India successfully tested a powerful new missile that can carry nuclear weapons far enough to hit Beijing without any condemnation from the international community, even as observers were hysterical over North Korea’s failed missile launch and Iran’s nonexistent weapons program.
In response to India’s first successful test of a nuclear bomb in 1974, the U.S. put it under economic sanctions for a quarter century. But since 2008, the U.S. and others have engaged in trade of nuclear materials with India, in violation of the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
It’s a prime example of how the law is really a tool for powerful states to control weaker ones they don’t like. It is not regarded by world powers as an impartial arbiter.
Indian officials had made explicit from the start that they were testing a missile that could carry nuclear weapons into major Chinese cities. Yet the U.S. and its allies said the launch should not be seen as a threat because India has a no-first-use policy and its missiles were used only for deterrence.
Contrast this with Iran. There is a consensus in the U.S. intelligence community that Iran, a signatory of the NPT, is not developing nuclear weapons and has demonstrated no intention to do so. Iran has explicitly said it doesn’t want nuclear weapons and that their use would be “sinful.” None of this stopped the West from inching towards the brink of war with Iran though, and no one on the world stage dared to suggest Iran’s posture was for deterrence.
The case of North Korea, too, is instructive. Pyongyang has nuclear weapons and is not a signatory of the NPT (like India). It is a weak, poverty-stricken country and their missile test last week was an embarrassing failure, in contrast to India’s successful launch. But that didn’t stop the wave of international condemnation of North Korea and a halt to its desperately needed food aid.
Israel is another relevant example. Israel has refused to sign the NPT, despite having a large stockpile of hundreds of nuclear weapons and warheads to carry them. In its occupation of Palestinian territories, it has been compared to an apartheid state and it has started wars with its neighbors several times in recent history. Its possession of nuclear weapons destabilizes the region and drives fears of proliferation throughout Middle Eastern states. But, like with India, the West is silent on the issue.
“It’s not the spear, but who holds the spear that matters,” Rahul Bedi, a defense analyst in India said in reference to nuclear weapons. In other words, if powerful states consider you a pariah state, you must follow the letter of the law. If they don’t, break it all you want.