Explained International

With Australia Group, India is Now in Three of Four Major Export Control Regimes

Australia Group

On Friday, January 19, 2018, India gained entry into the Australia Group. It is the third export control regime that India is now a member of, having joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016 and the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) in December 2017.


Membership of these export control regimes would help India not only further seal its non-proliferation credentials but also acquire critical technologies in the fields. Therefore, gaining membership to three of the four non-proliferation or export control regimes in the world is a big achievement and it reflects on India’s stature and acceptance across the world as well as the diplomatic efforts of the government.

It is also not a small matter that India has gained entry to these three export control regimes without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Australia Group

The Australia Group was founded in 1985 and it works to control exports which can help the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW). The catalyst for the establishment of the Australia Group was the discovery by a UN team in 1984 that Iraq had used chemical weapons in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war in violation of the Geneva Protocol established in 1925. It was unearthed that Iraq had used illegal trading channels to import the materials it needed for the chemical weapons.

The international reaction was the introduction of export controls by a number of countries on certain chemicals likely to be used in making chemical weapons. But since these controls lacked uniformity and enforcement, attempts could be made to circumvent. The Australia Group was the end result of more formal deliberations.

While the Group remains an informal grouping of countries it has been meeting regularly and, currently, its annual meeting is held in Paris. Today, the Group tackles even the problem of emerging threats. The literature introducing the Australia Group says: “Evidence of the diversion of dual-use materials to biological weapons programs in the early 1990s led to participants’ adoption of export controls on specific biological agents. The control lists developed by the Group have also expanded to include technologies and equipment which can be used in the manufacturing or disposal of chemical and biological weapons.”

Originally, only 15 countries were members of the Group. With India’s entry, the membership now stands at 43. On Friday, January 19, the Group published the following message on its website (emphasis added):

India, as we know, already had a law-based export control system which has now been brought “into alignment with the Australia Group”. While, on the one hand, India’s joining would further help global efforts to prevent CBW proliferation, for India not only does this elevate its stature as a state up to speed with best international practices in this regard but it also bolsters its credentials for the membership of the one export control regime it is still outside – the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or NSG.

The Wassenaar Arrangement:

The Wassenaar Arrangement, or the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies, keeps an eye on trade and transfer of conventional weapons and dual-use material and technology. India joined the Wassenaar Arrangement only last month – on December 7, 2017. Its membership of the Australia Group has, thus, followed closely on the heels of its entry into the Wassenaar Arrangement.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR):

India became a full member of the MTCR on June 27, 2016. Along with the NSG, it is one of the foremost export control regimes in the world and its objective is to prevent the proliferation of all missile technology as well as UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technology that can carry a payload of 500 kg and above over a distance of 300 km and beyond. In other words, the MTCR seeks to restrict the proliferation of ballistic missiles and other UAV delivery systems.

The MTCR’s scope of control, therefore, covers air-borne delivery systems that can be used for not only nuclear but also chemical and biological attacks. And the MTCR has had success to boast of that met its goals.

Doubtless, membership of the MTCR has been a big achievement for India, which has only bolstered its non-proliferation record. Membership of the MTCR is also an important multiplier when it comes to India pushing its case for NSG membership.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group: Where Does India Stand?

The only one of the four export control regimes that India is still not a member of is the Nuclear Suppliers Group or NSG. And yet, that is not due to any paucity of efforts on India’s part or lack of support from members.

The reason why India has not been able to join the NSG till date is because of the opposition of China. An NSG membership is possible only through consensus among its current members. China, a member, is opposing India’s entry on grounds that India has not signed the NPT and thus cannot be treated as an exceptional case. Insisting on NSG entry to be norm-based, China insists that the norms that would allow India in should also let in others, including Pakistan.

Now, the NSG is a group of nuclear-supplier states that aims at achieving non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. And it goes without saying that India and Pakistan do not have the same track record on non-proliferation. That is one of the reasons why most NSG members support India’s membership, but China’s opposition has denied India entry so far.

An NSG membership would help India expand its nuclear power generation capacity. Besides, we would be in a better position to export nuclear supplies to other countries. This would also strengthen India’s nuclear regime and attract investments to set up nuclear power plants.

Although the 2008 NSG waiver to India enables New Delhi to engage in civil nuclear trade, membership of the nuclear club would be a major breakthrough in cementing its position as a serious player in the field.

India, in any case, has the following strengths:

  • Despite not being an NPT signatory or NSG member, India’s record on observing NPT provisions and NSG guidelines is impeccable
  • For example, India has never transferred its nuclear technology to another country
  • India has put its civilian reactors under IAEA safeguards. With this, the production capacity of weapons-grade material has been limited
  • There is strong export control on the domestic front
  • India is undertaking the separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner as per the Indo-US nuclear deal
  • India has persisted in observing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear-testing
  • India’s nuclear doctrine is unique. It is non-proliferative, non-offensive, and only for deterrence purposes

These strengths are also part of the reason India gained entry to the MTCR which, as we have already observed, was further affirmation of India’s non-proliferation credentials. But since the MTCR, India has also joined the Wassenaar Arrangement and now the Australia Group.

As it happens, China is not a member of the other three export control regimes which India now has membership of. Moreover, China seeks MTCR membership. Therefore, apart from bilateral efforts and multilateral diplomatic efforts to persuade China, the scope remains for India to use China’s MTCR membership as a bargaining counter. For, at the end of the day, India is now a member of three out of four export control regimes while China is a member of only one.