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NSG May be a Failure for Modi, but MTCR is a Big Success for India; By Col. R. Hariharan

C3S Paper No. 0091/2016 

As expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come in for criticism from friends and foes alike for putting his (or to some extent India’s) political prestige on the block on the line in the failed bid to gain admission to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) at Seoul. Perhaps Modi could have avoided the heightened expectations created by media hype over his highly visible international campaign on the NSG issue.

Probably, Modi could not help it because that is his signature leadership style, as distinct as the “Modi jacket” he wears. So his failures will always be seen larger than his successes because people revel more in leader’s failure than success. And media cannot be faulted for its shrill coverage because their pitch is for instant gratification rather than eloquent analyses.

By now, Modi must be accustomed to the brickbats he receives from a section of the so-called intellectual class for whatever he does or does not.

So India’s failure at NSG is seen by many as prime minister’s leadership failure. However, that would be ignoring the dynamic strategic environment in which the PM has been operating.

In this environment, around the same time when the NSG said nay, India was admitted to another exclusive club – the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) – which is more important to national security than the NSG.

The 35-mmber club controls the spread of proliferation of unmanned delivery systems (missile, unmanned aerial vehicles etc) for carrying nuclear weapons.

In simple terms, now India can access state of the art drone and missile technology systems which have been denied all along. This will speed up the development of long range intercontinental ballistic missiles.

India can also export its missiles like the BrahMos to other countries. India has already indicated that it would be exporting BrahMos to Vietnam and a few other nations are said to be interested in procuring it.

India’s admission is even more significant as China’s application to join the MTCR made in 2004 has not been accepted so far because its export control standards have not satisfied the MTCR members.

However, India’s failure at NSG meet overshadowed its success on MTCR.

Moreover, when the first announcement of India’s admission to the MTCR was made, Modi’s detractors saw it as the outcome of a deal to release two Italian Marines facing prosecution for murder on bail, than noting its strategic implications. That is the kind of strategic discourse we have in this country.

The changes in the security environment in our neighbourhood are happening at various levels: India-US-China trilateral relations on the one hand and India-Pakistan-China on the other, and India’s assertive relationship building in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries.

At the same time, President Xi Jinping has emerged as the most powerful of agent of change in China after Deng Xiaoping led the nation’s recovery from the disastrous consequences of the Cultural Revolution.

Xi has emerged as the unchallenged leader of China in firm control of all the three of pillars support: the Communist Party of China (CPC), the government and the Peoples Liberation Army.

He is working hard to realize his Chinese dream by vigorously promoting the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative to build strategic road, rail, pipeline and maritime links to South, West and Central Asia as well as Indian Ocean region.

This is progressively increasing China’s access to the huge markets and mineral and petroleum resources of Asia. He has notched up several successes in South Asia and Indian Ocean region, in India’s traditional areas of influence.

President Xi is also trying to give China a prominent international profile in Asia. In the Af-Pak region he sees China as a peace maker between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban, the fountainhead that provides political and religious moorings for Islamic terrorists trying to destabilise the region.

China has embarked upon the ambitious $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (EPEC) project that aims to develop road, rail, pipeline and maritime connectivity between the Xinjiang region of China and Pakistan.

In the coming years we can expect China to become Pakistan’s indispensable strategic partner on India’s western front. It will also be lodged  in the country’s economic and political mainstream.

It is in this complex strategic environment Prime Minister Modi has been leading from the front to energise India-US relations to make them multifaceted, with emphasis on strategic relations. The US has reciprocated it with equal vigour.

This has slowly changed the US’ strategic security hyphenation of Asia-Pacific into Indo-Pacific, in silent recognition of India adding substance to US security interests in the region extending from Indian Ocean to the Pacific.

While the US promoted India’s candidature of the NSG vigorously, at another level China was becoming increasingly paranoid over the US navy’s aggressive presence in South China Sea and increased level of US security cooperation with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members locked in dispute with China over the ownership of islets in the neighbourhood.

The joint exercise of the navies of India, US and Japan off the coast of Japan recently probably only added to China’s suspicion about India’s professed peaceful intentions towards its northern neighbour.

In this environment, it was probably too much to expect Xi to oblige India by allowing it to join the NSG. Despite all the jhoola diplomacy of Modi and friendly overtures from China, there should be no illusion about taking forward our strategic dialogue with China.

President Xi supported by the CPC and PLA will test every strategic move of India. It would be a loss of face for him to equate China with India when he is aiming to beat the US at global level.

Perhaps, if India comes round to wholeheartedly support the OBOR, China might soften its stand on other issues but never relent on core interests and that includes nuclear equation.

We should put our bid for NSG membership in cold storage for now. 

We should have confidence in our strengths and build upon them rather than wasting our efforts which have the makings of failure.

President Xi has succeeded in embarrassing Modi; we should read the writing on the wall and realistically calibrate our relations with PRC on the long term.

It does not matter India had failed in its effort at NSG; but it has succeeded in getting into MTCR.

The NSG experience has exposed the true dimension s of our strategic priorities despite the confusing verbiage China had put out on the issue. So it should be treated as a learning experience.

As the cliché goes forewarned is forewarned; and Modi, the shrewd man he is, probably has learnt his Beijing lesson from this exercise. 

(Col. R. Hariharan is Member, C3S. He was a retired MI specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to 1990. E-mail: ; Blog: )

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