On 27 June 2016, India became the 35th member of the elite group called Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar signed the formal accession document in the presence of Ambassadors of France, Luxembourg and Netherlands.
After years of being denied access to cutting edge technology in delivery platforms that would have accelerated India’s space and missile development programs, membership of MTCR will now enable India to access the best in technology as per its development program requirements.
India first applied for membership of MTCR in 2015 and this was part of India’s overall strategic aim of being included in various important multilateral export control regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that oversees control in development and export of fissile materials, the Australia Group which controls the development and export of chemical and biological weapon-grade material and the Wassenaar Arrangement which oversees the spread of small arms.
Membership of MTCR, the first for India among the four major export control regimes, came just three days after India’s failure to gain membership of the NSG. Membership of MTCR will also strengthen India’s case as it continues to pursue membership of NSG.
It is interesting to note that China which vehemently opposed India’s membership of NSG is not a member of MTCR.
Understanding the MTCR
Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was first established in April 1987 with the aim of restricting the development and spread of ballistic missile technology and unmanned delivery platforms that had the ability to deliver nuclear, chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.
MTCR urges its members to restrict export of missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction, with ranges in excess of 300 kms and having a payload capacity in excess of 500 kilos.
MTCR has been successful in restricting missile development programs in several countries since it was first established. Egypt, Argentina and Iraq were forced to abandon their joint project for developing the ballistic missile Condor-II.
Czech Republic and Poland gave up their ballistic missile development programs in order to seek membership of MTCR. Several other countries like Taiwan, Brazil, South Africa and South Korea have put off further development of their military and civilian missile/rocket development programs.
Although South Korea has signed a special agreement with the US to develop ballistic missiles with a range of 800 km in order to defend itself from threats emanating from North Korea, this is an exception. The US has also permitted Ukraine, a member, to retain its Scud missiles.
In 2008, shortly before India was granted a one-time waiver by the NSG, India committed itself to following the MTCR code of conduct without being a member. In 2015, after it applied for membership of MTCR, Italy blocked India’s efforts to enter the elite club, mainly in response to India arresting two of its Naval Marines on murder charges.
With the Marines being returned to Italy, the passage for India to gain entry was cleared, and on 27 June this year, India became the 35th member of MTCR.
Why is MTCR Membership So Critical for India?
Post its first explosion of a nuclear device in 1974 and the subsequent explosion in 1998, the country was denied the vital technology required to develop its space program.
In order to launch heavier payloads, India needed cryogenic engine technology for its rockets. India was in the process of acquiring this technology from Russia when the US objected to the deal as Russia was a member state and thus India was denied access to this vital technology.
Although the move slowed down India’s space development efforts, India overcame the same by developing its own technology and today, ISRO, India’s premiere space research organization, has been able to successfully extend its space exploration program to the Moon and Mars.
However, it still needs access to certain other critical technologies which will now increase the pace of India’s space program.
Boost to ‘Make in India’
In both civilian and military areas, India will now have greater options to acquire and integrate a wider variety of cutting-edge technologies, thereby giving ‘Make in India’ initiative a further boost.
Take the case of the supersonic Brahmos missile. A product of Indo-Russian cooperation, it has a range of 299 km and is the best-in-class supersonic missile that is unmatched by any rival. Its precision and speed makes it an extremely lethal weapon that can be delivered across land, sea or air platforms.
By joining MTCR, India now has the option of exporting the Brahmos missile to friendly countries like Vietnam. India will now be able to leverage greater diplomatic assertiveness against countries like China, which has been adopting an obstructionist posture against India, especially in forums like NSG and also the UN Security Council.
If India were to export the Brahmos to sea-facing countries like Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia and Japan, India will be in a position to send out a strong signal to China.
Access to cutting-edge technologies will mean more private sector players entering the manufacturing space for civil and military programs. This will help build local competencies in integration and subsequent R&D of related technologies.
Strengthening Air Defence and Surveillance Measures
Another positive outcome of joining the MTCR will see India exercising the option to import, and over time, manufacture weaponized drones. With military doctrines shifting decisively in favour of remote-controlled warfare, drones like the US-built Predator, Reaper and Golden Hawk, will give India a strategic edge in the region.
India will now be able to not only monitor cross border movement and developments for longer periods but also retain the ability to respond by launching counter-strikes at the enemy in real time.
Future joint development programs with the US cannot be ruled out and it seems to be a mutually beneficial outcome as both nations continue to inch strategically closer.
India’s air defence capability has become vulnerable since the country has not upgraded its Soviet-era surface-to-air missiles (SAM) for quite some time.
India will now be able to import the Arrow II, Israel’s cutting-edge theatre missile defence interceptor. Acquisition of the Arrow II, along with the S-400 SAMs from Russia, will significantly enhance India’s air defence capability against incoming enemy aircraft, missiles and drones.
India must continue to aggressively push for membership of NSG, Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. Membership to these vital groupings will strengthen India’s strategic clout in various international forums and will be in keeping with its growing stature as an emerging regional power.
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