by Martand Jha

After getting entry into major export control regimes like MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) in 2016 and the Wassenaar Arrangement in December 2017, India formally became the 43rd member of the Australia group on January 1, 2018. India is now a member of three out of four elite export control regimes, the only exception being the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

India’s recent entry into the Australia Group will help it push forward its candidature to the NSG in its plenary meeting in June this year. Last June, China stonewalled India’s entry into this 48-member group raising the objection that India, a non-signatory to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), should not be allowed to join NSG. Chinese position on India’s entry to NSG has given clear indications to New Delhi that China does not wish to see India eye to eye and let India assume the position of a counter-balancing force in the region.

But the good news for now is that India has become a member of the Australia Group (AG), which is a cooperative and voluntary group of countries working together to counter the spread of materials, equipment and technologies that could contribute to the development or acquisition of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) by states or terrorist groups.

Set up in 1985, the Australia Group has been controlling exports of chemical agents with military ramifications from the very beginning. The principal objective of Australia Group participants is to use licensing measures to ensure that exports of certain chemicals, biological agents, and dual-use chemical and biological manufacturing facilities and equipment, do not contribute to the spread of CBW. The Australia Group is essentially an informal arrangement which aims to allow exporting or transshipping countries to minimize the risk of assisting chemical and biological weapon (CBW) proliferation.

The press release by the Australia Group mentions, “With its admission into the AG, India has demonstrated the will to implement rigorous controls of high standards in international trade, and its capacity to adapt its national regulatory system to meet the necessities of its expanding economy. India is also aware of the need to constantly adapt its export controls in the face of rapidly evolving scientific and technological challenges, and in this regard, affirmed its readiness to act in close cooperation with all members towards the furtherance of Australia Group objectives”.

On the other hand, the MEA in its press release has remarked that India was allowed to enter into AG via a ‘consensus’ decision. While India is eyeing an entry into NSG this year, earning an entry into AG is no less a feat. The US, the EU, the UK etc are the other important member states in the group. Interestingly, China is a noteworthy absentee in the list. This is similar to Wassenaar Arrangement where India was the 42nd member as well as MTCR where China is not a participating member. Many have argued that India’s entry into both these groups was not as challenging as an absent China could not object to India’s entry into these coveted groups.

India’s rise in the international system has certainly alarmed the Chinese authorities who want to countercheck India’s rise. At a time, when India is slowly aligning with the US and has joined the ‘Quad’, China is eyeing India as a major adversary. India’s foray into these groups testifies to the importance and power of a country as a responsible state in the global power ecosystem.

Lastly, India’s entry into AG has furthered its non-proliferation credentials. This is quite significant because despite being a non-signatory to the NPT, India has secured entry into 3 out of 4 elite export control groups except NSG, certainly a big feat by all accounts. Currently, India boasts of a comprehensive and robust export controls system for chemical agents that can be employed for chemical warfare.

Now, India would be aiming to use its skilful diplomacy to garner more support for its candidature from other member states in the NSG. The idea should be to convince China that India’s rise should not be seen as a ‘threat’. If India succeeds in projecting that image, not only will it ensure India’s entry into NSG, but it could possibly engender greater amity between these two giant neighbours.

Admittedly, dissuading a state from perceiving its neighbour state’s rise as antagonistic to its interests is quite the uphill task, however, pursuing avenues of co-existence remains the foremost and primary goal for diplomacy. At a time, when ‘wars’ have become rare and far too costly, China and India’s rise together could be mutually beneficial considering the large trade numbers between the two countries and a huge consumer base.

With the year starting on a high for the Indian diplomacy, the expectations are ripe that this time India could break through the Chinese challenge to enter NSG.

The author is a junior research fellow at School of International Studies, JNU