The Missile Race in South Asia

The Missile Race in South Asia

A tool to expand India’s hegemony 

Proliferation of military technologies and unremitting arms race between India and Pakistan are the outcomes of the divergent threat perceptions of both countries. These perceptions are based on their respective competitive security narratives and, more importantly, their track record of unending hostility between them. Missile technology is among the major military technologies that eat up the lion’s share of both countries’ defence budgets. It is one of the costliest businesses, indeed. Despite the daunting setback of clinging to this policy, both the South Asian rivals seem unwilling to halt massive investments in this domain. However, major part of the blame for the proliferation of strategic weapons, including missiles, is on India for irrefutable reasons.

Pakistan has always been dragged into an arms race with India, owing to Indian initiatives that would create a security dilemma by disturbing the balance of power in the region. Take, for example, the nuclear weapons; Pakistan traces the origin of its nuclear programme back to India’s so-called “Peaceful Nuclear Explosions” in 1974. Later, when India again conducted nuclear explosions in May 1998, Pakistan, in order to regain the lost balance of power, was left with no option but to follow the suit as Indian leaders upped the ante with their warmongering and sabre rattling.

There is a universally acknowledged principled position in the realm of international relations that the country which takes first step toward creating an untoward situation is the real culprit because the other is left with no choice but to strive for reciprocation. So, Pakistan has always been an unwilling partner in this nuclear marathon. The case of missile proliferation is no different. Without going into the details of India’s past efforts at missile proliferation, only the developments of first half of 2018 would be enough to vindicate the stance.

India started the year 2018 with a series of missile tests, mostly nuclear-capable. It first tested its Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Agni V that has a range of 5,500 to 5,800 km and is capable of taking 1,500 kilotons of nuclear payload. Was this test provoked by any of Pakistan’s initiatives? Not really! Take a cursory look at all the components of arms race in the region, military and strategic, India will be the reason, direct or indirect, behind the developments. Besides Agni-V, the missile tests Indian conducted in the month of February alone are listed below:

– Short range, 700 to 900 km, ballistic missile Agni-I (February 06)
– Medium or intermediate range, 2000-3000 km, nuclear capable Agni-II (February 20)
– Nuclear capable Prithvi-2 tactical surface-to-surface short-range, 250-350 km, ballistic missile (February 21)
– Indigenously-designed anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) Nag (February 28)

India further revealed its plans to integrate Agni-VI – an ICBM having the capability of carrying Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) – into its military arsenal. It will, reportedly, have the ability to hit multiple targets at a distance of up to 6,000 km. This will surely have ominous implications for Pakistan and the region as well. Furthermore, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its recently published report, has affirmed that under the BJP government’s patronage, rapid and extremely alarming saffronization of the Indian state and society is underway. “During the year, Hindu-nationalist groups sought to “Saffronize” India through violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits. Both public and private actors pursued this effort. Approximately one-third of state governments enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws against non-Hindus, and mobs engaged in violence against Muslims or Dalits whose families have been engaged in the dairy, leather or beef trades for generations, and against Christians for proselytizing … [f]orced conversions of non-Hindus to Hinduism through “homecoming” ceremonies (ghar wapsi) were reported, and rules on the registration of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were used discriminatorily against religious minority groups,” the report said in its Key Findings.

Since the influence of ultranationalist Hindu elements is growing in Indian policymaking, the missile threat to European nations in the future cannot be completely overruled.

Again, take the example of the entry of Ballistic Missile Defence System in the South Asian strategic calculus. India initiated its multi-tiered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in 1999, and since 2007, it has been testing this system so as to overturn the strategic balance maintained by both nations since May 28, 1998. The fact asks for no explanation that BMD system’s false sense of security has grave ramifications for deterrence and stability in the region. Although there are stark differences of opinion on the genuine capabilities of India’s BMD system, its unprecedented potential to undermine the balance is beyond any doubt.

On March 22, India stepped forward again by testing, reportedly, a supersonic cruise missile BrahMos in Rajasthan’s Pokhran test range. It was touted as “a significant leap forward for the BrahMos project as [Indian] Air Force fighters will be able to attack targets from increased standoff ranges.” It is worth mentioning here that the BrahMos is a joint venture between India’s DRDO and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia.

Later, on May 15, in an attempt to achieve the so-called full-spectrum multi-layered BMD capability, India test-fired an indigenously-developed supersonic interceptor missile that is capable of destroying any incoming ballistic missiles. India’s misperceived capability to intercept the enemy’s missiles fired toward its territories has dangerous implications for the strategic stability of South Asia as all the classical schools of thought on nuclear deterrence consider nuclear defences as serious destabilizing factors.

It is also important to note that the Indo-Russian cooperation in this domain is now on a downward trajectory as India’s defence collaboration with major European powers, the US and Israel is soaring to new heights. So much so that India, as it had done in case of nuclear technology, converted the duel use space technology acquired from America and various European countries for ‘peaceful purposes’, into its missile development programme. The “indigenous missile technology” which India takes pride in, is actually the imitation of that very space technology transferred to India by Germany, France, United Kingdom, Russia and the US. None of the exporters have demanded any audit of ‘science’ on which Indian missile programme is based on. This is how India’s missile proliferation is indirectly supported to let it persist and expand. Now, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) cartel has chosen a similar role to play for India.

India’s entry into the MTCR has provided it formal access to advanced space and missile technology of 35 countries and would also regulate exports of Indian missile technology to all the member states. The regional realities and Pakistan’s concerns have repeatedly been brushed under the carpet due to major powers’ convergence of interests with India. On the other hand, Pakistan’s offer for Strategic Restraint Regime found no relevance in Indian power corridors because India has greater hegemonic aspirations for the region and beyond. Concurrence on Strategic Restraint Regime is, however, the best available route for both nuclear countries to cap off the arms race and massive military modernization while maintaining credible nuclear deterrence for regional peace and stability.

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