The India-US Joint Statement released on June 7 said President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi “looked forward to India’s imminent entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime” (MTCR), and that Obama “welcomed India’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)”. What are MTCR and NSG, and why does India want to be their part? PRAVEEN SWAMI explains.
MTCR: A seat awaits, plus a chip to bargain
What is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)?
Established in April 1987, it is a voluntary association of 34 countries — 35, once India is formally included — and four “unilateral adherents” that follow its rules: Israel, Romania, Slovakia, Macedonia. The group aims to slow the spread of missiles and other unmanned delivery technology that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The regime urges members, which include most of the world’s major missile manufacturers, to restrict exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500 kg payload at least 300 km, or delivering any type of weapon of mass destruction.
What does India need to do to get in?
Prospective members must win consensus approval from existing members. United States policy had been that members that are not recognised nuclear-weapon states — including India — must eliminate or forgo ballistic missiles able to deliver a 500 kg payload at least 300 km. The US, however, made an exception in 1998 for Ukraine, permitting it to retain Scud missiles and, in October 2012, South Korea was allowed to keep ballistic missiles with an 800-km range and 500-kg payload that could target all of North Korea.
For India, the US seems to have waived these terms, allowing it retain its missile arsenal. India’s membership should come through formally whenever the next MTCR Plenary meeting takes place — the last one was held in Rotterdam in October 2015.
How does the MTCR work?
Members must have national policies governing export of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, space launch vehicles, drones, remotely piloted vehicles, sounding rockets, and their components. There are two categories of exports: Category I, which are basically exports of complete products and major sub-systems and are meant to be extremely rare — with guidelines instructing members that “there will be strong presumption to deny transfers”; and Category II, which includes materials, technologies and components whose transfers can be made more easily, since they generally have civilian applications, even though these too are done with caution.
Does joining the MTCR make getting missile technology easier?
There are no special concessions for MTCR members. But India hopes its MTCR membership will be one more reason for the US to consider exporting Category 1 UAVs, Reaper and Global Hawk, which have been key to counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. These drones have so far been sold to only one country, the UK, though unarmed versions have also been made available to Italy and South Korea. The US has been rethinking rules on exports, aware that competitors in Israel, Russia and China are working on similar products — and India wants to be at the head of the queue when the Reaper and the Global Hawk go on the market.
Are there any sanctions for breaking MTCR rules?
Rulebreakers can’t be punished. However, US law mandates sanctions for companies and governments that export MTCR-controlled items. The sanctioned entity can’t sign contracts, buy arms and receive aid for two years or more.
Does the MTCR actually stop the spread of missile technology?
Yes and no. North Korea, Iran and Pakistan acquired ballistic missile technology from China. But then, China began to feel the pinch of US technology sanctions — and announced, in November 2000, that it would stop exporting ballistic missile technology. Four years later, it applied for MTCR membership — but has been denied entry because of suspicion that some companies in the country are secretly supplying technology to North Korea.
Many others dropped missile programmes because of MTCR pressure: Argentina abandoned its Condor II ballistic missile programme (on which it was working with Egypt and Iraq) to join the regime. Brazil, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan shelved or eliminated missile or space launch vehicle programmes. Poland and the Czech Republic destroyed their ballistic missiles.
It is possible China may now seek some kind of bargain, whereby it is given entry to the MTCR in return for letting India get into the NSG, where it wields a veto.
NSG: In the great wall of China, a few chinks
Why does India want to be in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)?
Following India’s 1974 nuclear tests, the US pushed for setting up a club of nuclear equipment and fissile material suppliers. The 48-nation group frames and implements agreed rules for exporting nuclear equipment, with a view to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons; members are admitted only by consensus. India has been trying, since 2008, to join the group, which would give it a place at the high table where the rules of nuclear commerce are decided — and, eventually, the ability to sell equipment. Many countries that initially opposed its entry, like Australia, have changed stance; Mexico and Switzerland are the latest to voice support. India’s effort has been to chip away at the resistance, leaving only one holdout — China. But until China accepts India’s entry, there is no hope of membership.
Why does the US want India in the NSG?
The answer lies in the US effort to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, whose centrepiece is the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT. The NPT defines “nuclear weapons states” as those that tested devices before January 1, 1967 — which means India cannot ever be one. India — like Israel and Pakistan — thus refused to sign the treaty. From 2005, though, President George W Bush’s administration sought ways to deepen strategic cooperation with India. Nuclear energy was a key means to strengthen cooperation, but since India wasn’t a member of the NPT, technology couldn’t be shared. Then, a way forward was found — the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement. India agreed to separate its civilian and military nuclear programmes, and put the civilian part under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. India also changed its export laws to line up with the NSG, MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement, and Australia Group — the four key nuclear control regimes. The US agreed to shepherd Indian entry into these regimes, which meant India would for all practical purposes be treated like an NPT member, even though it wasn’t one.
Why doesn’t Pakistan want India in?
The Pakistani argument is that giving India easy access to fissile material and technology for its civilian nuclear programme means it would have that much more material for its military nuclear programme. Thus, Pakistan says, the move to give India NSG membership is fuelling a nuclear arms race. But this argument falls apart because Pakistan is resolutely opposed to a key international agreement called the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which would cap the military nuclear stockpiles of all countries. The FMCT ought to put an end to Pakistan’s fears, but Islamabad has refused to sign.
And what is China’s problem?
Chinese diplomats say Beijing wants NSG entry to be norm-based — in other words, whatever rules govern Indian entry should apply to others too. Norm-based entry would, presumably, help Pakistan gain entry, something many in the NSG are certain to resist because of the country’s record as a proliferator of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
Why then did China go along with the NSG waiver in 2008?
Geopolitics. The 2008 one-time waiver allowed nuclear commerce between NSG members and India — the agreement that now allows Westinghouse, and its competitors in France or South Korea, to bid to set up civilian reactors in India. The waiver came only after President Bush rang President Hu Jintao and called in a favour. Back then, US-China relations were riding high — on the back of surging trade, and a common vision of how the international order should be structured. Today, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping are at odds over Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea. The odds of a phone call changing the state of play are next to zero.
What might tip the odds?
India and the US have cards to play. China wants membership of the MTCR — and to enter that club, and see an end to key technology sanctions, it needs US help. European Union states too have denied China exports of critical military technologies, which might be a bargaining chip. All depends on how well India bargains — and how much Pakistan’s NSG membership actually means to China. Either way, this is going to be long diplomatic haul.