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Italy Blocks Indian Application to MTCR

October 17, 2015 (Photo Credit: Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images)

ROME and NEW DELHI — Italy has blocked India’s application to join a key missile and UAV technology control committee in protest of India’s arrest of two Italian Marines suspected of shooting dead Indian fishermen.

Italy's veto of India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which counts 34 member states and was set up in 1987, was not supported by any other member and defies US ambitions to get India admitted to the club.

The diplomatic spat occurred in Rotterdam at the Oct. 5-9 plenary meeting of the group, whose members agree to work to stop the proliferation of missile and UAV technology capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload for at least 300 kilometers.

Decisions to admit new members must be approved unanimously, which allowed Italy to block India’s entry.

“Italy was not ready to give its consensus to India’s application,” a source familiar with events at the meeting said.

The source added that members were aware that Italy’s decision was linked to the arrest of the Marines. “It didn’t come up,” he said, “but it was the subtext, everyone knew.”

The two Italian Marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were guarding an Italian cargo ship off the Indian coast in 2012 when an Indian fishing boat approached. The Marines claim they fired warning shots, which went unheeded, and they were later arrested and held by Indian authorities for shooting dead two of the fishermen on board.

The case has dragged on, with the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea becoming involved this year, while Italian politicians have lambasted the Italian government for being unable to free them.

According to an official account of the MTCR meeting, “Partners exchanged views on issues relating to future membership. Individual applications for membership were thoroughly discussed. The membership issue will continue to be on the agenda.”

“While India failed to receive consensus support for its entry to the Missile Technology Control Regime this month,” an official of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “India’s application was received well and it remains under consideration.”

India formally submitted an application in June with active support from member nations the US and France. US President Obama first made his support known for India’s entry during his visit to the country in 2010.

Originally founded by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, the MTCR has since grown to include South Korea, Russia, Brazil, Turkey and Ukraine.

The Rotterdam meeting was chaired by Dutch ambassador at large Piet de Klerk, who will head the group this year on behalf of the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Italy has itself fallen afoul of the MTCR. In 2009, it sought to offer the United Arab Emirates unmanned vehicle technologies, a deal that was attached to the sale of M-346 jet trainers to the Arabian Gulf state. When the UAV deal was deemed to fall outside the limits imposed by MTCR rules, the jet trainer sale collapsed, too.

In Rotterdam this month, India was not the only country whose entry was not agreed on unanimously.

“There is a list of new candidates,” the source said. Among them, he said, were the nine EU members not yet inside the group: Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

“The EU is pushing all members to become members of this group and three other groups,” the source said — the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which seeks to limit the spread of nuclear weapons; the Australia Group, which limits chemical weapons; and the Wassenaar Arrangement, a group of 41 states limiting the use of conventional weapons.

“The argument for bringing in the other EU members to the MTCR is that there is a risk that products could be transported there from an MTCR member under the EU’s free market rules before they are subsequently exported,” the source said. “On the other hand, one could argue the EU’s export policies should stop such exports anyway. This was discussed at the meeting.”

Italy’s veto of India’s entry follows the drawn-out entanglement between the two countries over allegations of corruption surrounding the sale of 12 Italian AW101 helicopters to India in 2010 for €560 million (US $639.2 million).

 Giuseppe Orsi, the former CEO of Italian group Finmeccanica, was jailed and tried in Italy, prompting India to cancel the contract. But even after Orsi was acquitted last year, India’s anti-fraud agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), continued its own probe.

Now, properties belonging to brothers of a former Indian Air Force chief, S.P. Tyagi, who were alleged to have been involved in the payoffs, have been seized.

A New Delhi court last month, following a request from the CBI, issued a warrant for the arrest of British consultant Christian Michel James, who is alleged to have been involved in the helicopter deal.

But the case could take years before it reaches any conclusion, given the slow track record of India’s investigating agencies.

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