Last week, there was plenty of pomp and circumstance in North Korea to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the country's founding. People cheered as the government revealed enormous statues of Kim family leaders. Meanwhile, a North Korean rocket failed to launch. In an odd display of power, which resulted in the loss of much-needed foreign food aid and a wave of global criticism, North Korea went on with celebrations after the embarrassment.
On the other side of Asia, a different nuclear testing narrative played out in India. They openly announced their testing of the Agni V missile well ahead of time and did not face nearly the same backlash as North Korea. The isolated country under Kim Jong Un is unpredictable to say the least, likely one of the main reasons for the global criticism against them. There are also other points of note which clarify the vastly different responses to the two countries' recent launches.
The majority of the global community believed that the North Korean rocket launch was not actually designed to deliver a communications or weather systems satellite, as the North Korean government claimed, but was intended to be a precursor to the testing of a nuclear weapon. It is a suspicion which the rest of the world had good reason to fear, given North Korea's history. As laughable as North Korea's attempts are to camouflage the rocket launch as a civilian effort, it is telling that they invited foreign journalists into the country to watch the whole spectacle. It is also possible the rocket launch failed on purpose, as a compromise between showing capacity for power internally and succumbing to international pressure externally in order to somehow negotiate with the West over food aid.
North Korea has yet to conduct any nuclear tests, at least none that have been made public.
China is technically an ally and supplier for North Korea, sharing somewhat of a political philosophy albeit vastly different economic goals. Even China warned Pyongyang against testing a nuclear weapon.
With China's regional power challenged, perhaps India felt the time was ripe to push it just a bit further. India spares no charades though and openly announced a nuclear test launch which occurred this week, and it was successful.
It doesn't appear as though Agni V, the rocket aptly named “fire,” is getting nearly as much criticism as North Korea's failed one. In fact, to compare the two countries' situations seems unfair given India's clear and open history of non-proliferation, relatively open communications with the global community, and the lack of real and immediate threat to their national security. Of course, it is intriguing that the test comes on the heels of a visit by Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, a first by a Pakistani head of state in seven years.
Another highly likely explanation for the lack of criticism of India versus that of North Korea has to do with capabilities. India points out that the most important part of the Indian test of nuclear power though is that Agni V, with its one-ton payload, has a range of 5000 km (or approximately 3000 miles), right in the range of Shanghai and Beijing. China and India have a history of fighting, from the war in 1962 to the ongoing controversy of Tibet and the Dalai Lama to the growing economies, but the battle will not likely extend to this more dangerous front anytime soon. The North Korean ”rocket” was believed to have a far longer range, reaching to Australia and New Zealand and they have a much more volatile relationship with their neighbors than does India.
Experts say since Agni V is India's first foray into the type of missile power; it's no imminent threat to the kind of power and range China has already had for years. China also has strategic ties with technology in Pakistan, adding to the challenge posed by India's “no strike first” policy. North Korea has no clear policy on such matters and in this case, transparency bodes well for the sub continental juggernaut.
Another major reason for the global community “accepting” the Indian nuclear tests is the relative financial stability of India. North Korea has already been under several sanctions from several countries and has foolishly spent a billion dollars on a failure while turning away what appears to be much needed food aid.
Only time will tell what will happen with both countries' nuclear capabilities, but at least for now the world is certain about India's current cache of power.