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» » » Analysts fear India’s new “China killer” nuclear missile may ignite arms race in South Asia

Analysts fear India’s new “China killer” nuclear missile may ignite arms race in South Asia

December 3, 2011NEW DELHIGiven the incendiary moniker “the China killer” by the more sensationalist press, India’s newest nuclear-capable missile will be its most powerful yet, and also an unmistakable signal to its neighbors. Agni V – named after the Hindu god of fire – is due to be tested within three months. It will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead 5000 kilometers, meaning it can reach not only Beijing and Shanghai but all of northern China. India’s existing arsenal can already reach every corner of Pakistan using earlier models of the Agni delivery system. Indian officials are at pains to reiterate the country’s no-first-strike policy, but the new muscular armory is feeding regional anxieties about a hastening arms race. India was recently declared by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as the biggest arms importer in the world – ahead of China – with 70 per cent of a $US32.5 billion defiance budget spent on hardware and weapons from overseas. “We are not looking at how many missiles China or Pakistan has,” said V.K. Saraswat, the chief of the Indian government’s Defense Research & Development Organization. “With a ‘no-first-use’ nuclear weapons policy, we only want a sufficient number of missiles to defend the country in the event of a crisis. Ours is a defensive-mode strategy, even if others have offensive postures.” While regional concerns are loudest, India’s improvement of its present nuclear capability comes at a sensitive juncture for Australia too. At the Labor Party’s national conference this weekend, one agenda item is a motion to end the ban on uranium sales to India, a non-signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The move, unveiled by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, a fortnight ago, is expected to become Labor policy. Australian uranium sales to countries with nuclear weapons programs come with strict provisos that Australian uranium is used only for civilian purposes. But uranium is fungible. And a new market offering high-grade uranium ore for India’s civilian reactors frees up the country’s limited local supplies for boosting its military program. India has been developing its Agni category ballistic missiles for nearly a decade, with each edition capable of greater range, and carrying a larger warhead, than its predecessor. -SMH

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