By K Subrahmanyam
The failure of the first development test of Agni III is a great disappointment to the nation.
That should not however dishearten our scientists. The first test of the Atlas missile also failed. US scientists, however, persisted in their efforts and the US emerged as the foremost military missile power in the world.
India is placed between China and Pakistan, both of which are missile powers and they have a three-decade-old nuclear and missile proliferation relationship between them.
Pakistan claims to have developed the missiles on its own but there is enough evidence to indicate that the Pakistani long range missiles have been supplied by North Korea in exchange for Pakistan providing North Korea with uranium enrichment technology.
Medium- and short-range missiles were supplied by China. The supply of M-9 and M-11 missiles has been admitted by Pakistan itself.
China is reported to have deployed some of its missiles in outer Tibet and that would bring a number of Indian cities within their ranges.
The Pakistani Gauri missile (the North Korean Taepo-Dong) brings most Indian cities within its range. These considerations compel India to develop adequate missile capabilities to deter China and Pakistan.
The fact that deterrence works is proved by the fact that after 40 years of nuclear and missile confrontation the two superpowers, the US and the USSR, sat across a table, concluded a peace agreement and ended the Cold War.
While Agni I and II provide deterrence for India against Pakistan, Agni III is needed for deterrence against China. However there is an impression that the programme is not being pursued with much vigour.
Some recent reports indicated that the tests were held back because of some political reservations arising out of US objections to India testing missiles. It is not clear whether these are self-induced fears or were genuine concerns based on specific communications from the US.
While it is true that the Clinton administration was under heavy influence of pro-China and pro-Pakistan officials who were opposed to India becoming a credible nuclear power, that cannot be said of the Bush Administration.
The present US policy articulated strongly by President Bush and Secretary Condoleezza Rice emphasises the need to build an Asian balance of power as a subset of the global balance of power consisting of the US, European Union, China, Russia, Japan and India.
There cannot be such a credible Asian balance of power unless India becomes a credible missile power. Otherwise the balance would tilt heavily in favour of China. In these circumstances it does not make sense to allege that the US has reservations about India.
On the other hand since the 1962 defeat, there is immense fear of China in this country. China’s blatant proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles has not provoked strong protests from India.
The Indian political class has tended to adopt a policy of appeasement in regard to Chinese proliferation. Therefore it is possible that the Indian missile tests could have been delayed because of Indian concerns about improving relations with China.
If India were to borrow a lesson from China it is possible to develop the Indian missile as well as improve relations with Beijing. That is what the Chinese did vis-à-vis the US.
The failure of the GSLV (Geo-stationary Satellite Launch Vehicle) came as a shock since the previous 12 launches (nine of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles and three of GSLVs) were successful.
However it should be borne in mind that since 1990 there have been 74 failures in rocket launches and the failures occurred in Russia, US, France, China, Brazil, Japan and Israel.
It is important for India to become a credible space power and that necessitates the ability to place satellites in geo-stationary orbit. In the early ’90s, the US applied pressure on Russia and persuaded them to break an agreement to supply the cryogenic engine technology.
The Russians supplied a few cryogenic engines and regretted their inability to transfer technology to India. Thereafter India had to develop its own technology for cryogenic engines.
Now that the US is in favour of lifting technology bans on India, the space department hopes to become one of the beneficiaries. In the 21st century space is likely to become the dominant medium for the exercise of power.
The larger the country the more versatile is its use of space technology — for meteorology, resource investigation, communication, surveillance, education, entertainment.
There is no doubt that our space department will redouble its efforts and come up shortly with the replacement for GSLV-4C.
The writer is a strategic affairs analyst based in Delhi.