Argument

The Asian Arms Race That Wasn't

India and Pakistan are firing off missiles left and right. So why aren't the Chinese nervous?

Are we in the middle of a missile race in Asia? On April 25, Pakistan conducted the first test of its Shaheen 1-A intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Pakistan military said that the missile, which is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead against targets in India, successfully hit its intended location in the Indian Ocean.

If the thought of the world's most unstable nuclear power testing such weapons doesn't keep you up at night, consider this: Pakistan isn't the only nation bombarding the Indian Ocean with ballistic missiles in recent days -- an Indian missile test of its 5,000-km Agni V likely spurred the trial of the Shaheen 1-A. On a small island off India's eastern coast late last month, a three-stage missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead blasted off and climbed more than 370 miles into the atmosphere before re-entering and splashing down into the water. Mainstream reporting on India's successful test of the Agni V missile has suggested that the launch gave it "nuclear parity" with China -- a claim echoed by seasoned South Asia hand Edward Luce last Sunday.

However, there is little reason to overreact to this series of missile tests. India's test reflects one step forward in a long process of gradually achieving a retaliatory capability against its regional adversaries, especially China. Nothing more, and nothing less. Moreover, the test will not fuel an arms race with either China or Pakistan -- despite Islamabad's test of its own intermediate-range ballistic missile in response to the Indian test.

It is important to understand precisely where India's ballistic missile development program stands. With a range of 5,000 kilometers, the Agni V is technically an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), not an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which is defined as missiles with a range of at least 5,500 kilometers. Yes, this is an arbitrary cutoff. But it is useful for understanding the capabilities that India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the agency responsible for India's ballistic missiles, has mastered -- and those it has not. India does not have, and is at least several years away from, a true ICBM or sea-based capability.

The importance of this development should not be minimized: When the Agni V is eventually inducted into India's Strategic Force Command, it will give it the ability to strike anywhere in China, including the capital Beijing. It extends the reach of India's Agni family of land-based strategic ballistic missiles, which range from 700 km (Agni I) to now 5,000 km (Agni V). Chinese missiles, on the other hand, can already strike anywhere on the Indian subcontinent. The Agni V is designed to support India's ability to assure nuclear retaliation against China in the event nuclear weapons are used against it.

The Indian test also represents a substantial achievement for India's DRDO, demonstrating its mastery of maintaining structural integrity under significant stresses, successful stage separation, and terminal warhead guidance. But beyond these technical advances, the significance of the test should not be over-hyped. It was just a test, and only the first one for the Agni V. DRDO remains several tests, and several years, away from being able to reliably produce and operationalize the Agni V.

The idea that India can -- or even intends to -- achieve nuclear parity with China with a single test is misguided. Nuclear posture unfolds over years and decades, and India is just now creeping toward having an assured retaliation capability against China. Even when the Agni V is inducted into India's military, Beijing will still enjoy clear advantages in both warheads and delivery systems, and it will retain them for the foreseeable future. For starters, China has at least twice as many nuclear warheads as India, many of which contain much higher yields than their Indian counterparts. With several decades of experience developing nuclear systems, China's missiles are also probably more reliable than India's. With the ongoing development of the Type-094 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that will carry the Julang-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, China also has a significant head start on sea-based capabilities.

Don't expect this test to spark an arms race in the region, either. India has been developing the Agni V since at least 2007, so both China and Pakistan have likely already factored its eventual deployment into their own nuclear planning. One central point missed by many analysts is that China and India have remarkably similar nuclear strategies --both are keyed to assured retaliation, or guaranteeing a secure second-strike capability. This means that once both sides have developed survivable second-strike forces capable of reaching an adversary's key strategic targets, there is little need for additional forces.

Most importantly, neither India nor China have nuclear strategies that target each other's nuclear forces. This would make nuclear stability critically dependent on the numerical balance of forces, as was the case during periods of the Cold War. Instead, with assured retaliation strategies, nuclear stability can be established much more easily, once both states acquire secure second-strike capabilities. India is only now reaching the point of having an assured retaliation capability against China. Given China's superior capabilities, the eventual deployment of the Agni V will thus not weaken China's deterrent, even as it strengthens India's. China is unlikely to deploy more weapons in response, because its ability to survive a first strike by India remains robust. As a result -- although an editorial in the always acerbic Global Times stated that India "should not overestimate its strength" -- China's official reaction was quite muted.

