New Delhi: India has failed in its maiden attempt 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, 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 the country insofar as most members of the various denial regimes have come to appreciate New Delhi’s persistent non-proliferation policies on nuclear weapons and missiles.
External affairs ministry 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, 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 external affairs ministry have successfully engaged various capitals.
The 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.
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.
The 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 — NSG, MTCR, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the 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 demeanour.
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.
The MTCR was set up in April 1987 by seven countries — Britain Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — to check proliferation of ballistic missiles with over 300km 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.