On Agni V

A milestone in the longstanding strategy of security by deterrence

From my response to a journalist’s questions.

The Agni V missile is part of India’s long term strategy to attain security through deterrence. It ties in with no-first use. It is wrong to see the development flight test of Agni V in the context of contemporary or current events. It is a milestone in a longstanding plan. Because India relies on a strategy of deterrence—see my essay in the special issue of India Today—it is important to provide psychological reassurance to the Indian public about their security. A successful test achieves that purpose to an extent.

The missile is not “meant for” any specific country. Rather, it deters powers that have interests inimical to India from acting in ways that undermine our national security.

India’s power projection in the region is a combination of geo-economic, geopolitical and military power. A missile test might work at the margin to show India’s capability to deter its adversaries but it does not say anything about India’s intentions to direct this weapon to coerce or threaten anyone. A mere missile test must not be seen as constituting a shift in the Asian balance of power.

We shouldn’t read too much into official or media pronouncements about this missile test, in India or abroad. The concerned governments are all aware of India’s strategy and Agni V is no surprise at all. Diplomatic statements coming out of New Delhi are meant to frame this test and capability in the context of international arms control negotiations.

Tailpiece: Terms like inter-continental and intermediate-range to describe missiles are a relic of Cold War arms control negotiations. A far more meaningful way to describe missiles is in terms of their range and payload capacity—the Agni V is a 5500km/1000kg class missile.