While the US beats the war drums over North Korea and Iran’s long-ranged nuclear armed missiles - which they don’t even possess - Washington remains curiously silent about the arrival of the world’s newest member of the big nuke club - India.

In January, Delhi revealed a new, 800 km-ranged submarine launched missile (SLBM) designated K-15. Twelve of these strategic, nuclear-armed missiles will be carried by India’s first of a class of domestically-built nuclear-powered submarine, Arihant. India is also working on another SLBM, K-5, with a range of some 2, 800 km.

These new nuclear subs and their SLBM’s will give India the capability to strike many high-value targets around the globe. Equally important, they complete its nuclear triad of nuclear weapons delivered by aircraft, missiles, and now sea that will be invulnerable to a decapitating first strike from the neighbouring countries.

Last February, it was revealed that India is fast developing a new, long-ranged, three-stage ballistic missile, Agni-VI. This missile is said to be able to carry up to 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads, known as MIRV’s.

Agni-VI’s range is believed to be at least 10,000 km, putting all of China, Japan, Australia and Russia in its range. A new 15,000 km missile capable of hitting North America is also in the works under cover of India’s civilian space programme. It is also developing accurate cruise missiles and miniaturised nuclear warheads to fit into their small diameter.

These important strategic developments will put India ahead of other nuclear powers France, Britain, North Korea and Pakistan, about equal in striking power to Israel and China, and not too far behind the US and Russia.

New Delhi says it needs a nuclear triad because of the growing threat of China, whose conventional and nuclear forces are being rapidly modernised.

The Bush administration began quietly aiding India’s nuclear programme with nuclear fuel when India had a shortage of fissile material. Some advanced technology from the US and India’s second largest arms supplier, Israel, has also aided New Delhi’s nuclear and missile delivery programmes.

India, as I wrote years ago after one of its nuclear tests, is feeling its “nuclear Viagra.” Most Indians take great pride in their strategic nuclear programmes as their way into the great power’s exclusive nuclear club.

But not all Indians are so delighted, particularly those on the left who ask how their nation, with one-third of all the world’s poorest people, can afford to spend tens of billions on advanced weapons, including nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, and ICBM’s.

According to the World Bank, 32.7 percent of the Indians subsist below the international poverty level of $1.25 daily, and 68.7 percent on less than $2 daily. Aid agencies say 33 percent of Indian children are malnourished.

New Delhi claims that it is making steady progress in reducing poverty and disease, and in trying to break down the pernicious caste system that dooms a quarter of Indians to lives of misery. This, critics claim, is no time to be posturing as a world power when Mother India still has feet of clay.

The Bush administration was totally unaware that India’s advent as a major nuclear power whose weapons might one day challenge the US. Bush & Co wanted India to bulk up as a competitor to China, a permanent enemy of the Republican hard right. Today’s Republicans think similarly.

India  is a friend of the US where over one million Indians live. True enough, but we have seen there are no permanent friends in world politics, only permanent interests. One day it may vie for influence with the US for Mideast and Central Asian oil, and control of the Indian Ocean’s vital sea lanes. But not today, as all eyes are on pipsqueak North Korea and dilapidated Iran.

    The writer is an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist. His articles appear in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Gulf Times, Khaleej Times and other news sites in Asia. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Lew Rockwell and Big Eye. He appears as an expert on foreign affairs on CNN, BBC, France 2, France 24, Fox News, CTV and CBC.