The successful launch of India's nuclear capable long-range missile is a historical event and an important step for Washington, says the head of DW's South Asia service.
India's new long-range missile, the Agni-V, can reach a distance of over 5,000 kilometers - targets in all of Asia, the Middle East and also parts of Europe. The launch is a pass into the club of nuclear powers which possess long distance nuclear capable weapons. Until yesterday, membership in the club was restricted to permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Great Britain and France.
First and foremost, Thursday's launch was a matter of prestige for the rising Asian nation. It was also a sign to leading countries, especially China, that India is aspiring to become a superpower. One can only suspect that India will now strengthen its efforts to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council - the club of the most powerful. And New Delhi will be seeking collaboration in Berlin, as it has in the past, in the framework of a long-overdue council reform.
Until now, India has had its eyes more on Pakistan with regards to its middle-range rockets. Since its founding in 1947, India has fought three wars with its western neighbor. But with the Agni-V, which could also reach China, New Delhi's deterrent potential has reached a new level.
The race between India and China for military domination - which many experts have predicted - has thus gained new meaning. The success of Agni-V's launch is likely to boost India's self-confidence as a leading power in rocket, space and software technology. And it can be expected that that self-confidence will show in New Delhi's foreign policy towards its Asian neighbors. Delhi would, however, do well to pace itself, as China, likewise a nuclear power, is still much further along.
Strategic US partner
Washington surely welcomed its ally's rocket launch on Thursday - India is the US' most important ally in the region and its strong Indian military is seen as an increasingly important element in the region, especially as a counterweight to China. Both the US and India have started joint security and nuclear efforts and are also seeking to expand trade relations with each other.
But to attain the status of a superpower, India still has a long and difficult road ahead. Ties between the civilian government in New Delhi and the military remain strained. The modernization of the country's armed forces is advancing very slowly, and success in this area has only been modest so far. Furthermore, corruption is rampant and is even posing a threat to the country's political framework.
Despite strong economic growth and an increase of favorable market conditions for Western products, India continues to struggle with social problems. Hundreds of millions of people live at or below the poverty level. Insurgent Maoists control vast stretches of land, predominantly in the east of the country. The government has not sufficiently confronted - if at all - these issues which affect around a half of its population.
For the poor and underprivileged, the lift-off of the nuclear capable Agni-V missile doesn't mean much. But if India is to become a superpower, its elites will first have to address these issues so that the country has a solid foundation as a starting point. And here, prestige and rockets won't help.
Author: Grahame Lucas / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams