A new arms race in Asia? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 22, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 22, 2012

A new arms race in Asia?

Experts down play risk over India's missile test


India's test firing of an Agni-V ballistic missile this week is a potent signal of the country's growing nuclear capabilities.
The weapon - with a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the Chinese capital Beijing. The Agni-V is the latest in a series of Indian-developed missiles of varying ranges and capabilities.
It will become operational within about two years, adding significantly to India's nuclear punch.
So should China be worried? Probably not, according to US nuclear expert Taylor Fravel, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"The missile has been under development for some time," he told me, "and is already factored into Chinese planning.
"The development of this missile does not undermine China's own deterrent capability," he says, "even though it may strengthen India's. China retains the ability to survive a first strike by India, however unlikely that may be."
Indeed, western experts have been quick to play down the significance of the Indian missile test, noting that the nuclear dynamics of the region are complicated and involve other countries, not just India and China.
Jeffrey Lewis, who heads the East Asia Non-proliferation Programme at the Center for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, California, puts it this way: "Beijing tends to focus much more on the United States, rather than India. Indian officials talk about China much more than their Chinese counterparts talk about them."
Indeed, he suspects that "New Delhi's emphasis on China is more about slighting Pakistan than competing with China."
China is already modernising its own nuclear-armed medium- and intermediate-range missile systems that could be used to target India. But as Taylor Fravel notes, "India and China have similar nuclear doctrines, as both emphasize no first use and achieving deterrence through development of a secure second-strike."
It should be remembered that compared to Russia and the United States, China and India have relatively small nuclear arsenals. China is believed to have a stockpile of around 240 warheads, with perhaps 175 of them active and have around 100 warheads.
Jeffrey Lewis suggests that it is wrong to see in the dynamics between Beijing and Delhi echoes of the Cold War arms race between the US and the Soviet Union.
"I doubt very much", he says, " that China and India will engage in an arms race, scaled-down or otherwise.”

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