It is a typical case of one up and one down. India has finally succeeded in becoming a member of the elite 34 nations Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which, while boosting the arms export by the country, will also make for an easier access to sensitive, dual use technology.
Clearly and apparently, it is an indication that in the years ahead India is poised to play a crucial role in shaping the global geo strategic dynamics.
Strategic analysts are of view that India’s joining this elite non proliferation club as 35th member could bring in a range of benefits to the country including advanced technological elements for ballistic missiles and armed drones. This heart warming development which came closely on the heels of India failing to make it into 48-nations Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), due to the stonewalling by China, could, in a way, strengthen the Indian case for joining NSG whose mandate is to ensure non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation of guidelines for nuclear and related export.
At the end of the day, India becoming the 35th member of MTCR speaks eloquently for the vastly improved standing of India in the comity of nations. Clearly and apparently, it is an indication that in the years ahead India is poised to play a crucial role in shaping the global geo strategic dynamics. What’s more, the MTCR membership would help India enter the global missile market in a big way. Indeed, India’s strides in designing, developing and producing a wide variety of missiles featuring cutting edge technologies have now been recognised globally.
That India, which, not long back, was at the receiving end of US sanctions, that drew strength from the stipulations of MTCR, can now, as part of this multi- lateral export control group play a crucial role in giving a new shape to the non proliferation regime. It may be recalled that way back in early 1990s, USA citing the provisions of MTCR, had blocked the transfer of Russian cryogenic engine technology to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). ISRO had planned to quicken the development of the cryogenic engine meant to serve as the upper stage of the three stage Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with the Russian technology.
India’s entry into MTCR, a culmination of the sustained efforts spread over many years, is considered a boost to the non proliferation credentials of the country.
Of course, ISRO was able to subsequently develop and qualify a home grown cryogenic engine to propel GSLV. But then the US argument was that cryogenic engine technology is a dual use system that can be exploited for militaristic applications. All said and done, the ground reality that strategic and tactical missiles hardly make use of the cryogenic propulsion. For the solid fuel driven propulsion system is the favourite of the missile developers and builders.
Similarly, many US private think tanks had blamed the Agni ballistic missile development programme spearheaded by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for its “contribution to proliferation.” The argument was that the solid fuel technology developed for India’s first civilian launcher SLV-3, built and tested by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO),had given a quickening impetus to the development of Agni missile. Incidentally, DRDO and ISRO were among the state owned organisations that had on and off come under MTCR scanner and US sanctions. But in the context of the changed scenario and India’s membership of MTCR, programmes of both DRDO and ISRO are likely to receive a shot in the arm.
India’s entry into MTCR, a culmination of the sustained efforts spread over many years, is considered a boost to the non proliferation credentials of the country. According to Alphonsus Steolinga, Ambassador of Netherlands to India, ‘MTCR is a control mechanism which prevented missiles and delivery vehicles from falling into rogue hands. And India like other 34 members of the regime will have to abide by the rule book of the regime”.
MTCR membership also means that it could be a payback time for India. For India can now oppose Chinese bid to enter MTCR. “It is important to note that members who approved India’s MTCR entry are also members of the NSG. So this singles out China. It is a political decision that the government has to take. The membership also allows India to export weapons to any country it wants” says G. Balachandran, Consulting Fellow, at the New Delhi based strategic think tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).China’s application to join MTCR is pending. For there is a growing suspicion of China having abetted proliferation by passing on sensitive and dual use technology to countries such as Pakistan and Iran.
The membership of MTCR would enable India buy and export high end missile tech as well as boost joint venture deals with Russia for precision weapons.
MTCR, which came into existence in 1987, is among the four export control regimes that strives to ensure global non proliferation. Its avowed objective is to prevent proliferation of missiles, complete rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles and related technology for systems capable of carrying a 500-kg.payload over a range of at least 300 kilo-meters as well as the vehicles meant for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction. While NSG controls global export of nuclear material and technology, the Wassenaar Arrangements is a grouping of 40 countries that controls global trade of conventional weapons and dual use goods and technologies. On the other hand, Australian Group governs international trade on materials employed to make chemical and biological weapons by ensuring that proliferators are not able to obtain materials and knowhow for chemical and biological weapons.
Sources in India’s External Affairs Ministry note that India’s entry into the regime as its thirty fifth member would be mutually beneficial in the furtherance of international non proliferation objectives. The membership of MTCR would enable India buy and export high end missile tech as well as boost joint venture deals with Russia for precision weapons. Interestingly, the range of Indo Russian supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos was kept at 290-km, a shade below the threshold limit of 300-km set by MTCR. This was done with an eye on exploring the export market for this deadly weapon system. There is no denying the point that India’s plan to export Brahmos to Vietnam and other countries would be smoothened with its MTCR membership.
