NEW DELHI — India’s successful test of a powerful new missile that can carry nuclear weapons to Beijing caused barely a ripple — even in China — just days after North Korea was globally vilified for a failed rocket launch.
The vastly different responses show the world has grown to accept India as a responsible and stable nuclear power, while shunning North Korea as a pariah.
“It’s not the spear, but who holds the spear that matters,” said Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in India. “North Korea is a condemned nation. It’s a pariah country. Its record of breaking nuclear agreements is well known. India has emerged in that sense as a fairly responsible country.”
The muted response to Thursday morning’s test underscores how far India has come in gaining acceptance for its nuclear program. After India tested its first nuclear bomb in 1974, the U.S. put it under sanctions for a quarter century.
But last decade, the U.S. removed the sanctions and eventually ratified in 2008 a landmark deal to allow civilian nuclear trade that effectively accepted India as a nuclear nation.
India hailed its test of the Agni-V missile as a significant step forward in its aspirations to become a regional and world power.
“The nation stands tall today,” Defense Minister A.K. Antony said, according to the Press Trust of India.
The missile, with a range of 3,100 miles, still requires a battery of tests and must clear other bureaucratic hurdles before it can be inducted into India’s arsenal in a few years. The differences between the two launches were clear before they even got under way.
North Korea insisted its rocket launch Sunday was merely part of a civilian space program aimed at putting an observation satellite into orbit. The U.S. and other countries called it a thin excuse to test technology for firing a long-range missile fitted with a nuclear warhead. The launch failed when the rocket broke apart soon after takeoff.
The condemnation of North Korea’s launch was swift. The United States canceled a plan to send food aid and the U.N. Security Council announced it would impose new sanctions.
India was clear from the start that it was testing a nuclear-capable missile that could reach major Chinese cities.
The government hailed it as a success, releasing video showing the Agni-V taking off from a small launcher on what appeared to be railroad tracks at 8:07 a.m. from Wheeler Island off India’s east coast. It rose in a pillar of flame, trailing billows of smoke behind, before arcing through the sky.
The missile hit an altitude of more than 370 miles, its three stages worked properly and its payload was deployed as planned, the head of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, Vijay Saraswat, told Times Now news channel.
Yet officials said the missile test should not be seen as a threat because India has a no-first-use policy and its missiles were used only for deterrence.
International concerns were muted.
China, with the most at stake from the launch, declined to discuss it. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said only that India and China should work together as strategic partners and “grasp opportunities to further develop relations.”
Even archrival Pakistan, already in range of India’s less advanced missiles, showed no concern, with foreign office spokesman Mozzam Ahmed Khan saying only that India had informed it of the test ahead of time in line with an agreement they have.