- Associated Press - Thursday, April 19, 2012

NEW DELHI — India’s successful test of a powerful new missile that could carry nuclear weapons to Beijing caused barely a ripple - even in China - just days after North Korea was globally vilified for its own failed rocket launch.

The vastly different responses show that the world has grown to accept India as a responsible and stable nuclear power, while it shuns 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 in the past 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 insists that its rocket launch Sunday was merely part of its 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 on 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 the Times Now news channel.

India had joined the small club of nations able to develop and build long-range ballistic missiles, he said.

Yet officials said the missile test should not be seen as a threat because India has a no-first-use policy and its missiles are intended only for deterrence.

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