Media reports reveal that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered the New Delhi based Indo-Russian joint venture, BrahMos Aerospace, to speed up the process of exporting this missile to five countries topped by Vietnam. Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and Chile are other countries in the priority list for the sale of BrahMos. Other countries that have displayed interest in the potentials of the BrahMos missile include Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and UAE (United Arab Emirates).
India, which had earlier proposed procuring Arrow-II theatre missile defence interceptor from Israel, could not proceed towards the actual acquisition due to MTCR sanctions.
Strategic analysts believe, for long, New Delhi was reluctant to sell BrahMos to Vietnam fearing a backlash from China which considers BrahMos For China perceives of Brahmos as a sort of “destabilizer”. For long, India’s foreign policy experts are known to have been guided by the misplaced perception that cooperation with Washington or Hanoi could bring a backlash from Beijing, In fact, it was in 2011 that Vietnam had made its first request to India for the acquisition of BrahMos. But then there is no clarity as to whether Russia has given the actual final go ahead to the Indian proposal to export BrahMos to Vietnam. For Russia and China have close strategic, commercial and defence relationship.
Admission to MTCR has also been seen as the next step for India in terms of legitimizing its missile development and nuclear energy programmes. For the twin nuclear tests conducted by India in 1998 had attracted US sanction, resulting in the denial of nuclear technology and material to India. However, India’s signing a landmark civil nuclear deal in 2008 with the US gave the country the much needed access to nuclear material and technology. In the ultimate analysis, what benefit this “widely hailed historical deal” has brought to India’s nuclear programme, there is no clarity as yet. Since the clinching of the civil nuclear deal with USA, India has been making all out efforts to get admission into global export control regimes including NSG and Australia Group. And MTCR happens to be the first multi lateral export control group that has welcomed India.
Significantly, India, which had earlier proposed procuring Arrow-II theatre missile defence interceptor from Israel, could not proceed towards the actual acquisition due to MTCR sanctions. The newly acquired MTCR membership will help India in the procurement of Arrow-II which will give a formidable edge to India’s plan to counter the ballistic missile threat from China and Pakistan.
Similarly, India will now be in a position to buy surveillance drones including the highly prized Predator drones from USA. The US might also consider exporting to India advanced drones which have been key players in countering terrorism efforts in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a most recent development of strategic significance India will be get access to almost 99% of the latest US defence technologies after being recognised as a “Major Defence Partner”.
MTCR membership would contribute to the success of ‘Make in India’ flagship programme of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Following meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama earlier this month, India came to be considered as the only country outside the US’s formal treaty allies to get such benefits. With this new status, India would receive a licence free access to a wide variety of dual use technologies in tandem with steps that New Delhi has committed to take to advance its export control goals.
Analysts also believe India’s MTCR membership would contribute to the success of Make in India flagship programme of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This, in turn, could drive the Indian quest for defence self reliance as the potentials of Make in India initiative are being harnessed to boost the prospects of defence and aerospace manufacturing in the country.
All said and done, MTCR is a voluntary informal grouping of nations and its stipulations are not a legally binding obligation. Certainly, MTCR does not enjoy the kind of status that United Nations (UN) has. The MTCR maintains a common list of items of including dual use technology and components which can be used to deliver Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or facilitate the building of a vehicle that can be employed to deliver destructive devices including nuclear weapons.
At the end of the day, there is also a perception is that India’s MTCR membership was a sort of trade off for its compromise with Italy over the marines issue. As it is, India’s membership was blocked in 2015 by Italy which is believed to have been peeved over the issue to the detention of two of its marines in India. The two Italian marines were detained by the Indian authorities in 2012 after they were charged with the shooting down of Indian fishermen, off the Kerala coast. It is said that following the return of the second Italian marine to Rome in May this year, Italy changed its previous tough stance and supported India’s bid for MTCR membership. But then whether the amicable ending of diplomatic row between India and Italy has had something to do with India getting the MTCR membership, it is really difficult to come to a certain conclusion at this point of time.
Looking beyond the circumstances that paved the way for India’s entry into MTCR,US has said that the Indian membership of MTCR would boost non-proliferation. For as pointed out by a spokesperson of US State Department “All 34 current members including US agreed India met the standard and that India’s membership would strengthen international non- proliferation”.