New Delhi: Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar may not have succeeded in getting India admitted into the Nuclear Suppliers Group but on Monday he will have the satisfaction of a photo-op when he is presented with the formal credentials of Indian membership in the 34-nation Missile Technology Control Group.
Now that all procedures attendant to membership are complete, the MTCR will be the first multilateral export control group that has opened its doors to India. New Delhi’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers group last week ended in failure after China and some other countries raised “procedural issues” which effectively stopped India’s attempt to obtain membership at the plenary meeting on June 23-34.
Similar to its NSG bid, India had also stumbled at the first roadblock on the path into the MTCR club.
India had adhered to MTCR guidelines in September 2008 as part of its commitment under 2005 India-US joint statement heralding India-US civil nuclear cooperation. After the 2010 Indo-US joint statement talked about India joining the four export control regimes – the NSG, MTCR, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement – New Delhi made the first move by formally applying for MTCR membership in June 2015.
In a surprise move, Italy blocked India’s entrance at the MTCR plenary meeting – chaired by The Netherlands and Luxembourg – in Rotterdam on October 5-9, 2015, presumably as leverage to push New Delhi to take a more amenable position on the stay of the two Italian marines facing murder charges in India over the 2012 killing of tw0 fishermen. Italy raised objections about the fact that India was not a party to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), which it said was an obstacle given the MTCR’s goal of upholding all treaties pertaining to weapons of mass destruction.
The door was not closed, however, with several MTCR members, known as partners, agreeing to keep the membership issue on the agenda. The United States and France have been strong advocates for India joining the group.
India’s membership application was kept alive by the Reinforced Point of Contact (R-POC), which is the policy-level intersessional meeting hosted by France. With no formal secretariat, France serves as MTCR’s Point of Contact (POC), coordinating distribution of documents, meetings and outreach activities.
Rome’s position changed after the remaining Italian sailor returned home on May 29 this year following an arbitral tribunal decision that India promptly implemented. And by early June, India had taken another step towards getting into the MTCR by signing the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC).
HCoC signatories have to provide pre-launch notifications on ballistic missiles, space launch vehicle launches and test flights, as well as, submit an annual declaration of policy on satellite launch vehicles and ballistic missiles.
The June 22 take-off of a PSLV rocket with a payload of 20 satellites was the first pre-launch notification made by India under HCoC guidelines.
Meanwhile, the R-POC circulated the proposal for India to be admitted to MTCR under the group’s ‘silent procedure’. This meant that India’s admission would be automatically deemed to have been approved, if no objections were received within a specified deadline.
By a ‘happy coincidence’, the 10-day deadline for the silent procedure ended on the eve of the meeting of US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington on June 7.
During their brief joint press appearance at the Oval Office, Modi thanked the US president for supporting India’s membership bid in both the MTCR and NSG, while Obama only mentioned the nuclear cartel in his remarks.
At the post-summit briefing, foreign secretary S. Jaishankar also did not answer whether India had now become a MTCR member. “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.
The joint statement was more forthcoming: “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”.
Sources said that a few days later, France, in its capacity as the MTCR’s Reinforced Point of Contact, asked India to complete some more paperwork. This included a written assurance that India had read and agreed to all the guidelines and letters of the regime.
The Ministry of External Affairs quickly sent a note verbale with the required documentation to Paris which in turn circulated the final form of the proposal to admit India to all members.
As per procedures, MTCR partners had to revert with note verbales confirming their acceptance. On the evening of June 24, France received the last such confirmation.
With the completion of all requirements, the ambassadors of France (as MTCR’s POC) and the Netherlands and Luxembourg (as hosts of the last plenary) will jointly hand over a letter confirming Indian membership to Jaishankar on Monday, June 27.
“From Monday, India will be on the restricted circulation network of the regime,” sources added.
It effectively means that India will be participating as a full partner at the next plenary meeting of MTCR in Seoul.
MTCR encourages members to deny export licenses on items listed in the Annex’s list of Category I, which are complete missile systems with payload capacity of 500 kg to over 300 kilometres, as well as unmanned aerial vehicle systems. ‘Category II’ items, which are largely dual use and include components that are needed for civilian space flight, have a less restrictive policy.
There is no explicit bar on the sale of either Category I OR II items to non-partners, but India will certainly find it easier to acquire critical components and technology for its space programme.
The Indian military is also interested in purchasing US predator drones – a Category I item. The MTCR membership will come in handy as US law does make a distinction in terms of sensitive exports to non-partners.