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India’s Accommodation in Multi-lateral Export Control Regimes

S. Samuel C. Rajiv is Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • November 10, 2010

    During the November 6-9, 2010 visit of President Barack Obama to India, the US expressed its support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), among other multi-lateral export control regimes including the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group (AG). In the Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit on November 8, the US expressed its support for India’s membership “in a phased manner”, involving consultation with members on “regime membership criteria consistent with maintaining the core principles of these regimes”, even as the government of India “takes steps towards the full adoption of the regimes' export control requirements …” Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in his remarks at the joint press conference with the visiting dignitary as well as in the Joint Statement welcomed the US stance on the issue.

    While the 46-member NSG is a multi-lateral grouping that deals with the control of nuclear materials and technology, the 41-member AG regulates the transfer of chemical and biological weapons technologies. The role of the 40-member Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies is self-explanatory. The WA has Control Lists spanning nine categories dealing with Special Materials, Electronics, Sensors, Avionics, Aerospace and Propulsion among others, as well as a list of items designated ‘Sensitive’ and ‘Very Sensitive’. The 34-member MTCR regulates/prohibits the transfer of missile technologies with a range beyond 300 kms. In the Joint Statement, the US notes that in its view, “India should qualify for membership in the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement according to existing requirements once it imposes export controls over all items on these regimes' control lists.”

    The positive statements on multi-lateral export control regimes by US officials addresses the recommendations made by a slew of policy analysts and think tanks in India and the US ahead of the Obama visit. The Centre for New American Security (CNAS) for instance urged the Obama administration to support Indian membership in key export control organisations, as “a step toward integrating India into global non-proliferation efforts.” The US-India Business Council (USIBC) in its report Partners in Prosperity urged the Obama administration to “modernise US export controls” and “continue to press for full and satisfactory implementation of the U.S.-India civil nuclear accord.”

    Membership in these four multi-lateral regimes requires consensus among the existing members and includes fulfilment of such criteria as the membership of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), membership of one or more of the five nuclear weapon free zones, adherence to chemical and biological weapons conventions (CWC and BWC), legally-based domestic export control system, maintenance of national export control lists which includes all the items on the list of these multilateral regimes, among other related parameters.

    India on its part had passed the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery
    Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act in June 2005, fulfilling its obligations under UNSC Resolution 1540, which required UN member states to enact domestic legislation to better account for WMD materials and technology. The list of items in India’s Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) list – which controls the sale and trade of dual-use technologies, was upgraded to include those present in the NSG and the MTCR lists in July 2005 as well.

    The only major hurdle for India’s participation therefore is its non-membership in the NPT. However, with the US pledging to work with India for a “21st century version of the NPT” (Secretary Clinton’s formulation while responding to a question at the US Institute of Peace on October 21, 2009) and Indian officials talking of a non-proliferation paradigm “beyond the NPT framework” during Mr. Obama’s visit, even this criteria does not seem to pose much of a problem. In the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement between Dr. Singh and then US president George W. Bush, the US recognised India “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology.” As part of that bargain, the US had also pledged to “work with friends and allies to adjust international regimes to enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India …” Consequently, the Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (the 123 Agreement) was signed on July 27, 2007 and the NSG on September 6, 2008 accorded the ‘clean’ waiver to India, allowing it to get the benefits of nuclear trade.

    President Obama’s announcement of his administration’s support for India’s prospective membership in these multi-lateral export control regimes therefore is a natural corollary to US efforts over the past five years to fully accommodate India in the global non-proliferation regime, a process that was creatively initiated with the nuclear deal. The announcements are also indicative of the acknowledgement by the US that India – a country which is an important part of the global nuclear renaissance with plans to ramp up nuclear power to 20,000 MW by 2020 and 60,000 MW by 2030 – cannot be forever artificially kept out of these regimes due to inconsistencies like the NPT’s cut-off date (January 1, 1967) for defining a nuclear weapon state.

    It is equally true that India would like to make effective commercial use of its nuclear expertise gained over the past many decades. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Srikumar Banerjee at the 54th International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference in September 2010 pointed to India’s expertise in building pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) of 220 MW or 540 MW capacity as well as its possible role as a supplier of special steels, large size forgings, control instruments and other nuclear components and services.

    The NSG waiver has allowed India to enter into nuclear cooperation agreements with nine countries till date. These are Argentina, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States. Final stretch negotiations with Japan and South Korea are progressing. Countries with smaller nuclear power requirements will in all probability find Indian nuclear solutions more palatable for their needs, rather than 1,000 MW or 1,600 MW plants from Areva or Westinghouse. The peak power demand of Namibia for instance in 2009 was 450 MW, over half of which it imported from South Africa. India in its bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Namibia pledged to invest over $12 million at the University of Namibia to establish the Faculties of Mining Engineering and Information Technology. This is significant given that the country is the fourth biggest uranium producer in the world. India’s bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements are therefore a two-way street with India pledging to develop local nuclear infrastructure in these countries even as it obtains nuclear raw materials and technology as the case may be from them. Membership in the NSG would allow India to more fully engage in nuclear trade with countries like Jordan in West Asia and others in Southeast Asia that are engaged in plans to develop their domestic nuclear industry.

    India’s prospective membership in these multi-lateral export control organisations will also be significant given that its eastern neighbour and NPT member state as well as UNSC Permanent Member, China, is not yet a member of three of these groupings - the MTCR, the WA and the AG. Beijing, though maintaining that these regimes are “not at odds with its non-proliferation policies”, has still not joined them. China did join the NSG in May 2004.

    Given India’s impeccable non-proliferation record, which stood it in good stead during the deliberations on NSG waiver, coupled with US support, the road for India to get on the other side of the fence with respect to these multi-lateral export control regimes has indeed become smoother. Even as these non-proliferation regimes can be expected to change their membership criteria, it remains to be seen if they follow the ‘NSG route’ and allow for an India-specific criterion waiver or evolve more general rules that will allow India as well as others to become members.

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