentionally using delaying tactics to realize the Indian missile threats but more likely India may confront in future the U.S. over Middle East oil or to side with Russia in conflict, or even confront Russia over Central Asia. The U.S. must rethink its policies before it’s too late or later it will be employing few analysts to analyze, How to contain India?

Ahsan Ali Zahid is a M. Phil scholar in School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. Hasan Ehtisham is a M. Phil scholar in Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Hasan Ehtisham

Hasan Ehtisham is a M. Phil student at Department of Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan

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