Just three days after India suffered a diplomatic snub pertaining to its membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the non-NPT country became a full member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on Monday.
Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reportedly signed the instrument of accession into the 34-member Group at a ceremony that was attended by the MTCR chair troika – envoys from France, The Netherlands and Luxembourg – in New Delhi. India’s entry into the Regime can be considered as a diplomatic victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had held extensive talks with China to further India’s mission to gain entry into the NSG. After India’s hopes to become an NSG member crashed against the Great Wall of China in Seoul on Friday (June 24), the PM claimed that the Chinese hurdle was not a diplomatic failure, as New Delhi had met the NPT criteria.
Opposition parties in India have strongly criticised Prime Minister Modi for putting the country’s political prestige on the line in the failed bid to gain admission to the NSG at Seoul. Modi might have avoided the expectations created by media hype over his highly visible international campaign on the NSG issue. But, the expectation was huge. His critics describe India’s failure at the NSG as the PM’s leadership failure. They completely ignore the dynamic strategic environment in which Modi has been operating. At the NSG plenary, China behaved not as an enlightened power, but as a strategic small-timer only to block India’s membership bid. Brazil, Mexico and Switzerland, too, wanted two parallel announcements: India’s entry and a criterion for membership, which would mirror the South Asian country’s nuclear record. It has been understood that no other country at present met those possible criteria.
Despite ending its aggressive membership bid to NSG on an unsatisfactory note, New Delhi cleared final hurdles on Monday to become the 35th member of the MTCR. After signing the instrument of accession, the foreign secretary said that India became the MTCR member without any objection from any member country.
Speaking at a media conference, Jaishankar stressed that its entry to MTCR will help India sell “BrahMos” and other missiles, manufactured in a joint venture with Russia, to other countries. “We applied for the membership of MTCR last year and all the procedural formalities have been completed. Today, I signed the document of accession into MTCR in the presence of ambassadors of France, Netherlands and Luxembourg,” he told the press.
Apart from the NSG and MTCR, India has also been trying to become a member of export control regimes, like the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, which regulate the international trade in conventional, nuclear, biological and chemicals weapons and technologies. Although India’s MTCR membership bid had received constant support from the US, Italy opposed to its entry. Rome softened its opposition only after New Delhi allowed the two Italian marines, accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012, to return to their country.
Diplomats believe that India has become the MTCR member smoothly, as China, which blocked India’s entry into the NSG at the just-concluded Seoul plenary, is not a member of the bloc. India’s efforts to become a MTCR member also got a big boost after the country agreed in the first week of June to join the Hague Code of Conduct that deals with the ballistic missile non-proliferation arrangement.
The MTCR membership is a big win for India (and also for Modi), as New Delhi can now access state of the art drone and missile technology systems that have been denied all along. For India, the MTCR membership is more important to national security than a membership of the NSG. Apart from allowing India to export its missiles to other countries, this will also speed up the development of long-range Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in the country. India’s admission to the elite missile technology group is even more significant, as China’s application to join the MTCR (made in 2004) has not been accepted so far due to its poor export control standards.