India’s nuclear weapons now pose a potential threat to the world. The Agni-V, India’s longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), can travel 6,000 kilometres.
The country conducted its launch test on June 3 from a canister on a mobile launcher platform from the coast of Odisha. This test flight was the missile’s sixth, and its success suggests that it will soon be put into service.
Keep in mind that the Agni-V ICBM is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to almost anywhere in Asia and to parts of Europe and Africa. Because it can be fired from a mobile launcher, essentially a canister mounted on a truck, instead of a hard concrete launch-pad, it gives the Indian armed forces operational flexibility. They now have the ability to launch the missile against any adversary, almost guaranteeing to take them by surprise by offering a shorter period of time to react. But the Agni-V is not the real danger and is only being seen as a stepping stone towards completing the Agni-VI ICBM, which is rumoured to be in its final phase of development.
The Agni-VI can potentially travel 12,000 kilometres or more, and is supposed to have MIRV capability – the ability to carry several independent nuclear warheads – and a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) capability, the warhead of which is capable of autonomously tracking ground targets. Because of these capabilities, this missile will be unstoppable by the current anti-missile defence systems. Once completed, the Agni-VI will put the whole world within the range of India’s nuclear warheads.
India has taken advantage of the fact that the world has been distracted by North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and the threat they pose that they have entirely ignored the growing threat of India’s nuclear capabilities, its global ambitions, and its threat to international and regional security. Adrian Levy, a journalist for The Guardian, while conducting a lengthy investigation for the Centre for Public Integrity (CPI), reported in December 2015, that India is building a top-secret nuclear city in Karnataka to produce thermonuclear weapons. This is an unsettling development which will lead to insecurity in and around South Asia.
In addition to building its nuclear arsenal, India is also growing its conventional capabilities at an alarming rate. The country has now become the world’s biggest arms importer and its military budget is now the fifth largest in the world. Its defence budget was $52.5 billion in 2017, up from $51.1 billion in 2016, and is expected to go up to $54 billion this year as it continues to expand its defence programme.
This massive expansion began when the BJP government came into power. The government, led by Narendra Modi, has pushed for massive imports of arms and greater indigenisation of its defence industry. With its ‘Make in India’ initiative, and by stating that India must build up its defence capabilities, the country wants to reach the point where no other country ‘dares cast an evil eye’.
By investing on building up its nuclear and conventional forces, PM Modi hopes to project his country as a global power, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the US and China. But, in fact, India is causing a massive headache for the South Asian region by threatening to destabilise the fragile strategic balance with its actions. If India’s ambitions are not kept in check, its growing capabilities are guaranteed to turn into a global threat. Instead of trying to impress the international community by investing so heavily on its defences (and causing havoc), PM Modi should perhaps first invest in his people, which include the more than 330 million Indians living in poverty – nearly a quarter of the country’s total population.
There has been very little outcry in the West, particularly in the US, because American presidents in the past have turned a blind eye towards India’s dangerous global nuclear ambitions, hoping to create a new strategic partner capable of taking on China. This has provided India with a situation that it has taken, and continues to take, advantage of by growing its military’s conventional and nuclear capabilities. Ever since US President Donald Trump took office in 2016 he has shown bold leadership capabilities by breaking with the practices of the previous US leaders. He should continue to avoid making the same mistakes his predecessors made, by not letting India get away with its irresponsible behaviour.
If Trump takes the same bold step of organising a summit with Prime Minister Modi, as he did with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, he could demand that the Indian prime minister curb the country’s massive and extremely dangerous military nuclear weapons programme. He could also potentially dissuade him from further expansion.
The writer is a defence analyst inWashington DC.