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09 October 2015

India's application to join the MTCR blocked - possibly by Italy

India’s application to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is currently being blocked – possibly by Italy over an ongoing bilateral dispute unrelated to non-proliferation concerns.

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According to the Business Standard, a meeting this week of the MTCR members in the Netherlands ended without India’s application for MTCR membership being decided upon. Some sources reported prior to the meeting that India’s membership might be blocked by Italy over the dispute. If true, Italy’s move to frustrate Indian MTCR membership was motivated by detention of two Italian marines who are facing trial for the killing of two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in 2012. Italy expects leniency on the part of India in exchange for their support for Indian MTCR membership.

The MTCR is a non-proliferation regime aimed at controlling the spread of missile and space technologies. Membership represents an important objective for India, as it would not only help to underscore India’s commitment to non-proliferation, but also allow it access to niche missile and space technologies. In light of this and of support from the United States for India’s ‘phased entry’ into the MTCR as well as the other major non-proliferation regimes (the Nuclear Suppliers Group,  the Wassenaar arrangement and the Australia Group) it is assumed that negotiations will continue until a solution is reached.

The Case:
In February of 2012, two Italian marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were guarding the Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexiewhen they opened fire, killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. The marines said they mistook the fishermen for pirates.

The case involving the marines has sparked a bitter diplomatic row between India and Italy. Italy has maintained that as the shooting took place in international waters, the men should be tried in Italy, based on a UN agreement granting jurisdiction to the country that owns the ship involved in an incident in international waters. The Italian government has also claimed that the two men have sovereign immunity as part of the Italian Navy. Latorre was given leave to stay in Italy for six months following medical treatment, and Girone is currently staying in the Italian embassy in Delhi while on bail. Italy has contested that Girone has been kept “hostage,” a claim which the Indian government disputes. The Italian government have, however, received assurances about the men’s treatment.

India has argued that it has the right to try the marines as the incident took place in its Exclusive Economic Zone and is not a “maritime incident” but “double murder at sea.” India has ruled out the possibility of the death penalty and invoked an anti-piracy law to try the marines.

An earlier version of this article implied that Italy had  blocked India’s application. It has been amended to reflect the fact that, while it was purported that Italy may block the application,  details of the decision not to move forward with India’s membership are not available.

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