The U.S. on Monday officially removed export controls on several Indian space and defense-related organizations, signaling a new era in U.S.–India nonproliferation cooperation.
By removing several subsidiaries of India’s Defense Research and Development Organization and the Indian Space Research Organization from the Department of Commerce’s so-called “Entities List” barring export of certain dual-use technologies, Washington followed through on a key pledge that President Barack Obama made during his historic visit to India last November.
The U.S. took the additional step of removing India from several other export control lists that had referred to India as a “country of concern” and instead placed it into a preferential category that consists mainly of members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The upgrading of India into this special category may be seen as a step toward officially including India into the MTCR.
The MTCR was established in 1987 to restrict proliferation of weapons-of-mass-destruction-capable ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles and associated technology to non-missile states. As of March 2010, there were 34 members of MTCR and four “unilateral adherents” (Israel, Romania, Slovakia, and Macedonia).
India was under tremendous pressure from the United States in the early 1990s to modify its nuclear and missile posture. Official U.S. policy during these years was “to cap, roll back, and eventually eliminate” Indian nuclear and missile capabilities. The United States opposed the deployment of India’s short-range Prithvi missile and development of the medium-range Agni missile. The U.S. imposed sanctions on India’s civilian space programs in 1992 because of the potential for cryogenic rocket technology to contribute to India’s ballistic missile capability.
The U.S. moves this week lifting the export controls on the Indian defense and space organizations indicate how far the U.S. has come with regard to its view of India and its strategic weapons capabilities. President Obama’s nod to India’s membership in the four major international nonproliferation groupings (Nuclear Suppliers Group, MTCR, Wassenaar, and the Australia Group) only underscores that the U.S. no longer seeks to isolate or punish India over its nuclear status but instead is trying to find new ways to cooperate with New Delhi in stemming global nonproliferation. Obama’s decision to support India’s membership in the nonproliferation groupings was attributed in part to a Track II effort led by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Nuclear Threat Initiative—an initiative in which The Heritage Foundation also took part.
Continuing to improve its export control processes and demonstrating a degree of transparency with its strategic weapons programs would help bolster the case for India’s full membership in the multilateral nonproliferation groupings. With regard to the U.S. and other international partners, they will need to develop fresh ways of thinking about India’s relationship to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and nonproliferation system that take into account the reality that India is unlikely to join the treaty as a non-weapons state any time in the near future.