Washington demonstrated through this waiver for India (which remains outside the NPT regime) that India is a vital ally in maintaining international peace and security. This, in turn, expands India’s strategic space, writes Bhaswati Mukherjee for South Asia Monitor.
In the background of intense speculation about the US President Donald Trump’s growing indifference to India’s security needs and the landmark India-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement came the dramatic announcement of the "Tier 1 waiver" for India. This exception from the export control regime will allow the US to export sensitive technology to India without individual licences or approval from Congress, where anti-Indian interest groups used to hold up the approval through filibuster.
The waiver is historic and marks a new stage in the India-US strategic partnership. No other country in the region has ever been granted such a waiver, normally allowed only for USA’s NATO partners or key allies like Japan and South Korea. Only 36 nations currently have this status. It also brings India one step closer to full NSG membership, a goal so tantalizingly close and yet denied because of Chinese intransigence and insistence on linking it with Pakistan’s membership.
Commonly referred to as Tier-1 of the US Department of Commerce’s Strategic Trade Authorisation licence exception, the waiver will not only ensure a much required high-tech upgrade for India’s lagging defence industry but will also promote ‘Made in India’. It will bring in US defence companies for the first time into India. The competition with other foreign companies already in India, including France and Russia, will eventually translate into a win-win situation for India.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross described it as a “very important change” in India’s status, noting that “US companies will be able to more efficiently export a much wider range of products to Indian high technology and military customers. India’s new status will benefit US manufacturers while continuing to protect our national security.” He added: “It finally reflects India's status as a major defence partner of the US.”
Ross said this new designation reflects India's membership in three of the four multilateral export control regimes, as well the development of its national export control system. He asserted that US companies will be able to more efficiently export a much wider range of products to Indian high technology and military customers. He said India's new status will benefit US manufacturers while continuing to protect its national security.
Speaking at a panel discussion of the first Indo-Pacific Business Forum organised by the US Chambers of Commerce, India Ambassador Navtej Sarna highlighted that this decision of the Trump administration acknowledges the security as well as economic relationship between the world’s two largest democracies and boosts their defence partnership in a big way. He said: “It is a sign of trust not only in the relationship but also on India's capabilities as a valued economic and as security partner. It presupposes that India has the multilateral export control regime in place, which would allow the transfer of more sensitive defence technologies and dual-use technologies to India and without the risk of any proliferation.”
India is a member of three of the four international export control regimes including the Australia Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). These developments, along with the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with US, have also strengthened India’s case for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. NSG membership is now vital for India since this group controls export and import of high-grade nuclear related technology. India has been repeatedly checkmated by the Chinese veto, cleverly disguised in the plea of equating India and Pakistan’s pending membership applications.
In September 2008, the NSG had approved an exemption allowing its members to conduct nuclear trade with India. Following the NSG waiver, India signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Namibia and Australia. India continues to participate in international nuclear trade. In arguing for NSG membership, India has portrayed itself as a responsible nuclear power, pointing to its positive record on non-proliferation and consistent support for complete nuclear disarmament.
Ultimately, the Trump administration has given a timely and important signal that India remains a vital strategic partner in the region. Washington demonstrated through this waiver for India (which remains outside the NPT regime) that India is a vital ally in maintaining international peace and security. This, in turn, expands India’s strategic space, enabling it to leverage its enhanced relationship with the US in order to upgrade its relations with other partners and bringing closer its future NSG membership. It puts India in a category of major global players and New Delhi as an indispensable destination for leaders across the globe.
(The author is a retired Indian ambassador. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)