Wassenaar Arrangement plenary begins: After MTCR, regime one of three other export control regimes India hopes to enter

The two-day plenary session of the Wassenaar Arrangement regime commenced in Vienna on Thursday. One of the key export control regimes that deals with non-proliferation, the group is expected to look upon favourably on India’s candidature for membership.

Russia, France, Germany and the United States are strongly supporting India’s entry into the group, reports Deccan Herald. India’s case is further strengthened by the fact that China — which blocked New Delhi’s plea for admission into the NSG — is not a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Earlier in 2017, India approved SCOMET (Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies) items, mandatory under the Wassenaar Arrangement. Through the revised list of items, India also seeks to send a message about its larger commitment to non-proliferation.

India’s strong candidature was acknowledged on Wednesday by Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov who said that India is likely to get the membership if everything goes well at the plenary session. “If everything goes as expected, I keep my fingers crossed on Thursday we may see a decision of accepting India into the Wassenaar arrangement, which is also very important export control regime,” he said.

In May 2017, Germany had voiced its support for India’s membership when it said, “Germany welcomed India’s accession to the Missile Technology Control Regime. Germany also welcomed India’s intensified engagement with the other export control regimes — the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement — and expressed its support for India’s early accession to these regimes.”

The US had expressed its support for India in June 2017 when it had said, “As global non-proliferation partners, the United States expressed strong support for India’s early membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group.” In the same month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte and was assured of Netherlands’ support for India’s membership to the agreement.

The Wassenaar Agreement

The 41-member group was established in December 1995 and has since become a measure to coordinate and harmonise policies governing exports of arms, dual-use equipment and sensitive technologies, explained an article by the Observer Research Foundation. The regulations are implemented through two lists: the Munitions List which tracks conventional weapons, and the Dual-Use Goods and Technologies List. New members are accepted based on specific criteria, including countries which produce/export arms or associated dual-use goods and technologies; establish national policies that restrict sale of arms and sensitive technologies to countries of concern; and adhere to non-proliferation regimes.

The group also ensures that transfer risks are understood by all member states. This is done by regular exchange of information and reporting arms transfers/denials on a six-monthly basis. In some cases, shorter time-frames are applicable. While the decision to transfer or deny the transfer of any item is the sole responsibility of each State, the group has agreed to a number of guidelines, elements and procedures as a basis for decision-making. The members meet regularly in Vienna where the Wassenaar Arrangement has established its headquarters and Secretariat.

The Wassenaar Arrangement Plenary is the group’s decision-making body. It is composed of representatives of all Participating States and normally meets once a year, usually in December. The position of Plenary Chair is subject to annual rotation among Participating States. For 2017, the Chair is held by France. All Plenary decisions are taken by consensus.

The four non-proliferation regimes

The Wassenaar Agreement is one of the four regimes that govern transfers of potentially dangerous technologies.

The other three are the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) which controls export of nuclear material and technology, the Australia Group which restricts trade in materials used to make chemical and biological weapons, and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) which keeps a check on transfer of missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying a payload of at least 500 kg over a range of at least 300 kilometres.

Membership to the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group would give India a chance for a closer interaction with member states and also hold up its credentials, despite not being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Sunil Raman had argued that entry into these four groups would end decades of denial of technology by the US and allow India to import high-level technology to build capability and become a suitable counter-weight to China.

India became a member of the MTCR in 2016. The membership gives India access to high-end missile technology from across the world and will allow India to purchase top-of-the-line missile systems. The MTCR has also paved the way for India to sell its supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles — developed jointly with Russia — to other countries.

The NSG focuses on stemming the proliferation of nuclear weapons. India has attempted to join the NSG multiple times but has been stonewalled by China. In June 2017, China had said that India’s membership bid to the NSG has become “more complicated” under the “new circumstances” as it again ruled out backing New Delhi’s entry in the grouping, saying there should be non-discriminatory solution applicable to all non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory countries.

India’s NSG bid was addressed by Ryabkov on Wednesday who said the issue been ‘unfortunately politicised’ and that New Delhi’s application should viewed on merit.

The fourth group India seeks to join is the Australia Group formed in 1985 prompted by Iraq’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War between 1980 to 1988. Australia — concerned with Iraq’s development of chemical weapons — recommended putting checks on international export controls on chemical weapons and precursor chemicals. As more members joined, it expanded its focus to include chemical production equipment/technologies and measures to prevent proliferation of biological weapons.