Exclusive ICBM Club Gains Member

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:23 PM EDT, 19 April 2012

India's Agni V Missile Launch, April 2012NEW DEHLI, India – Following close on the heels of North Korea’s failed rocket launch earlier this week, the Indian government successfully launched the Agni-V from India’s east coast. According to other reports, Agni (means "fire" in Hindi and Sanskrit), a fitting term for a missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

The Agni-V has a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) and it is completely manufactured in India. It is 17.5m tall, solid-fuelled, has three stages and a launch weight of 50 tons. It has cost more than 2.5bn rupees ($480m; £307m) to develop.

The missile was launched from Wheeler Island off the coast of the eastern state of Orissa at 0807 local time (0237GMT) on Thursday, and it took approximately 20 minutes to hit its target somewhere near Indonesia in the Indian Ocean. The launch theoretically proved that India possesses the technology to fire nuclear warheads at Beijing and Shanghai, China.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the scientists for the "successful launch" of the missile. He said that the launch “represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science.” However, most speculate the real reason for the missile launch was to demonstrate India’s growing prowess in the region.

Although, there has been no direct confrontation between China and India, with populations of approximately 1.3bn and 1.2bn respectively, these two juggernauts are in a tight race to control the economic, political and military destiny of the region. Prior to the launch today, China was the only Asian nation counted as a member of the elite nuclear weapons club.

Other members include Russia, France, the US and UK which already have long-range, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), although the nuclear weapons possessed by these nations have much greater range than the Agni-V. Israel is also thought to possess nuclear weapons though this has not been confirmed.

The international community seems to have tacitly accepted India’s nuclear program and its development of ICBMs. India's induction into the elite ICBM club is much less contentious than bids for entree by North Korea or Iran. In fact, the greatest criticism to the news of the Agni-V launch centered on its cost versus the per capita income of its citizenry and how much India spends on education by comparison.

It is a specious argument at best because most nations, particularly those with large, organized militaries, spend a significant portion of their budgets on defense against real, imagined and manufactured enemies.

The threat of use of nuclear weapons to deter first strike is a relic of the Cold War era and an unfortunate legacy of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. nuclear strategic policy. Although we now live in a world order in which rogue nations and groups have greater access to weapons of mass destruction, many nations continue to implement the Cold War paradigm of deterrence through stockpiling of nuclear weaponry.

With regard to India’s Agni-V launch, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, said his country was not threatened by the test. "China and India are large developing nations. We are not competitors but partners. We believe that both sides should cherish the hard-won good state of affairs at present, and work hard to uphold friendly strategic co-operation to promote joint development and make positive contributions towards maintaining peace and stability in the region."

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