An Update on India and the Missile Control Regime


2015-10-17  By Guishan Luthra

New Delhi. India failed in its maiden attempt earlier this month to win consensus support for its entry to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

But, inspiring hope for India, the outgoing Norwegian Chairman of the grouping, Ambassador Roald Næss, tweeted after the meeting concluded on October 9: “Broad support for Indian membership in MTCR, but regrettably no consensus yet. I remain optimistic.” The 34-member voluntary grouping ended its 29th annual session in the port city of Rotterdam in Holland that day without any decision on India’s application for membership.

India had formally submitted an application in June 2015 with active support from the US and France. Although an odd country may have opposed India’s proposal, there is considerable victory for India insofar as most members of the various denial regimes have come to appreciate New Delhi’s persistent non proliferation policies regarding nuclear weapons and missiles.

MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup observed that India’s application was “received well and it remains under consideration.”

Although India was The Target of some of these denial regimes right after its first nuclear test in 1974, New Delhi indicated its willingness to join them after its second nuclear tests in 1998. In April 2012, the then Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told strategic experts at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi that it was time for India to join these four regimes, beginning with the NSG.

This was the first formal, and categorical, move by India, and ever since, diplomats handling disarmament at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) have successfully engaged various capitals.

It is important for India to become a member of the denial regimes as only after that will the global community lift the restriction on trade with India in nuclear systems and rocket technologies, some of which are dual use with civil applications.

India needs cooperation with global powers even in military systems, given the admitted fact that peace in the Asia Pacific region is now key to peace in the world.

MTCR holds its plenary session in October. Whether India’s application will now be considered a year later next October, or sometime before that, is to be seen. But sources in Washington told India Strategic that “the wait won’t be very long for India.”

Details of the MTCR plenary, held October 5 – 9, were not disclosed but there are indications that Italy, peeved over the prolonged trial of two of its marines in India in a shooting case, asked for time. There was no confirmation though.

Apparently, Indian diplomats will now shift their focus on another goal: entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Entry into either the MTCR or NSG will be a landmark development for India.

In the latter though, New Delhi could face hurdles as China insists on parity with Pakistan despite Islamabad’s record of nuclear and missile proliferation.

NSG was ironically initiated by the US specifically to target New Delhi after India’s 1974 nuclear test. Significantly now, Washington is supporting India’s entry into all the four denial regimes, that is, MTCR, NSG, the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group.

I recall Prime Minister Indira Gandhi telling me in an informal chat that India deserved to be in the UN Security Council (UNSC), and that India’s nuclear test in 1974 was as much aimed at deterrence as much at this high table in New York. The US has come around to this also, and during his recent visit to the US, Prime Minister Narendra Modi disclosed that President Obama had promised him full support in this regard.

That is indeed a big deal, and a success of Mr Modi’s diplomacy of warmth and friendly demeanor.

I may mention that as a young reporter for UNI news agency then, I had the privilege of breaking news of India’s nuclear test, and giving details like its location and the first international reaction in Canada withdrawing nuclear assistance to India within 10 days of the earth-shaking explosion.

MTCR was set up in April 1987 by seven countries, namely Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Britain and the United States, to check proliferation of ballistic missiles with over 300 km range and 500kg of bomb payload. In 1992, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that can deliver Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) were included, and later, even software for such delivery systems was covered.

India hasn’t signed any of the denial regimes but has voluntarily adhered to them. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile for instance, which India makes in collaboration with Russia, adheres to the MTCR ambit.

India has steadily maintained a clean record, and as Mr Mathai had pointed out three years ago: India has “a law based export system, covering about nine different legislations,” and that “the nation’s export controls are in line with the highest international standards.”

It may be recalled that although Mrs Indira Gandhi demonstrated India’s nuclear capability, she did not allow it to be weaponised. She did want nuclear powered submarines, and possibly nuclear attack capable also because of the perceived threat from China, but she chose not to translate this capability into hardware.

It was only in 1988 that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi gave the go-ahead for nuclear weapons after India’s external intelligence agency, RAW, informed him that Pakistan had already done so. The inputs were shared with Washington, where unfortunately, the presidency of George HW Bush ignored them till the CIA finally had to admit before the US Congress in 1990 that Islamabad had indeed done so. A retired Pakistani brigadier was also apprehended in the US for trying to smuggle nuclear weapon triggers (krytrons) to Pakistan.

Meanwhile, MTCR’s Chair passed from Norway to Luxembourg and Netherlands, on whose behalf, Dutch Ambassador Piet de Klerk presided over the meeting. He will continue till October 2016.Foreign Ministers Jean Asselborn (Luxembourg) and Bert Koenders (Holland) welcomed the participants.

According to a public statement issued after the 5-day MTCR meeting from October 5, “The main purpose of the Plenary Meeting was to review and evaluate the MTCR’s activities over the last 12 months and to intensify the efforts of MTCR Partners to prevent the proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

“MTCR Partners – as the members are described – recalled that the proliferation of WMD (nuclear, chemical and biological weapons) and their means of delivery remains a threat to international peace and security, as recognised in UN Security Council Resolution 1540. They reiterated their commitment to limit the risks of proliferation by controlling international transfers that can contribute to delivery systems for WMD. They held a thorough exchange of information on missile proliferation developments since their last Plenary Meeting in Oslo.

“Partners welcomed that the MTCR Guidelines and control lists in the Annex constitute an international best practices benchmark for controlling exports of missile-related items and technologies, and noted that these standards are increasingly adhered to by non-partners and are included in some UN Security Council resolutions.”

Besides the seven who set up MTCR, the other members are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Czeck Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungry, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine.

Republished with permission of our partner India Strategic.

The importance of Indian entry into the MTCR was highlighted in this article published by the Observer Research Foundation, which is “an endeavor to aid and influence formulation of policies for building a strong and prosperous India.”

Considering that MTCR’s sole objective has been to globally control exports of missile technologies and related items, standards of the non-proliferation and export control policies and practices of a particular country shape the prospect of its inclusion in the regime.

While India has always remained committed to non-proliferation of sensitive items covered by the MTCR, it has updated its domestic laws as well as its Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies (SCOMET) List in the last five years, harmonizing them completely with the MTCR guidelines. This has been recognized by the US and all other like-minded partners. 

Meanwhile, it has been argued that a country’s pursuit of developing and modernizing missile technology could go against the spirit of the regime and that such a country should not be included in the MTCR. In the Indian context, skeptics argue that New Delhi is treated as an outsider for its pursuit of a guided missile development program.

Such arguments, however, do not hold strong ground, because the MTCR, far from requiring it, does not even suggest that its members curb indigenous development of missile technologies or related items. This is further exemplified by the fact that some of the current members of the regime are known to have run or are currently running their own missile development programs. 

India’s entry into the regime will benefit both India and the MTCR. Membership in the regime will allow India to better contribute to the global non-proliferation cause.

It will also enhance the level of understanding between MTCR members and India, allowing the latter to import dual-use technologies and items for peaceful purposes. On the other hand, by including India, MTCR members will ensure that all supplies of sensitive missile and related technologies that India exports will adhere to MTCR guidelines and that the same rules will apply to New Delhi as they do to other MTCR suppliers.