A Seat at the Nuclear High Table
Last month saw concerted efforts by India to gain access to two nuclear high tables – the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime. While India gained admission into the MTCR, in spite of its huge political outreach, the membership of NSG eluded it – for the time being at least.
India’s quest to become a full-fledged member of the four export control groups – the NSG, the MTCR, the Australia Group, (that prevents chemical weapon production) and the Wassenaar Arrangement (that regulates trade in conventional weaponry and dual use items), began in 2008 when India got a waiver from the NSG to undertake nuclear commerce, even though it was outside the ambit of NSG, due to the historic Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Yet, the UPA government of the time got mired in the liability clause of the deal and did not even attempt for membership of these forums. It was only with the advent of the NDA government that India applied for membership of MTCR in 2015 and NSG in May 16.
What are the advantages of membership? India already has a waiver since 2008 to conduct nuclear commerce through the NSG. This waiver itself was granted by the NSG. But the group functions on consensus. At a later date, any of the members can revoke the member or change the terms. Membership enables India to veto any changes that could be against our interests. There is a big difference in sitting outside a room and being inside and actually participating in the process.
India’s application for the NSG was preceded by a high-octane diplomatic push, including an appeal by President Pranab Mukerjee to President Xi during his visit to China, visits by Prime Minister Modi to Switzerland and Mexico and direct contact with representatives of all 48 nations that make up the NSG through the MEA.
China, of course was the most obdurate opponent of India’s entry, linking it first to Pakistan’s entry, then trying to prevent the application from being raised and eventually stymying it on the grounds that India is not signatory to the NPT. Six other nations – Brazil, Switzerland, Turkey, Austria, Ireland and New Zealand also raised the ‘criteria based process’ which links membership of the NSG to the signing of the NPT.
It is strange that the NPT should have been raised, especially as the issue was addressed in 2008, when India got a country specific waiver from the same group itself. The waiver stated that though India was not a signatory, it was “part of the widest possible implementation of the provisions and objectives of the NPT.” Adherence to the principles of NPT, should have been the guiding factor now, as it was then.
Eventually the NSG plenary at Seoul on 23 June, began with 41 of the 48 members agreeing to admit India immediately, China opposing the claim, and six other members asking for a criteria for membership to be announced before granting membership. What it boiled down to was that China was the only nation that opposed India’s entry. Ultimately it was left to USA, UK, Germany, France and Australia to squeeze in an escape clause which will enable India to apply again for membership in the next NSG plenary at Switzerland at the end of the year.
Coming on the heels of China’s blocking the United Nations sanctions on terrorist Masood Azhar, it seems to indicate nothing but pique. India too needs to reply by taking a harder line on trade issues, and halt co-operation with China on issues like climate change and WTO in international forums.
Yet, the setback of the NSG was reduced somewhat when India joined the more exclusive MTCR – a non-proliferation regime that prevents proliferation of missiles, rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles and related technologies for systems capable of carrying a 500 kgs payload for at least 300 kilometers, and for systems which can be used for delivery of weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, China is not a member of the group due to its own proliferation of missile technology to North Korea and Pakistan. As is the case with NSG, all decisions of the MTCR are made by consensus and in this case all 34 members unanimously supported India’s inclusion.
This was India’s second attempt at membership of the MTCR, the previous one being blocked in 2015, by Italy on the issue of detention of two Italian marines, held in India for killing two fishermen. Italy removed its objections after India released the marines and returned them to Italy.
Admission to MTCR will now pave the way for India to buy high-end missile technology and have access to Category 1 UAVs such as Predators, Reapers and Global Hawks. It would also ease the export of India’s supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos and subsequent versions, keeping the proviso of MTCR in mind.
India’s membership of MTCR can pave the way to eventual entry into the NSG during its next plenary in end 2016. Ironically, India is now in a position to block China’s entry into MTCR, using its veto power as member. The intervening months will also enable India to exert pressure on China which will make it difficult for it to prevent an entry. Following up would be membership of the Australia Group and the Wassenar Agreement. These steps would eventually strengthen our case for the grand prize – a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.