Leading article: India's nuclear ambition should not be ignored

North Korea is a concern, but the worry should be the rate of proliferation everywhere

Related Topics

India's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of more than 5,000km has prompted another round of bewildered complaints about why Britain is giving aid to a country with a space programme. The answer to that is simple. We give aid to desperately poor people who need it and India has more poor people in just three of its states than there are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. But we also give aid for a more realpolitik reason: to buy influence in a country which, with China, is likely to dominate the global economy in the century ahead.

In any case, there is something far more important to worry about than aid. This is not a space programme; it is a race to develop intercontinental nuclear missiles as part of a major modernisation of India's armed forces which is turning the country into the world's top arms importer. A decade of sustained economic growth has allowed India's government to increase military spending by 13 per cent this fiscal year to around US$38bn – about a third of what China spends on its military. This is the real cause for concern.

India has had nuclear weapons since 1974, which is why it has, like Israel and Pakistan, never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force four years earlier. At first it was suggested that India should renounce the bomb and sign as a "non-weapon-state". The United States and others imposed sanctions after India upped its nuclear tests in 1998. But today, India enjoys a de facto legitimacy for its nuclear programme. Washington even signed a civil nuclear co-operation deal with it in 2008. The US State Department greeted this week's new missile by saying India's non-proliferation record was "solid".

The truth is that the new long-range missile, which can reach China, is worrying. Washington is more exercised by North Korea's failed rocket launch, just days earlier, and by its assumptions about Iran's nuclear ambitions. That is because, as Nato pronounced this week, India is not considered a threat. But this degree of proliferation threatens us all.

Beijing responded to yesterday's news by saying that, as large developing nations, China and India "are not competitors but partners". That is spin. The influential newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party made belligerent noises about India's rapidly increased military spending and its "disregard for nuclear and missile control treaties". China's own nuclear arsenal was stronger and more reliable, it said, warning India not to work with Western allies to try to contain China.

Two years ago, China signed a civil nuclear deal with Pakistan, and Pakistani experts are reported to be working on a secret nuclear programme with Saudi Arabia. All this ups the ante in a region where China, Israel and Russia are all nuclear players. The world has rightly worried about the prospect of North Korea developing a nuclear weapons capability, though, as its failed rocket test showed, it has no capability to deliver them. But the real concern should be the rate of acceleration of nuclear capability across the board.

India's new rockets are powered by solid fuel, which makes them quicker to use and easier to transport by road, than the liquid-fuelled missiles in China. They can be fired from mobile launchers, which makes it more difficult for an enemy to locate and destroy them. No wonder increased anxiety is reported inside Pakistan.

There may be excellent reasons for the concern shown about the programmes being developed in North Korea and Iran, regimes which promote intransigence, ideology and confrontation. But intention is not the only danger in a nuclear world. The international community would do well to turn its attention to the fast accelerating availability of nuclear potential elsewhere.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice