Self-imposed restraints and international commitments are mutually contradictory
India’s defence scientific establishment is ready to test Agni-III, an intermediate range ballistic missle (IRBM) with a range of 4000km. Although this is still a long way off from operationalisation, the test-readiness of Agni-III takes India one step closer to addressing the strategic balance with China, everyone’s favourite strategic rival. It also puts India on the road to prepare for eventualities where more countries in the neighbourhood gets their hands on missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
There has always been, and there most certainly is, pressure on India to hold back from testing
‘new page turning’ weapons. The United States under Bill Clinton attempted to convince P V Narasimha Rao to call off nuclear testing in the mid 1990s. Of course, in the end, it was Rao who convinced himself. Testing at the best of times is subject to extreme pressure. Surely at this time, when the India-US nuclear accord is facing rough weather in the US Congress, talk about missile testing is the wrong way to go? Well, that’s hard to tell at this time.
The Indian government has announced that it will not test Agni-III for now. Not due to political pressure, but due to India’s familiar ‘self-imposed restraint’. Bizarrely, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee also said, “As responsible members of the international community, we want to keep our international commitments on non-proliferation”. What commitments are those? To whom were these made? If the commitments were secret then isn’t it natural to affirm them in secret too?
Instead of unambiguously declaring that it is only self-restraint that is holding India back from testing, Mukherjee has clouded the issue by bringing in non-proliferation, a red herring. In any case, it is unclear whether he noticed that self-imposed restraints and international commitments contradict each other. He sounds confused. It would be extremely unfortunate if he is too.