Pakistan is also unlikely to alter its own approach to nuclear weapons following the deployment of the Agni V. First, it is unclear how the test alters the nuclear balance between the two rivals: India's existing arsenal can already reach Pakistan's strategic targets. Second, Pakistan primarily aims to use its nuclear forces to deter an Indian conventional attack, abjuring a "no first use" pledge in order to credibly threaten nuclear use in such a contingency. Thus, its nuclear requirements are driven largely by India's growing conventional capabilities - not the range of its nuclear capabilities. Finally, even Pakistan's test of the Shaheen 1A missile is part of its longstanding quest to achieve a secure second-strike capability against Indian targets, and no evidence exists that Pakistan will produce or deploy such missiles in numbers that would trigger an arms race. Moreover, as Pakistan has typically timed the test of its missiles with those of India's, its test was largely predictable. And neither of the launches would have caught the other state by surprise, as both have adhered to an agreement to notify each other ahead of impending ballistic missile tests.

One development could, however, upset the strategic balance in South Asia. Shortly after the test, comments from the head of the DRDO suggested that India might also be developing multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) for several Agni variants. This capability could enable India to deliver multiple nuclear warheads against an adversary's targets -- or its nuclear forces -- with a single ballistic missile launch. MIRVs, coupled with a potential missile defense system in development, could have far-reaching implications for the survivability of China and Pakistan's nuclear forces. Nevertheless, these comments were likely unauthorized and certainly do not reflect the policy of the Indian government or its future force posture. They were most likely made to enhance the organizational prestige of the DRDO, which has long sought to claim that it can indigenously develop world-class systems. This is not the first time that DRDO has made comments with strategic implications that do not reflect official policy.

Finally, in an alarmist article in the New York Times, Graeme Herd at the Geneva Center for Security Policy claims that the timing of the Agni V test would heighten suspicions that it was aimed at China, because it occurred as Beijing is engulfed in the political scandal surrounding deposed party boss Bo Xilai. Most missile tests, however, do not work this way. The Agni V test was planned for years, and it was most likely scheduled for when DRDO was simply ready to test the missile -- and of course, when the weather was clear. Recall that the United States tested missiles according to a standard operating procedure as well -- even once conducting a pre-planned test in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis simply because it was already scheduled.

A sober look at the Agni V test suggests that it was a significant technical step forward in India's longstanding quest for an assured second-strike capability toward its regional adversaries. But it was not much more than that. Analysts expecting an arms race in Asia will likely be disappointed.

PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Mr. Nice Guy

France has chosen François Hollande, but can she fall in love with a man who lacks the passion of leaders past?

PARIS – How is it that France -- the world's fifth-largest economy -- faced with intense credit-rating pressures, chose a Socialist to replace President Nicolas Sarkozy?

Yes, President-elect François Hollande, who bashed Sarkozy's relationship to money far more than he bashed the rich themselves, is essentially a social democrat who has promised to be nearly as fiscally responsible as was Sarkozy. But that hardly gets at the core of France's presidential passions. Of course, economic storms have now washed away 10 incumbent European leaders (make it 11, with Hollande's victory), and after 17 years of presidents from the right, France was ready to balance the scales. Yet such explanations are, well, a bit wonkish, and a tumultuous, impassioned nation like France deserves a somewhat sexier take.

France, after all, is a woman -- a strong, compassionate, alluring, complicated woman. She is La France. She is Marianne, a risqué mythical figure who embodies the country's revolutionary struggles for liberty, equality, and brotherhood. It is no coincidence that on the old 100-franc bill, Marianne was famously represented by Eugène Delacroix holding a flag in one hand, a gun in the other, and heading into battle with her blouse coming off, leaving her breasts exposed. For the French, Freedom is also a woman, which is why it's no surprise that New Yorkers see one when they look to Lady Liberty.

To many Americans, France is fine perfume, stylish fashion, refined cuisine, unapologetic feminine sexuality, and the victimized nation that required saving from the violating Nazi Germany of World War II. And yes, in many Americans' vision -- which carries at least a hint of old-school misogyny -- France is also duplicitous, confusing, and particularly confounding in her taste in men.

Witness, then, the arrival of Hollande -- a man who has spent his career as something of a character actor in French politics, present largely for comic relief. Yet, from among its many suitors, France has chosen Hollande, a man long caricatured as either a marshmallow or a brand of supermarket dessert flan. He's a somewhat doughy, bespectacled Socialist with a sense of good humor and a history of seeking consensus. Even Hollande's most loyal advocates would never argue that he was a passion candidate. (His 3-point victory came largely thanks to voters who simply wanted Sarkozy out.) Yet, on May 15 he will become France's president for at least five long years -- not a lifetime, but in France that's quite a commitment.

To understand how it came to this, it is useful to look at France's presidential relationship history. There was the great wartime love for the black-and-white era: Charles de Gaulle, the sturdy mustachioed embodiment of upright (and uptight) husband-like fortitude. France could count on him; he showed his mettle, and the love endured for a while. But one day, France realized that she enjoyed her memories of de Gaulle more than the present. Like many partners, de Gaulle had stopped growing, and the world passed him by. France wanted more.

