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29th Plenary Meeting of the Missile Technology Control Regime and India’s Membership

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • October 16, 2015

    The 29th plenary meeting of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) took place in Rotterdam between 5 and 9 October 2015. Established in 1987, the MTCR, with its current 34 members or partners as well as non-member adherents, is supposed to exercise control on the commerce in goods which may contribute to the development of ballistic and cruise missiles as well as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Although the Regime has a 300km/500kg range/payload threshold, this loses its relevance when a transaction is suspected to have helped in the development of a carrier for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

    At Plenary meetings, regime members are supposed to take stock of the functioning of the MTCR. In the 29th Plenary meet too, the partners of the MTCR gathered to “review and evaluate” its work so that the partners and adherents can take timely preventive measures. The plenary meeting applauded additional adherents – Estonia and Latvia – for incorporating the regime’s guidelines into their national export controls systems.

    For India, the 29th plenary meeting was special because its membership was to be decided in this meeting. As widely reported, India had applied for membership of the MTCR in the first week of June 2015, but had not gained membership. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs stated:

    “India has an application under submission since June 2015 to be a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).”

    Is it the end of the road for India as far as membership in MTCR is concerned? The official press release of the October 2015 MTCR plenary meet did not mention India. It simply noted:

    “Partners exchanged views on issues relating to future membership. Individual applications for membership were thoroughly discussed. The membership issue will continue to be on the agenda.”

    Neither the Indian government nor the previous Chairman of the MTCR indicated that India’s application had been rejected. The MEA spokesperson noted:

    “It [the Indian application] has been received well and it remains under consideration. We are hopeful that MTCR discussions on this issue will conclude soon. India’s membership of the MTCR and other export control regimes would further strengthen global non-proliferation objectives.”

    A similar view was expressed by Roald Naess, the previous Chairman of the MTCR, who tweeted on October 9, 2015 that “Broad support for Indian membership in MTCR but regrettably no consensus yet. I remain optimist.”

    That leads to the question: what is the probability of India becoming a member? As the MTCR has not explicitly stated the date of the next meeting for discussing India’s membership, the issue is, undoubtedly, in the realm of uncertainty. The Chinese application for MTCR membership has been lying pending for more than a decade. However, the Indian case for MTCR membership cannot be compared to the Chinese. China is internationally known as a proliferator. In fact, it is China’s proliferation record that has affected its case for membership. In contrast, India is globally acknowledged as a country with an impeccable non-proliferation record.

    To substantiate its record on the non-proliferation commitment, India seems to have submitted a dossier of more than 100 pages along with its application for MTCR membership. Apparently, the dossier is divided into many parts, with each part describing how India is contributing to the non-proliferation cause. Indeed, India has developed a very robust and effective domestic export controls system. The Indian control list—SCOMET—has harmonised the “integral common list of controlled items listed in the MTCR Equipment, Software and Technology Annex.” India has also harmonised its export controls with the MTCR guidelines.

    MTCR teams have been visiting India under various programmes, including outreach. Indian official delegations have also been interacting with MTCR member countries at various levels, even outside India. Both apparently sound confident about their pursuit of shared goals. The last chairman had yet another tweet on June 17, 2015, in which he highlighted India’s constructive role in controlling the export of missiles capable of delivering WMD.

    As a country with a well-developed export control system and a well-articulated non-proliferation policy, India could be extremely useful to strengthen the objectives of the MTCR. India and MTCR members share the common objective of restricting the “proliferation of missiles, complete rocket systems, unmanned air vehicles, and related technology.”

    In recent years, the MTCR has come to see the danger of non-state actors exploiting MTCR-controlled items either independently or in collaboration with countries. Several experts have highlighted the possibility of terrorists developing, stealing and using UAVs.  Both Indian governmental and non-governmental organisations have been active with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 Committee and the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs to prevent the procurement of WMD and their delivery vehicles by terrorists. For this cause, India is active on other fronts as well.

    Any pressure on India to accept unreasonable demands for the grant of MTCR membership may prove counterproductive. Any tendency to place such a demand needs to be curbed by member countries, which understand the relevance of India’s inclusion in the MTCR. More experienced European countries and the United States may have to play a more active role in this regard.

    A strong section of the Western world wants the grant of membership of the MTCR to all EU countries. Apparently, in the October 2015 plenary meeting, the issue of membership for all EU countries was positively discussed.  In fact, over the years, EU members have increased their presence in all multilateral export controls regimes. Broad basing the group’s membership by including EU countries is not a bad idea. However, MTCR member countries need to remember that the Indian aerospace and defence industry is very strong and it is gaining strength every day. India could be much more valuable for pursuing the objective of the MTCR than some of the EU countries which are without any such industry.

    Expediting India’s membership process would be a win-win situation for both India and the MTCR. The prevailing uncertainty will end for India and the MTCR will get an effective and positive member. It is not necessary that the decision is taken at an annual plenary meeting. According to MTCR rules, extraordinary plenary meetings may be convened several times in one year.

    Actually, in 2008, the Nuclear Suppliers Group plenary met a few times to decide on the India-specific exemption in its guidelines. The May 2008 plenary meet press release had even notified that “the next regular plenary meeting” would take place in Hungary in 2009. But it met again in Vienna on August 21 and 22, 2008, at the end of which a press release stated that the participating countries “agreed to meet again in the near future to continue their deliberations.” Finally, at the extraordinary plenary meeting held on September 6, 2008, member countries evolved a consensus on the India-specific exemption.

    Sharing the optimism expressed by the previous MTCR president, member countries may meet soon to convert their ‘broad support’ for India’s inclusion into a consensus. Once granted membership, India would be able to participate more actively in promoting the objectives of the MTCR. This would provide a momentum for India’s membership and preparedness to join other multilateral export controls regimes. In the ultimate analysis, India’s membership of the MTCR and other multilateral export controls regimes will strengthen global nuclear governance.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.