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Update on India’s Membership of Multilateral Export Controls Regimes

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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  • December 19, 2012

    That India has been active on export controls for decades is a well-acknowledged fact. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1540, the 2005 India-United States (US) Civil Nuclear Initiative—which resulted in the 2008 India-specific waiver in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines—and the 2010 India-US joint statement, re-defined India’s relationship with the global export controls system. Of these, the November 2010 joint statement issued during President Obama’s visit heralded India’s new rendezvous with the key element of the global export controls system. The Statement endorsed India’s candidature for the four multilateral export controls regimes—the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Australia Group, and the Wassenaar Arrangement. These regimes have emerged as the leading forums of the global export controls system and are the oldest multilateral bodies for export controls. Though these are small informal groupings, they derive their importance from the nature of their membership. Most of the major suppliers of high technology or sensitive technology, mostly dual use in nature, are members of these regimes.

    Initially, three of the four regimes started with Western countries, but gradually included important countries from the Eastern bloc of the Cold War era. Some countries which are considered Third World or developing also joined these regimes. In fact, the fourth regime—Wassenaar Arrangement—was formed after the Cold War and involved former socialist or East bloc countries in its formation.

    These regimes provide direction to the emerging global export controls system. Advanced technology producing or possessing member countries discuss emerging security challenges—which these regimes are designed to address—as well as the appropriate mechanisms to meet these challenges. Generally, member countries harmonise their national systems in accordance with the new mechanisms. Moreover, these countries share their experience in other international bodies and, at times, push old and new mechanisms in these bodies. The UNSC Resolution 1540 is an important case study through which export control mechanisms were spread throughout the world. The Arms Trade Treaty, which is currently under negotiations, is also discussing many of the provisions of these regimes. The indication is that a number of provisions of these regimes may enter into the Treaty when it is finally concluded.

    It is certain that membership of such regimes will give India a distinct advantage in participating in the management of the global commerce in advanced technology. Similarly, India, with its emerging high-technology profile, will strengthen global export controls or strategic trade management through the multilateral export controls regimes. However, the reality is that India is not yet a member of any of these regimes. Needless to say, after the November 2010 Indo-US joint statement, a number of relevant developments have taken place to further the case for India’s entry into these multilateral export controls regimes.

    India has had outreach meetings with all the four regimes. While some meetings were held outside India, in which Indian officials participated, others took place in India with the participation of other relevant actors or stakeholders. The members of the four regimes and India developed mutual understanding in these meetings. Apparently, members of the regimes were highly appreciative of India’s export controls system. Though a few outreach meetings had taken place earlier, the post-November 2010 series of meetings took place in the context of India’s membership of these regimes.

    In fact, at an April 2012 seminar on export controls organized by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the Indian foreign secretary, who headed some of the outreach meetings, had remarked that “India has engaged actively with all the four regimes through outreach meetings. This year, we have already completed outreach meetings with NSG in Vienna where I led the Indian delegation (March 1), and in Delhi with MTCR (January 30) and the Wassenaar Arrangement (March 21), and plan the next outreach meeting with the Australia Group.... From India’s point of view, the main purpose and primary objective of India’s enhanced and sustained engagement with these regimes is full membership.”

    After the United States supported India’s membership of the four export controls regimes in November 2010, the next couple of months saw a number of important countries such as Russia, France and the United Kingdom also supporting India’s candidature. Since then support for India’s membership has progressively increased among member countries. A number of countries are silent supporters while others are sceptical of the issue. However, over time, the number of vocal supporters of Indian membership has dramatically increased and the number of sceptics has decreased.

    There is a greater acceptance that India has a strong case for membership because it qualifies the existing criteria of all the four multilateral export controls regimes. However, observers have pointed out that China has taken a negative attitude and is trying to make the case for Pakistan in the NSG. China is a member of NSG only and not of the other three regimes. Some leading member countries of these regimes note that there is no support for Pakistan in the NSG. Member countries need to approve the Indian case in the NSG; China, if the past is any indication, should not come in the way of India’s membership.

    Some suggest that membership of the NSG is difficult to obtain, and that India should start by becoming a member of the Australia Group. Admittedly, the membership of the NSG is difficult, but it is most important for India. According to government sources, there is no question of India joining the Australia Group without a road map for the MTCR and the NSG. In the initial phase, especially before and just after the November 2010 statement, a section of the academic and strategic communities in India had supported the idea of incremental membership, starting with the membership of the Australia Group. Now, however, there is a consensus in these communities that without a roadmap for the MTCR and the NSG, India should not join the Australia Group.

    The re-election of President Obama has brightened the prospect for India’s membership of the four multilateral export controls regimes. It was Obama who started the project on India’s membership in these regimes, and it will be a challenge for his second tenure to see its culmination. China’s aggressive stance and activities in its immediate neighbourhood in recent months must have rung alarm bells among the United States and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, in 2012, A.Q. Khan has further exposed the role of China in the illegal proliferation network. It is imperative for US allies to realize the relevance of India in regaining the lost legitimacy of these regimes, which has been affected by the membership of a country like China. India’s membership in the multilateral export controls regimes will create a win-win situation for both India and these regimes.