The MTCR guidelines restrict export of items that could assist production of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction.
New Delhi: India’s entry to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has now been wrapped up – the first time that New Delhi would be been given admission to one of the four multilateral export control regimes, making it easier to access critical technology for its advanced scientific and defence industries.
The MTCR secretariat, which is now under the chairmanship of Netherlands, had circulated a proposal for India’s membership recently, rather than waiting for the group’s plenary meeting to be held later in the year.
There was no official announcement on Tuesday, merely a reference to India’s interest in joining the export control regimes in the press statements made by US and Indian leaders after their discussion in White House.
“With regard to MTCR, NSG, for all the help and support that my friend Obama has given, I will be forever grateful,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Hindi in Oval Office.
The US has been working to open the doors for India to the MTCR, Nuclear Suppliers Groups (NSG), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement since 2010 as part of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.
In his brief remarks, Obama didn’t mention MTCR, but reiterated support for India joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
The joint statement issued after the talks, however, was more forthcoming, but not explicit about India’s membership. “Recalling their shared commitment to preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, the leaders looked forward to India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime,” it said.
Later at the briefing about the discussion, Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar deflected a query on whether India was now a member of MTCR. “I don’t think it is for me to make any statement in that regard. I would urge you to look elsewhere for a definite answer to that question,” he said.
Since last week, Indian officials were cautiously confident that there were no more wrinkles left to iron out before gaining entry into MTCR.
The sense of optimism became a widely-shared one by this week. “There are no longer any major obstacles that we are aware of,” a senior US administration official told PTI on June 6.
Roald Naess, a Norwegian diplomat who was the chair of the MTCR from 2015-16, also seemed to indicate in a tweet on Tuesday that it was a done deal.
Here in Delhi, Brazillian ambassador Tovar da Silva Nunes, when asked if India would get membership of the MTCR this week said, “Yes. I hope so. We have no problem. We are very comfortable with the idea,” he told The Wire.
The process used to fast-track India’s membership was an unusual one – by circulation. The approval is taken as default, unless there is any specific objection. “If you don’t say anything, it is taken as approval,” said da Silva Nunes.
India’s membership application was not accepted at the last plenary meeting in October in Rotterdam, because of objection by Italy. While the Italian delegation had not given any reason for its objection during the formal proceedings, it was made clear to New Delhi that the status of the Italian marines detained in India for the 2012 killing of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala was the main roadblock.
Italy removed its virtual veto after the second Italian marine returned home following the Indian government’s stance of ‘no-objection’, when the matter came up before the Supreme Court. The Hague-based international arbitral tribunal, in its order on May 3, had said that India and Italy “should cooperate” to allow for the Indian Supreme Court to relax bail conditions and allow Salvatore Girone to go back to his country while the tribunal completes its trial.
Last week, India adhered voluntarily to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, which ‘complements’ the guidelines of the MTCR regime.
The MTCR guidelines, drafted in 1987, enjoin member states to restrict the export of items that could assist the production of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. For the most sensitive items, also known as ‘Category I’ – complete missile systems capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kgs over a distance of more than 300 km, and drones or components designed exclusively for use in such systems – the MTCR encourages member states to deny export licenses altogether, subject to national law. The US, for example, permits certain exports but with tight restrictions on end-use.
Category II items are largely dual use and include components that are needed for civilian space flight. Here, most MTCR states have a less restrictive policy.
Though the MTCR does not bar the sale of Category I or II items to non-members, India’s calculation is that membership of the club would make it easier to acquire critical components and even systems, especially for its space programme. The Indian military is also interested in purchasing US drones – a Category I item.
Once the MTCR hurdle is cleared, India has its eyes set on NSG, which will be much difficult a nut to crack.
The Brazilian envoy said that India’s membership of the MTCR will be helpful in the NSG campaign “only laterally”.
“Because, what is essential for some countries is to make sure that there are enough safeguards, and then some countries need more time for discussion. And there are other countries saying that they want to make sure that India will not block other countries,” he said.
China, which has been lobbying for Pakistan to be a member too, has been the most vocal opponent of India’s entry, insisting that the NSG was “part and parcel of the international non-proliferation regime” and therefore new members should sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Interestingly, Brazil was not a member of NPT, when it joined the NSG in 1992 though it had signed up to the Treaty of Tlatelolco for a Latin American nuclear weapons free zone – considered by the NSG to be a treaty equivalent to the NPT. “We had to prove that we were on good terms with our neighbours,” he added. In 1991, Brazil and Argentina had entered into a bilateral agreement committed to peaceful use of nuclear technology as per the agreement to create Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials.
“Maybe, this is not reproducible here,” admitted the Brazilian diplomat, but he added that there could be “creative” ways for India to give “assurances” to the international community which may not necessarily go through the established paths. “We are with India to promote non-proliferation. So, whatever India does or is doing towards that direction, we will be cheering for India.”