India’s entry into the Wassenaar Arrangement as its 42nd member last week on the heels of its joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016, is doubtlessly a feather in the cap of Indian diplomacy and a recognition of our growing international clout.
The global Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) regulates transfer and access to conventional weapons and dual use technologies. India’s membership is expected to facilitate high technology tie-ups with Indian industry and ease access to high tech items for our defence and space programmes.
For China, which has been consistently stalling India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on grounds that this country is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and for Pakistan which has stakes in stalling India’s bid, this is a huge rebuff. Both are not part of the Wassenaar Arrangement and of the Australian Group on non-proliferation which India is hopeful of being admitted into next year.
While there is a possibility that China will further accentuate its opposition to India’s bid to join the NSG, irritated as it is by India’s entry into the Wassenaar Arrangement, there is also an outside chance that India may strike a deal with China in the long run to help it gain entry into the Wassenaar Arrangement in return for Beijing shedding its opposition to India’s entry into NSG. China has been unsuccessfully bidding to joining the Wassenaar Arrangement because of its strong history of proliferation which most nations fear and resent.
Joining NSG is, understandably, India’s ultimate goal on the nuclear stage and failure to do so would be hard on this country but membership of three of the four groups for nuclear supplies would doubtlessly strengthen India’s access to high tech items for our defence and space programmes. Since many countries are common to NSG and to Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australian group, India would be in a better position to push its case for membership of NSG with them to thwart Chinese designs at least in the long run.
As it stands, India’s impeccable non-proliferation record, despite this country not being a signatory to the NPT, gives it a distinct advantage. There is a global recognition of India's responsible behaviour as a nuclear weapons state and its potential contribution to the maintenance of nuclear norms.
Consequently, it is not difficult for India to convince other countries of India’s mature sense of responsibility and to trade with them in high tech items. The membership of WA would create the grounds for realignment of India in the export control policy framework of fellow-members, including eligibility for certain licensing exemptions.
India's membership to MTCR last year was a passport to acquiring vital equipment for its space programme and its ability to source high-end missile systems and technologies as well as surveillance drones. The Wassenaar membership gives India an important voice in shaping global response to regional and global security developments, advances in technology and market trends.
There are several reasons for India to be so keen on NSG membership. The dominant one is that NSG membership can allow India access to sustainable supply of nuclear fuel at competitive prices thereby making it possible to speed up implementation of stalled nuclear projects. At the same time, access to technologies can help India to fast forward its thorium use programme towards its civil nuclear energy production. Besides, India could also import reprocessing technologies, which are critical for a three stage nuclear programme.
There can be little doubt that NSG membership could fast forward signing of civil nuclear deals with Australia and Japan, both countries whose current regimes are well disposed towards India and which have major business stakes in opening up to India. What has been holding up progress with them is the rigid non-proliferation stands of these countries even though they are convinced of India’s peace credentials.
It goes without saying that membership of NSG could allow India to be a part of the decision making process regarding supply of nuclear technology. It can later put its foot forward with a demand to bring down nuclear stockpiles all over the world and in turn make its neighbourhood safe too.
While the chances of China coming round to a deal with India to soften its stand on admitting India into NSG in return for India help in Beijing finding acceptance in the WA are remote, no harm would be done if New Delhi pursues this course doggedly.
Simultaneously, India must pursue vigorously to convince member-states of Wassenaar Arrangement and of the Australian Group (after India is admitted into that group) to trade in high tech items with New Delhi in pursuit of its civil nuclear programme and to not discriminate against it with regard to nuclear fuel supplies.
If this country manages to fulfill its needs for which it is pursuing entry into NSG, who knows, someday its requirement to be admitted into NSG may cease to be as critical as it is today.