India Tests a Missile to Save Its Government

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Missiles are the political Viagra of India's flagging coalition government. Sunday's test of the intermediate-range Agni II missile that can carry one of those new Indian nukes deep into China will likely plunge the subcontinent back into another round of nuclear posturing, but it was primarily a domestic political gambit. "Prime Minister Vajpayee is fighting to save his fragile coalition government from collapse, and that appears to have dictated the timing of the missile test," says TIME New Delhi correspondent Maseeh Rahman. Last May's nuclear tests rallied support behind the same beleaguered coalition, and "Agni II promises to save Vajpayee temporarily once again," says Rahman. "It's arguably the first salvo in his campaign for the snap parliamentary elections expected in November."

Pakistan will now be tempted to do some tit-for-tat testing of its own intermediate-range missiles, while China will press Washington to maintain sanctions against India introduced after last year's tests. The U.S., for its part, can't take much comfort from dealing with a government that looks to weapons of mass destruction when it needs a bump in the polls. Especially since some Indian defense experts have been pressing for the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.