By: Lauren Webb With the test launch of the Agni V this week, India is capable of striking northern parts of China previously out of reach militarily. The only other countries with long-range weapons of this capability are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, an international body India has sought to join for a long time.
This is a major step for India in its competition with its neighbor and in achieving “nuclear deterrence against the Chinese.”[i] But more than that, the Agni V is a symbol of India’s importance on the 21st century world stage. Although both countries are often compared in the same breath for their incredible economic progress, India has historically been placed in China’s shadow by outside viewers. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, for instance, India was disparaged for its “Hindu rate of growth” in comparison to official reports from China—now known to be falsified during the “Great Leap Forward” and ensuing famine—of eight percent growth rates. [ii] On the military front, India suffered a defeat during the Sino-Indian Border Conflict. Then, China acquired nuclear weapons and became one of the five countries permitted the weapons under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, while India faced international sanctions and criticisms for its nuclear program. And diplomatically, of course, the People’s Republic of China took over the China seat (previously inhabited by Taiwan) in the Security Council in 1971.
But the comparison has become less severe. Although China consistently reports higher levels of growth, both countries have weathered the economic crisis well. And India, with the cooling of its previously acrimonious relationship with the United States, has benefited in international opinion from its status as the "largest democracy in the world." This has aided its relationships diplomatically, as Western countries tend to have more trust in the transparency and human rights records of democratic regimes. This trust has manifested itself in nuclear agreements. Fearing nuclear threats on both sides, India proceeded with its nuclear program despite the existence of the discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty. This had often been a point of contention between the US and India. However, a bilateral agreement forged between the US and India changed the public recognition of India to a trusted, "responsible steward of nuclear power" with "a good record on proliferation." [iii]
India has also staked a major claim in international recognition and geopolitics. Although ignored during Obama's first presidential visit to Asia, India's importance was recognized through the first state dinner of the Obama Administration, which was held for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Regionally, India has played a major role in multilateral talks with China, Japan, and smaller powers. The country has also been a major source of aid to countries, as one of the largest donors to Afghanistan (with both developmental and military aid) and a part of the TAPI pipeline. In the developing world, India has played a leading role in the G20, BRICS, and Discussions of a BRICS development bank in Delhi. As a result of these roles, India has received the recognition and support of many non-Western cultures in its pursuit of a permanent seat on an expanded Security Council, including Israel and, at times, China.
BBC wrote that the Agni V launch brought India into “an elite nuclear club of China, Russia, France, the US, and the UK.”[iv] However, the launch is only another example of India’s position as an existing world power.
[i] Raja Mohan, “Agni-V Will Establish India-China Strategic Parity in Nuclear Field,” News Track India (New Delhi, April 18, 2012), -.
[ii] Swamy, Subramanian, “Chasing China: Can India Bridge the Gap?” in Edward Friedman and Bruce Gilley, Asia’s Giants : Comparing China and India (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 77.
[iii] “The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal,” Council on Foreign Relations, n.d., http://www.cfr.org/india/us-india-nuclear-deal/p9663.
[iv] “India Launches Long-range Missile,” BBC, April 19, 2012, sec. India, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-17765653.