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Op-Ed

Brexit, missile control and India

Mint

missleA diminished England, sans nuclear weapons, coupled with a fragmenting Europe, is unlikely to play its traditional role of shaping norms

Two recent though unrelated events are likely to significantly impact the evolving global order and India’s role in it. The first was the unfortunate and histrionic referendum, which will lead to Britain’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU). The second was India’s quiet entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)—one of four clubs of the non-proliferation regime that New Delhi is determined to join. [Despite India’s concerted, though ultimately unsuccessful, effort to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) the sound and fury generated has exposed the great power game and has helped to keep that door ajar.] Both Brexit and the MTCR membership provide opportunities and challenges for New Delhi to shape the rules of the emerging world order, particularly on issues of vital interest.

Brexit is likely to see one of the key actors in global decision-making become more and more distracted with its internal divisions and its changing relations with the EU in the foreseeable future. In addition to the unfolding economic recession, the looming prospect of an independent Scotland raises the real possibility that Whitehall may also be forced to give up its increasingly unaffordable and unnecessary nuclear deterrence. A diminished England, sans nuclear weapons, coupled with a fragmenting Europe distracted with the refugee crisis, is unlikely to play its traditional role of shaping norms or taking on the responsibility to implement them.

Brexit provides a great opportunity for New Delhi to contribute to the evolving world order, while advancing its own interests. The question is: will India take the lead?

This provides greater opportunity for India to contribute to the liberal democratic order’s leadership both in terms of creating norms, particularly on climate, cyber, energy and trade issues, and as a growing security actor. The challenge, of course, is whether New Delhi will seize the opportunity to step into this role before countries like China occupy it.

Similarly, India’s twin membership of the Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC—a transparency and confidence-building instrument to regulate ballistic missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction) and the MTCR (designed to curtail the spread of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction) is crucial for two reasons.

First, India’s membership is testimony to its own non-proliferation record as well as its responsible behaviour with regard to missiles. As HCoC and MTCR address missiles and missile technology related to weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, it also strengthens India’s case for membership of other clubs of the non-proliferation regime, notably the NSG. Moreover, this membership underlines the crucial link between the nuclear (and related missile) order and the changing world order, and the need for the former to evolve to reflect the latter.

Second, India’s HCoC/MTCR membership also manifests New Delhi’s desire to play a more active and responsible role in promoting and strengthening global nuclear non-proliferation, given that missiles are the preferred delivery system for nuclear weapons. Today, according to one estimate, more than 30 countries possess missiles with ranges of 150km or greater. Many of these countries are in India’s immediate neighbourhood and in 2016 alone, several countries of concern to India, including China, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan have conducted tests meant to develop new missiles or improve existing ones. Additionally, there have also been transfers of nuclear capable missiles and missile technology between China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as well as between North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.

Thus, the HCoC/MTCR membership is the ideal platform for India to advance both its security interests and its non-proliferation values. To do so, New Delhi will have to step up its game in these regimes, which are facing an uphill task in curbing missile proliferation. Hosting high-profile workshops on missiles to develop new norms and instruments to prevent their proliferation would be one obvious initiative for India to take.

Clearly, Brexit and India’s MTCR entry provides a great opportunity for New Delhi to contribute to the evolving world order, while advancing its own interests. The question is: will India take the lead?

This article first appeared in Mint on 04 July 2016. Like other products of the Brookings Institution India Center, this is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues. The views are those of the author. Brookings India does not hold any institutional views.

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