On 27 June, 2016, the Ministry of External Affairs announced that India had joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as the 35th member, after receiving the decision of the MTCR Point of Contact in Paris. The information about ‘accession to the regime’ came through three embassies — the Embassies of France, The Netherlands and Luxembourg based in New Delhi.
The Indian membership of the MTCR was confirmed by a press release from the US government and even the official website of the MTCR as well. India had put its application for the membership in June 2015. The October 2015 plenary discussed it but did not approve because of the Italian objection. In a group like the MTCR, any decision is taken based on the principle of consensus.
The official website of the MTCR noted: “As all formal procedures for membership have now been finalised, the Chairman of the joint Netherlands-Luxembourg Chairmanship of the Missile Technology Control Regime, Ambassador Piet de Klerk (NL), in close consultation with the French MTCR Point of Contact, has announced today that the Republic of India now formally is the 35th member of the Regime.” The MTCR formal press statement released on 27 June, 2016 also endorsed the completion of all the formal procedures for membership. The press release added: “Indian membership has been thoroughly discussed over the years, ultimately resulting in a consensus decision by all MTCR members to offer India membership in June 2016.”
That India will become a member of the MTCR became clear when no country had objected to its candidature in the so-called silent procedure as reported in the media. Indication of such a breakthrough was first announced by Roald Naess in his 6 June, 2016 tweet. Ambassador Naess is the previous chairman of the MTCR and the current ambassador of Norway to Ireland. In the tweet, he said: “Mission almost accomplished. Only some procedural formalities remain before India becomes member of MTCR.” The 7 June, 2016, joint statement, issued during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the US, mentioned “India’s imminent entry” into the MTCR. The public posture was restrained but quite confident about the membership to the MTCR.
The general expectation was that the formal announcement would come during the plenary meeting to be held in October. Some were apprehensive that an informal regime such as the MTCR has highly flexible procedural arrangements, and a couple of countries may put some hurdles in the plenary meeting in October. However, the regime threw a surprise and expedited the process of formally granting and announcing the membership. It certainly boosted the morale of the Indian establishment and the people who were somewhat greatly demoralised by the outcome of the 23 and 24 June plenary meeting of the NSG in Seoul. Thanks to the wide media coverage, the multilateral export control regimes, otherwise a highly technical and dry subject, entered popular culture.
Even before the official announcement, media started discussing about the meaning, gains, implications, next steps of the MTCR membership. Writers and speakers on the subject, too, enlightened the people about the meaning and implications of the joining the regime. Analyses based on facts and fiction circulated in the media. Some listed gains and benefits; most of which are not.
The first outcome of the MTCR membership is that India will participate in the next plenary meeting in the Republic of Korea in October 2016. India is part of the decision-making process for governing the global commerce of goods with implications for both missile and space development. A multilateral export control regime such as the MTCR, which operates through guidelines as well as technology and goods list serves as reference points for even non-member countries.
The MTCR has a grouping adherent. An adherent country may unilaterally use guidelines and technology annexes in its national export control system. Theoretically, the MTCR maintains that its guidelines are not legally binding, yet in practice, the member countries and aspirant countries are expected to complete harmonisation of their national export control systems with MTCR guidelines and its annex.
Moreover, the MTCR list or annexure has two categories, and the MTCR expects its members, called as partners, to forbid any transfer that may contribute to production facilities for Category I of MTCR Annex items. Under the MTCR classification, “Category I items include complete rocket and unmanned aerial vehicle systems (including ballistic missiles, space launch vehicles, sounding rockets, cruise missiles, target drones, and reconnaissance drones), capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km, their major complete subsystems (such as rocket stages, engines, guidance sets, and re-entry vehicles), and related software and technology, as well as specially designed production facilities for these items.” So, India along with other countries will work for setting ‘the international standard for responsible missile non-proliferation behaviour’.
Unfortunately, the media overwhelmingly reported and even several commentators stated that because of the membership of the MTCR, India may procure missiles and drones, including predator drones from the US and may sell Brahmos missiles to friendly countries. This is misrepresentation of reality. All these transactions are independent of the Indian membership. The sale and purchase of missiles are guided by national rules and regulation of the supplier countries, as well as procurement procedures of the recipient countries.
The MTCR categorically asserts that the “MTCR guidelines do not distinguish between exports to partners and exports to non-partners. Moreover, the MTCR partners have explicitly affirmed that membership in the Regime provides no entitlement to obtain technology from another partner and no obligation to supply it. Partners are expected to exercise appropriate accountability and restraint in trade among partners, just as they would in trade between partners and non-partners.”
The MTCR is not an export promotion body. It is a multilateral export control body that encourages its member country to adopt the best practices for transferring any item which may contribute to Weapons of Mass Destruction carrying missiles. Then comes the question: what are the constraints or obligations that India will have to take after becoming the 35th member of the MTCR? India, in fact, had taken almost all the obligations of the MTCR because of its commitment given in the 18 July, 2005, India-US joint statement. The joint statement asked India to harmonise its export control system with the guidelines and technology annexes of the MTCR and the NSG. India completed the harmonisation.
However, as a member country, India may have some special obligations. It is obliged to follow a ‘no-undercut’ policy. Under this policy, India needs to consult other members before giving license to export of any MTCR item ‘that has been notified as denied by another partner pursuant to the MTCR guidelines.’ On any other issue of MTCR compliance, India can consult any member country or other member countries to find a solution. As a member country, it is supposed to contribute not only to the plenary meeting but also to its forums such as the Licensing and Enforcement Experts Meeting and and the Technical Experts Meetings. It is also supposed to share information regarding missile technology trends and proliferation threat.
Now comes the questions: what are the real gains from the membership of the MTCR? There are several short-term and long-term gains. India’s impeccable non-proliferation record has, as of now, helped India in getting the membership, as the US state Department in its press release noted: “India possesses substantial missile-relevant technology and has excellent nonproliferation and export control credentials. Its accession bolsters substantially the Regime’s effectiveness and objectives. India is a valued nonproliferation partner. We look forward to working with India in the MTCR in support of our shared nonproliferation goals.”
As discussed, India will participate in the virtual decision-making body.