India’s move to sign the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC) against Ballistic Missile Proliferation is being seen as a step that will burnish India’s credentials to join export control groups like Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), according to experts.
After signing the HCoC on Thursday, India has become the 138th member of the group which aims to stop proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including nuclear, chemical and biological.
Notably, India is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The HCoC will require India to share pre-launch information of ballistic missiles, space launches and test flights. India will also be expected to exercise maximum restraint in terms of using ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction while carrying out efforts to maintain regional security and stability by complying with non-proliferation norms and possibly disarmament.
Uday Bhaskar, national security expert and director, Society for Policy Studies, said to this correspondent: “Relevance (of signing HCoC) lies in being part of the global cluster that is committed to WMD restraint. It will also burnish India’s credentials for entry into NSG and MTCR. It (the signing) reiterates India’s commitment to WMD restraint first articulated in the aftermath of the May 1998 nuclear tests and subsequently elucidated in greater detail in the Lahore Declaration of Early 1999 by then PM Vajpayee.”
India has long been trying to gain passage into the NSG but has seen opposition from members like China. The NSG is a group of nuclear supplier countries with a broad objective of working for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Further, India had applied for entry into the MTCR mid last year but the entry was blocked by Italy.
“India is a responsible and credible interlocutor in WMD matters, even though it is not an NPT signatory. By joining such groups/regimes, India’s credibility and acceptability is burnished,” Bhaskar said.
India has faced obstacles from China in the past for entry into the NSG. Signing the HCoC is also, according to experts, a necessary step for entry into such nuclear export control groups.
“There are two issues at hand. Firstly, this HCoC is legally non-binding. It is considered a necessary step for joining the NSG. In India’s calculations, we have smoothened the way and showed intent by signing it. It is also a way of dealing with potential obstacles that China could raise later. The Chinese have said, very frankly, that they don’t want us in the NSG. They haven’t used that language but they have said that no exceptions should be made for India as the US is trying to make exceptions. The firm logic applied to India should be applied to Pakistan. So what they are trying to show is that since Pakistan has applied only now, knowing that, they want to keep us out. We have taken the first step,” Jayadeva Ranade, Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat and national security expert, told this newspaper.
“The HCoC is non-binding so it will not impact India’s strategic interests or position in the region,” he added.
Several quarters have expressed concern that this move might affect India’s Agni missile program. However, Ranade said that “If we don’t test the Agni missile, then our self defense capabilities are not properly harnessed or positioned. My view is that in this government, certainly, there won’t be any compromise on the Agni.”