India’s Export Control Regime: From Possible Proliferator to Responsible Nuclear State?


By Amina Afzal

On December 7, 2017, India became the 42nd member of the Wessanar Arrangement, a multilateral export control regime that promotes greater transparency and responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual- use goods and technologies.

In another significant development India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June 2016. India is now seeking membership of the more informal Australia Group that works to harmonise controls to ensure that export of critical chemicals doesn’t lead to the development of chemical or biological weapons. Its admission into these influential groups would allow India greater leverage to bargain for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

In January 2017 a new phase of export control cooperation began between the United States and India when the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) amended its Export Administration Regulations (EAR) on January 19, 2017. The modifications led to a change in India’s “Validated End User” (VEU) status. These changes were a consequence of the June 7, 2016 US recognition of India as a “Major Defence Partner.”

India now receives license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies. In return India undertook steps to align its existing system of export controls with the practices of the global export control regimes.

Notwithstanding these developments, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has thus far failed to reach consensus on the issue of India’s accession to the group. Some member states have expressed concern that the admission of a non-NPT signatory to the NSG would undermine both the existing system of export controls and the global non-proliferation regime. Refuting these arguments, India claims that its revised export control norms are “more stringent” than those practiced by some members of Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). To prove its commitment to the global export control norms, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai announced India’s decision to update its Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment, and Technologies SCOMET list to correspond with the lists of both the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) issued a notification on March 14, 2013 amending the SCOMET List.

India’s possible membership of the NSG remains a controversial issue on account of the fact that the very creation of the group was a result of the 1974 Indian nuclear tests. The aim of the seven founding member states was to restrict nuclear commerce after the Indian nuclear tests, which made use of materials that India had acquired in breach of its bilateral agreements with both the US and Canada on the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Arguably, India has come a long way since its official position contending that controls in the absence of a genuine movement towards nuclear disarmament would be unacceptable to India. The country’s export control policy has also witnessed a paradigm shift during the last two decades. In the wake of the 2005 US-India Nuclear deal there is broad consensus among both Indian policy makers and the world at large that India has pursued a proactive approach towards its export control system thereby bringing it at par with international trade control standards.According to Indian discourse on the issue, India has always maintained an impeccable record vis-à-vis export controls.

It is important to note however that the US- India Nuclear Deal became possible only after India agreed to overhaul its existing system of export controls. Therefore, the country’s non-proliferation records need to be examined critically if India is being considered for a special status within the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This paper will investigate India’s proliferation record by exploring its implementation of strategic export controls over the years. It will outline the development of Indian export controls and analyse its current system of export controls in the larger context of the economic liberalisation that the country has undergone during the last two decades. It will also discuss the evolution of India’s nuclear control list and provide a description of the process to control the export of dual-use items in India. It will then try to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the export control system, the challenges it faces and its relative progress over the years. In the final analysis, the paper will try and determine the extent to which India’s export controls have been successful in curbing the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials.




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