India’s membership for Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has been thoroughly discussed over the years and ultimately resulted in a consensus decision by all MTCR members to offer India membership this month. It has been considered as a historical breakthrough, but in my opinion very few people know why. I am somewhat confident that even fewer know what MTCR exactly is or its significance on global context or how it works. This is a just small effort to bring to light some interesting and important facts about MTCR, its history and its mechanism.
What MTCR is and what triggered the need for it?
MTCR is not a treaty. It is a voluntary and consensus-based association of countries that have an established policy or interest in limiting the spread of missiles and missile technology capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
The MTCR’s origins date back to the 1970s, when the United States government became aware of dangers posed by the missile programs of developing nations. Several events, including South Korea’s 1978 ballistic missile test, Iraq’s attempt in 1979 to purchase retired rocket stages from Italy, India’s July 1980 SLV-3 test, and the former German firm OTRAC’s 1981 testing of a rocket in Libya, contributed particularly to U.S. apprehensions.
The concerns of the United States regarding increasing threat to its security by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems triggered an initiative that resulted in an agreement by seven founding members to limit the spread of such technology and in the release of guidelines on April 16, 1987.
Initially, the purpose of MTCR was to reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation by placing controls on missile systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the regime later expanded its scope to include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which could deliver chemical and biological weapons.
How MTCR Works
MTCR is governed by two important documents: ‘MTCR Guidelines’ and ‘the Equipment, Software and Technology Annex’. The Guidelines define the purpose of the MTCR and provide the overall structure and rules to guide the member countries and those adhering unilaterally to the Guidelines. The Equipment, Software and Technology Annex is designed to assist members in implementing export controls in their respective nations for the items mentioned in MTCR Annex. MTCR Annex is divided into two separate groupings of items.
Members can add items to or subtract them from the annex through consensus decisions.
MTCR export controls are not bans on exporting technologies, but its objective is to prevent transfers which contribute to delivery systems for WMD. According to the guidelines, the MTCR is not intended to impinge upon the peaceful use of advanced missile technology, national space programs, or international space cooperation efforts “as long as such programs could not contribute to nuclear weapons delivery systems”.
These Guidelines help to build confidence among supplier countries that they can provide access to technology without such technology being diverted to a WMD delivery system or program.
Full member states are those nations that either joined the regime at its inception, later submitted applications that were approved for membership, or were directly recruited by the regime to participate in its closed circle. As of now, MTCR consists of total 35 members (including recent addition of India). (Refer table below for the list) Due to the leading role of the United States in the MTCR’s development and its position in the international system, the United States is not surprisingly a dominant actor relative to other members.
The decision to admit a new partner is made on a confidential, case-by-case basis. MTCR members generally judge applicants on the effectiveness of their export controls, their contribution to the regime, and their proliferation record. Backing and assistance from an influential member can also be helpful in gaining membership. All members must approve of an applicant before it is admitted to the regime.
A country can choose to adhere to the MTCR without being obligated to join the group. Several countries have pledged to abide by the MTCR without joining it. Israel, Romania, and the Slovak Republic have all committed to maintaining export controls consistent with the regime.
A Brief History of MTCR:
Since its inception, the MTCR has been credited with slowing or stopping several missile programs by making it difficult for prospective buyers to get what they want or stigmatizing certain activities and programs. Argentina, Egypt, and Iraq abandoned their joint Condor II ballistic missile program. Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, and Taiwan also shelved or eliminated missile or space launch vehicle programs. Some Eastern European countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, destroyed their ballistic missiles, in part; to better their chances of joining MTCR. The regime has further hampered Libyan and Syrian missile efforts.
Significance for India
Inclusion of India as a member of MTCR does not mean that India will directly gain access to high-end missile or UAV technologies. It’s not as straight or as simple as that. However, India will be aligning its export controls as per the MTCR guidelines which may make easier for other MTCR members to justify transferring sensitive technology to India because there is a less risk of further proliferation. This change will enable India to fast track its projects which often stuck up due to critical technologies.
India’s space programme will be one of the major beneficiaries. Since long India’s pursuit of Russian cryogenic engine technology was blocked by the MTCR. However, due to MTCR membership, it is more likely than before for India to acquire this technology.
It is also said that, this membership will have a positive impact on India’s effort to acquire armed predator drones from the US. Although, it doesn’t mean U. S. will be any less cautious than before about exporting these armed drones to India. It only means that one of the complications in this deal is taken care of by this membership.
It is also said that MTCR membership is expected to enable India to enhance its joint ventures with Russia. However, it is also argued whether it will actually pave the way for India to sell its supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles, which it developed jointly with Russia, to third countries. If it actually happens, the result will be seen in the increased business opportunities for both government and private defence companies, going ahead.
So in reality, the implications of this much awaited MTCR membership are not that clear yet. We will have to wait to see what positive impact it will have from India’s perspective and to what extent.