[Assam] [assam] 'The Arms Race Myth'
bbaruah at aol.com
Tue Apr 24 02:38:19 IST 2012
The New York Times (April 23, 2012)
April 23, 2012, 2:14 AM
The Arms Race Myth
By SHASHANK JOSHI
Handout/European Pressphoto Agency
A handout photograph released by the Indian Defence Research and
Development Organisation (DRDO) shows a surface-to-surface Agni V
missile being launched from the Wheeler Island off the Eastern State of
Odisha, India, 19 April 2012.
¶The test last Thursday of the Agni 5, India’s first missile capable of
striking any part of China, was met with something approaching hysteria
in the national media. The normally sober Hindu noted how the missile
“lifted off majestically,” and the Hindustan cheered “Jai Hind” (Hail
¶Perhaps irked by this jingoism, the state-run Chinese media mocked the
Agni as a “dwarf,” and warned that, “for the foreseeable future, India
would stand no chance in an overall arms race with China.” It’s fast
becoming received wisdom that such a competition is underway. The New
York Times, like others, reported the Agni’s test as “the latest
escalation of an arms race in Asia.”
¶The problem is that this term is being thrown around too loosely. It
is fair to say that China’s expanding economic and military power has
spooked its neighbors, many of whom are now moving closer to the United
States or modernizing their own military. But India’s test of the Agni
5 was less about a race than about playing catch-up.
¶India’s political and military leaders understand that they cannot
sustain a true arms race with China. Arms races occur when rivals try
and outdo each other for more or better weapons, in the belief that
small relative advantages make big differences to security.
¶China’s economy is about three to four times larger than that of
India, and China spends around three times as much as India on arms. A
decade from now, China will field more advanced fourth-generation
combat aircraft than the total number of aircraft in the Indian Air
¶Given India’s slowing growth rate and the sheer scale of the gap with
China, India has no choice but to accept its relative disadvantage and
focus on mitigating some of its own vulnerabilities.
¶In the context of its border dispute with China, which has flared up
since 2005, and the strategic competition around the Indian Ocean,
India is taking steps to counter a growing Chinese presence. China is
not especially worried about what India is doing, nor taking military
¶The Agni 5, of course, is more provocative because it is a nuclear
missile aimed at China. Yet there, too, the gap between China and India
is yawning. China has up to 90 deployed intercontinental ballistic
missiles – India has none.
¶India and China have both long held to a doctrine of “minimum
deterrence.” Delhi and Beijing – unlike, say, Pakistan or the United
States – view nuclear weapons strictly as tools for deterrence, only to
be used in response to a nuclear strike. That requires nothing more
than “second-strike” capability.
¶Before the Agni 5, India did not have ballistic missiles with the
range to make a “second strike” attack against China’s most important
cities, Beijing and Shanghai. Now it does, which means the development
of the Agni 5 jibes perfectly with India’s minimum-deterrence ethos.
¶True, India has doubled the size of its nuclear arsenal over the past
decade. But, despite its pretensions to great power status, India has
been relaxed about having fewer weapons than Pakistan. Pakistan has
leapt ahead, both in terms of the types and numbers of its nuclear
weapons. But that isn’t a race – it’s a lonely sprint.
¶As the Manhattan Project’s director, J. Robert Oppenheimer, noted,
“our twenty-thousandth bomb” will not “in any deep strategic sense
affect their two-thousandth.”
¶Of the Agni 5, the Hindustan Times’ foreign editor, Pramit Pal
Chaudhuri, estimates that India will add, “at best, two such missiles
to its arsenal every year.” This will have virtually zero impact on
China’s retaliatory capacity. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose
that Beijing will scramble to respond in the way that Washington and
Moscow would have done in response to one another.
¶Under these conditions, having more survivable and robust means of
retaliation, like the Agni 5, can be stabilizing. Such missiles can be
moved around by road or rail, which makes them less vulnerable than
those in fixed silos. This enables India to shift away from less
reliable and more trigger-happy delivery systems like aircraft. The
more confident India feels in its ability to respond, the calmer it can
be in handling crises.
¶Of course, sobriety and stability are not guaranteed. China has
understandable concerns about developments that could blunt its
retaliatory capacity. One example is missile shields, which both India
and other Asian counties are exploring. Another is MIRV technology that
could be fitted to the Agni missiles. MIRVs refer to multiple accurate
warheads that fit onto a single missile. India does not need them for
deterrence, and they could slightly heighten China’s fears that its own
weapons might be wiped out before they get off the ground.
¶An open and sustained Sino-Indian conversation over such issues is
necessary. But dark visions of arms races are alarmist, at a time when
the Asian strategic balance is in quite enough flux.
¶Shashank Joshi is a doctoral student at Harvard University and an
Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. You can follow
him on Twitter.
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