She had other men -- there was something of a looking-for-daddy phase -- but she didn't fall in love again for a while, and when she did, it felt like a sort of rebellion against her relationship with de Gaulle. France was excited and intrigued by François Mitterrand, but she only succumbed to his decades-long efforts at seducing her when she chose him in 1981. Mitterrand was the polar opposite of de Gaulle: a culturally refined and versatile-minded Socialist who spent time with intellectuals and frequented radical leftists. She had long resisted him -- Mitterrand won the presidency only on his third attempt -- but the love proved to be deep and complicated. Mitterrand ultimately toyed with his conquest, alternately pleasing, teasing, confusing, and fascinating her with the many labyrinthine corridors of his soul. Although France eventually became resentful of Mitterrand, she could never fully express it. He was profoundly ill, with cancer, when she found out about his many deceptions and betrayals, and he died soon after his 14-year run as head of state ended. The result was a confused mourning that made it hard for France to learn from the relationship's dysfunctions.

But France learned something: She would never fall so passionately for anyone again. Her broad idealism would never recover. She would have fun, but she wouldn't ever love again. In 1995, she hooked up with a good-time guy, Jacques Chirac. He was a likable enough guy, but with readily apparent flaws, and he said anything to get her into bed. Chirac was a bit like the good-natured but persistent guy at the end of the bar at closing time who just keeps talking. After putting up plenty of resistance, she went for it. Early on, she told herself, Chirac still exuded an air of the matinee idol, if not quite holding onto the looks of his youth.

But over time, Chirac proved to be the political equivalent of Charlie Sheen in Two and a Half Men. (Chirac, whose numerous quick trysts spurred his former driver to nickname him "10 Minutes, Shower Included," was similarly promiscuous in politics, making promises to all even when he had no intention whatsoever of keeping his word.) Still, he was a lot more fun than his sardonic, professorial Socialist competitor in 2002, Lionel Jospin, and thus France made the improbable decision to stay with Chirac a little longer.

By the end of Chirac's time at the helm of France, his charms (like Sheen's) had long ago worn away. The movie-star handsomeness had evolved into something, well, a bit sad. So France did what so many people do after a bad relationship: She went for something totally different. It wasn't just that Chirac was tall and contemplative while Sarkozy was short and frenetic. Chirac was a stay-at-home guy who wouldn't even repair the door handle; Sarkozy wanted to move France to another home, perhaps even to America.

Like the feisty, domineering, and controlling lawyer that he was in his soul, Sarkozy didn't seduce France as much as he negotiated her to the altar. He would shake her, he argued, back to reality -- get her life in order again. She never really liked him, but his storm of ideas was intriguing -- at least at first. And who could resist such energy, such confidence?

Only later did France realize that Sarkozy's obsession with himself was almost limitless. At times, she wondered whether Sarkozy even knew she was there. Worse, he seemed to lack boundaries, and he thrived on destabilizing her, which undermined her already fading confidence. Sarkozy had a million projects for them to take on, together, but he often got distracted, and she quickly began to wonder whether their relationship added up to anything meaningful. Spending time with him was akin to drinking too much coffee; it energized, but was rarely productive, and the buzz gave her a headache and made her crash. The result: France was left feeling older and more vulnerable, wondering whether her best days were behind her.

As her interest wandered, Sarkozy's energy didn't. To the end, he argued, often desperately, about why France should stick with him, how she would be nothing without him. No one would work harder than he would to make the relationship work. He even said that he risked his health trying to help her. She had to stay with him for her own sake, and for his.

Then, late in their relationship, there was a flirtation with another man. He seemed to have it all: intellect, gravitas, all of the money in the world (he oversaw the IMF). This jet-setting man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, spoke of his compassion for the needy and his capacity to solve so many of her problems. Yes, there were rumors about him, but France wanted to believe that the perfect suitor existed. And just as France was ready to leave Sarkozy, Mr. Perfect turned out to be Mr. Perp Walk. His convictions, it turned out, were more courtroom than conscience.

Which brings us to France's next president. How could a nation of lovers pick a schlumpy Socialist like François Hollande? There may be nothing sexy about Hollande, but that is entirely the point. France has for too long been betrayed, manipulated, lied to, and used.

In a sense, Hollande has long been supportive of France, often to his own detriment. He is the kind of guy whom everyone takes for granted -- by Ségolène Royal, the politician and mother of his four children; by most of the Socialist Party leadership; and certainly by Sarkozy and his friends. Yet Hollande has, stunningly, defeated them all. He is the best friend, the one France never thought of in that way. But now he has, improbably, gotten the girl.

Monday morning, France is still asking herself what it will be like to actually live with President Hollande. There isn't much natural passion there. But he seems to be a decent, thoughtful, supportive guy, which is important for a maturing lady like France. And maybe if she squints her eyes just so, he looks and sounds a bit like Mitterrand.

Hollande surely won't torture or tease France in the same ways, but at the very least, he might be good company.

MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/GettyImages