In an elite club: On India’s Wassenaar entry

India’s admittance into the Wassenaar Arrangement, a multilateral export control regime, as its 42nd participating member is a big step forward in its quest for formal acceptance as a responsible nuclear power. This has come a year after India made the request for membership. As a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), New Delhi has been at pains to convey to the international community that it adheres to, and is invested in, a rules-based order. The Wassenaar Arrangement was founded in 1996, and is clubbed with mechanisms such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Australia Group. Its stated aim is “to contribute to regional and international security and stability, by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies, thus preventing destabilising accumulations.” India’s Wassenaar success at the Vienna plenary meeting last week presumes a broad acceptance among its members of the country’s credentials as a fastidious adherent to export controls. It comes on the heels of membership last year of the MTCR. Ever since India signed the 123 Agreement in 2005, the underlying assumption was that the United States would help chaperone New Delhi into global nuclear acceptability after it separated its civil and military nuclear programmes and plugged the loopholes to prevent diffusion of nuclear materials and technology in a way that is demonstrably in line with best practices followed by the members of the NSG.


However, over the past couple of years it has become evident that Delhi has to do most of the heavy lifting to gain a seat at various global high tables. The Wassenaar Arrangement membership is also a lesson on the need for quiet diplomacy in sensitive nuclear issues, compared to the botched attempt to gain entry to the NSG last year. While India’s efforts at the NSG were stopped by China, which is not a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement, raising the pitch publicly at the time came with costs. It made the task of forging a consensus on membership to the NSG more difficult. And when that attempt failed, it gave the setback the appearance of being significantly more insurmountable. Nonetheless, now that more and more countries are signing on to India’s steadily strengthening credentials in the nuclear area, there is hope that a fresh momentum will be imparted to a future bid for the NSG. It will not be easy. The Australia Group, which focusses on biological and chemical weapons, may be easier to crack given that China is not a member. But meanwhile, the Wassenaar Arrangement will embed India deeper in the global non-proliferation architecture and enable access to critical technologies in the defence and space sectors.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 2:13:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/in-an-elite-club/article21419773.ece

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