Analysis: Is Pakistan hinting to cap missile development?

The MTCR is neither a treaty nor an executive agreement, but a formal, multilateral understanding about export policy

Naveed Ahmad/Naveed Ahmad May 25, 2016
Over the years Pakistan has invested significantly in missile development programmes besides mastering reverse engineering. PHOTO: AFP

Though the eighth round of the Pakistan-US Security, Strategic Stability, and Nonproliferation (SSS&NP) Working Group hinted at unanimity of views, the devil lies in details of the acronym-studded joint statement.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller co-chaired the meeting. While Islamabad tried to persuade Washington for equal treatment of all non-NPT signatory states for membership to Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, the very reference of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) raised eyebrows in Pakistan’s strategic and diplomatic community, making it appear as if Islamabad had consented to sign as a quid pro quo for NSG membership while India continues to make strides, by hook or by crook, with leading examples including BrahMos and Shaurya hypersonic missiles.

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To a question, the foreign ministry spokesman told the media, “We want all such regimes to have a non-discriminatory criteria-based approach for non-NPT countries.” A source in the foreign ministry said, “There was a passing mention of MTCR during the working group’s meeting.” He didn’t comment as to why such a passing reference should become part of the joint statement.

The MTCR at a glance

The MTCR is neither a treaty nor an executive agreement, but a formal, multilateral understanding about export policy. It’s a non-proliferation tool, which supplements the notion of technological elitism in the realm of delivery systems and un-manned aerial vehicles (UAV).

Embedded in the doctrine of denial, the MTCR aims to limit nuclear proliferation by banning transfer of equipment and technologies that can be used in sophisticated missile systems. Initially, the regime was overwhelmingly focused on ballistic missiles but there has been a gradual shift towards cruise missiles.  The regime also imposes severe constraints on national space programmes of developing countries on the pretext that the technologies are interchangeable.

Though the negotiations for the MTCR began in 1983 among the US, UK, West Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada, the club was formally created in 1987.

The 34-nation regime restricts member states from exporting a projectile with the maximum range of 300km and 500km payload. MTCR proponents claim Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic helped establish disbarment norms by giving up their missiles. However, there was marginal success in Asia where Taiwan became the only exception. The club has also failed to impress upon Iran, North Korea, Syria, Pakistan and India.

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The 1990s can be marked as an era of chemical and biological weapons’ scare.

The member states hastened increased use of ballistic missiles to the list of items during the Iran-Iraq war for Tehran was actively accessing the technology from the Soviet Union, North Korea and China.

Rules don’t always apply

Nowadays, China is seen as a big problem for allegedly assisting Iran, North Korea and Pakistan in developing missile technologies. However, the MTCR has not been so vocal over joint development of various variants of the hypersonic BrahMos cruise missile by India and Russia. Critics believe the BrahMos experience has incredibly fed into India’s knowhow of the complex system, thus leading to further refinement with extended range and payload. Cruise missile is the centrepiece of India’s pre-emptive cold start doctrine.

France and Britain’s sale of Storm Shadow or Black Shaheen missile to UAE resulted from immense pressure from the industry. The European nations went ahead with the sale of projectiles against US advice and contrary to the MTCR guideline. Another case in point is South Korean development of missiles with ranges varying from 500kms to 1,500kms. The US ally was not impressed enough to rely on external military support in case of a conflict with its northern rival besides mitigating any threats from Japan and China.

In 2004, Pakistan’s launch of its first cruise missile shook India, which had boasted an advantage in the realm. For now, competition for strategic edge in all missile categories and missile defense systems is intense so far.

While Washington presses upon countries like Pakistan to sign the MTCR, it approved the sale of three Global Hawk drones to Japan and four to South Korea. The UAV, banned under category I list of MTCR, can survey 40,000 square kilometres a day. The US-made SM-3 missiles are already part of Japanese arsenal, another inconsistent sale as per MTCR. Even more undercutting is US-Israel joint development of Arrow 3 missile with range of 1,250kms.

Through its selective application thus far, the MTCR is a US-NATO policy tool to coerce non-favourite and hostile states from acquiring self-sufficiency in defense and space programmes. The missile technology will continue to pass from one nation to the other through vibrant and lucrative black market. Countries facing sophisticated sanction have not only been able to achieve nuclear deterrence but also robust delivery systems.

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Over the years Pakistan has invested significantly in missile development programmes besides mastering reverse engineering. With India and Iran gaining free access to Russian and Western technology, Pakistan is less likely to engage in any serious negotiations regarding the MTCR. Though, Islamabad has drastically reduced its dependence on US for military hardware, poor economic policies of successive governments leave Pakistan to the mercy of global financial institutions.

Naveed Ahmad is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. He tweets @naveed360



brar | 6 years ago | Reply @Croyden: Yes we know you have 100% public toilets and no Pakistani goes in the open and no rape ever happened in Pakistan but I was ashamed to see a documentary by Al jazeera regarding children abuse in Peshawar, Pakistan is great Nation but American drones strike at will what willyou say about it. We have many problems and trying to fix them and succeeded in doing so and will carry on efforts.
BruteForce | 6 years ago | Reply @Assad: Big words but I don't think you know how bad Iranian Economy was when sanctions were in place. And Iran had Oil! Pakistan has nothing. Pakistan will be the next North Korea. North Korea has had sanctions placed on it since decades. It is dirt poor with only China as friend. Pakistan is pretty much friend less. Even your Gulf friends are going broke soon. So, good luck.
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