The score appears to have evened out for India in its multi-year project of gaining admission to four elite global non-proliferation clubs, with one success and one failure coming within the span of a single week. The four clubs, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Group, make rules for their members to control the export of sensitive materials and technologies to non-members. Last Friday, the Modi government faced criticism for >overplaying its hand in its bid to enter the NSG . A few members, including China, underlined the need for all applicants to the NSG to be signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On Monday, India >officially entered the 34-member MTCR after years spent in aligning its export controls with the Regime’s. In the coming years, this membership of a multilateral export control club is likely to yield a rich harvest of state-of-the-art technologies for ballistic missile and drone systems, including those that are in theory nuclear-capable.
This much is evident on the surface although there is far less clarity about the politics of India’s negotiations with the elite global non-proliferation clubs. For example, Beijing’s application to join the MTCR has been gathering dust for years; hints from the Ministry of External Affairs suggest that New Delhi may use this as a bargaining chip to win backing for its NSG position. Similarly, the opposition has been quick to link India’s MTCR entry to a “deal” struck with the sole holdout, Italy, over the issue of two Italian marines charged with killing two Indian fishermen. While India could not have joined without Italy’s support, given the Regime’s consensus-based approach, the principle underpinning the entry relates to a broader acceptance of India’s verifiable export controls and its perceived potential as a supplier of, and market for, ballistic and drone technologies. But no matter what the political intricacies that have contributed to the gradual realisation of India’s non-proliferation dreams, it would be premature to gloat over the new pride and glory accruing to India on the global stage owing to its MTCR admission. It is indeed a positive development to be counted among the responsible nations of the world from the non-proliferation perspective rather than be associated with, say, the Abdul Qadeer Khans of the world. However, many more strands of interlocking strategic interest need to be untangled before full-throttle trade in sensitive technology, such as the sale of India’s BrahMos missile to Vietnam or the purchase of armed Predator drones from the U.S., could become a reality.