by Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

INDIA’S military hardware shopping spree and advancing of nuclear weapons arsenal are increasing the security dilemma of the Asian nations. It is debatable whether India would be able to establish its hegemony in South Asia and balance the increasing influence of China in Asia. Nevertheless, the gigantic New Delhi investment in the military sector unleash devastating arms race in the Asia and undermine the strategic stability in South Asia.

The United States is encouraging the Indian military buildup for its own political, economic and military objectives. The recently released Trump administration National Security Strategy applauds India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” to balance China in the Asian strategic setting. Since the American’s endorsement of India as a Great power in South Asia and Indian Ocean, the New Delhi has been endeavoring to prove its military credentials. Indeed, for such a role, India requires a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating military muscle. Therefore, India’s ballistic and cruise missiles inventory, especially Agni-V operational perfection is having soothing impact on the American strategic enclave. Conversely, it would be intensifying the security dilemma of the Asian nations as well as Indian Ocean littoral states. It’s because, Agni-V strike-range covers entire China and Asia; and also parts of Europe and Africa.

India successfully conducted the ‘first pre-induction trial’ of the indigenously built 17-metre Agni-V on January 18, 2018. It is a nuclear capable, intercontinental ballistic missile having range more than 5,000 km (5,500-5,800 km). It was the third consecutive test from a canister on a road-mobile launcher from Dr Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha. “The canister-launch version provides the capability to quickly transport the missile and launch it from anywhere.” It was reported that the three-stage solid, all-composite rocket motors, Agni-V “zoomed to a height of over 600 km in its parabolic trajectory and then splashed down around 4,900 km away towards Australia in the Indian Ocean barely 19 minutes later.” It flies at 24 times speed of sound. It carries 1.5-tonne nuclear warhead.

The recent Agni-V testing timing is very important. It is a signal to both adversaries and allies. The United States had announced China and Russian Federation its current strategic competitor and expressed its serious reservation on both states increasing military capabilities. It is very much in need of a reliable Asian strategic ally. Therefore, Washington would be facilitating directly and indirectly New Delhi in settling the serious technological and material impediments, which have been obstructing the production of reliable Agni missile series since 1992.

The series of successful developmental tests of Agni-V indicate that sooner the missile will be inducted into the tri-service, Strategic Forces Command, which manages India’s nuclear arsenal. The successful test of Agni-V enabled New Delhi to strike Beijing and Shanghai, across the whole Asia, 70 percent of Europe, and Eastern Africa. Many Indian analysts’ claimed that: “This is the first time India will have a true deterrence. We had a good deterrence with Agni-III and an upgrade with Agni-IV. But Agni-V gives you a total quantum jump in that capability.” Indeed, it is a game changer not only in Southern Asia but also in other parts of the world. Thus, the operational ready Agni-V would have serious Geo-Strategic repercussions. It would compel India’s strategic competitors to invest in the long-range nuclear vehicles, which is detrimental for the Asian strategic stability as well as economic prosperity.

To conclude, within the South Asia India is coercing and intimidating its’ neighbouring states with its military might. Out of the region, it is signaling its military striking prowess. Hence, Agni-V confirms Indian allies, especially United States that it is capable to contribute effectively in their defensive fence and balancing the military capability of China in Asia.

— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad