India's Drive Toward Regional Dominance
INDIA turned up the heat in the South-Asian nuclear arms race this last summer by successfully test-flying an "Agni" medium-range ballistic missile. Reports say the missile is believed capable of carrying a 2,000 lb. payload 1,500 miles. The Agni program and the new launch, symbolizing India's stubborn drive to become a dominant regional military and nuclear power, have impeded progress in relations between New Delhi and the West.Skip to next paragraph
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Since India is the world's most populous democracy, these relations might have been expected to move ahead smartly with the demise of the Soviet Union, India's de facto ally. They are in fact improving marginally, but India's military/geopolitical drive, rooted in its deep national need for respect, authority, and economic-industrial autarky, presents a continuing problem.
India is uninvolved in most of the world's evil, but it is helping to impel a China-to-Arabian Sea nuclear and delivery-system arms race that the world doesn't need - just as the superpowers are apparently turning the corner on doomsday.
India became the world's sixth confirmed nuclear power with a land detonation in 1974. Despite denials, it almost certainly has weapons stockpiled. By launching a dozen satellites in the last decade, India has demonstrated its growing capability, newly highlighted by the Agni, to project its nuclear might. Pakistan, meanwhile, finally admitted early this year that it, too, has nuclear capability. And China, in possession of nuclear weapons since 1964, has displayed its feelings on the Indo-Pakistani race
with its own one-megaton underground blast.
Although China recently signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Beijing government's record and its very nature make any commitment suspect. India and Pakistan steadfastly refuse the treaty. The three powers have almost 40 percent of the world's population, over 2 billion people - all of whom are now subject to nuclear threat.
India has been engaged for some time in a drive to make the Indian Ocean literally that. With ownership of the Lakshadweep, Andaman, and key Nicobar Islands and with growing naval, air, and land forces, the country has acquired at least some capability to "sharply constrain the freedom of extra-regional fleets to operate in its backyard," notes South Asian military specialist Ashley Tellis. Its continuing arms buildup has had the stated goal of "thwart[ing] the extension of superpower condominium in the Indian Ocean." Its 1987-1990 "peacekeeping" occupation of Sri Lanka and 1988 intervention in the Maldives showed India's willingness to flex its new muscles.
This sustained military drive has further chilled relations with longtime rivals against whom India has fought at least four major wars (inconclusive struggles with Pakistan in 1948 and 1965, followed by a victorious one in 1971, and a 1962 border war with China in which India was defeated). India and Pakistan have busily stirred up each other's rebellious northern minorities, and small-scale but savage military clashes in disputed, glacier-bound Kashmir continue sporadically. These events constantly off er the potential for an explosion. Late '80s diplomatic initiatives among India, Pakistan, and China, then promising, have fizzled with the passage from the scene of Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi and the hard post-Tiananmen retrenchment of the Beijing regime.