The Flipside of MTCR

Article Image

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) – a voluntary political establishment working since April 1987, was formed by the G-7 industrialized states. It aims to limit the proliferation and development of ballistic missile technology globally. Currently, 35 member states of MTCR cover most of the world’s key missile manufacturers. This control regime is neither a treaty nor holds a legally binding status for member states. Thus, any state has no legal jurisdiction, whether member or non-member. The guidelines of MTCR are open to all nations to implement whether they are part of MTCR or not.

The United States claims it plays an essential role in encouraging all countries to adhere to the guidelines unilaterally. However, many countries do not fall under its jurisdiction as per the criteria set by MTCR. The criteria for payload capacity set by MTCR is 500 kilograms with a range of 300 kilometres. To limit the transfer of ballistic missiles that could contribute to the delivery of nuclear weapons, MTCR seeks to include all the nuclear states under this regime. The United States backs the implementation of the control regime by a sanction law that depicts a western influence in this regime. The credibility of MTCR as a missile control regime is questionable as member and non-member states globally indulge in developing missiles for military use. These states challenge the autonomy of the control regime while they continue to develop missiles.

The Criticism of Pakistan

The Missile Technology Control Regime’s varied approach towards different countries has depicted that Western countries use it as a leveraging tool to manipulate their foreign policies, military technology development etc. As a case study, Pakistan explains how a biased approach is adopted against countries to single them out. Since Pakistan is not a member of MTCR, its missile program does not fall under the criteria set by the regime. Pakistan’s development of ballistic missile technology is based on the concept of self-defence and upholding its territorial integrity against any aggression from India. Although Pakistan has been blamed for the proliferation of missile technology and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), the regime has never made substantial efforts to take the country into its fold.

West has accused Pakistan and China of the persistent proliferation of missile technology, yet it has failed to justify the disparity in its approach towards Islamabad and China compared to New Delhi. In 1993, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister, Moeen Qureshi, accused the Clinton administration of imposing baseless sanctions on Pakistan and China for the transfer of technology of the M-11 ballistic missiles, albeit the missiles were under the MTCR parameter. Moreover, in 2000, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, stated that there is no international regime that forbids cooperation within the MTCR.

Pakistan’s Principle Stand-Point

Islamabad views MTCR, NPT and other similar arrangements as tools to expose the security and territorial integrity of the Asian countries. Countries like Pakistan and China, facing a never-ending threat from a hostile neighbour, cannot conform to standards like rolling back their nuclear weapons program or giving up modernization of their missile systems. These standards would make them more vulnerable, as the world saw in the case of Ukraine.

In 2006, Nafees Zakaria, former Foreign Office Spokesman, stated that Pakistan continues to adhere to the guidelines of MTCR voluntarily. Moreover, he highlighted that the country does not find it propitious to join the regime. Similarly, Ambassador Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s permanent representation at the UN, also outlined that MTCR does not provide any value addition to Pakistan, and the country must have all options available to ensure its security and deterrence and avoid any legal commitments to MTCR obligations.

Credibility of MTCR

On the one hand, MTCR has proved ineffective in limiting the development of missile technology globally. On the other hand, the regime has unfairly targeted countries to place sanctions on them. For example, despite being a member of MTCR, the Indian missile program has seen the induction of new missile systems along with the modernization of the existing fleet. MTCR is not only based on curbing the development of missile technology but also focuses on non-aggression, responsible handling of missiles and compliance for ensuring international security and stability.

On March 09, 2022, the Indian Air Force fired a BrahMos missile into Pakistan, later termed as malfunctioning or misfiring by the Indian government. The MTCR remained silent on the issue, which shows its prejudice. Had this been done by Pakistan or China, the regime would have placed instant sanctions on the two countries. Pakistan has also upheld international norms to avoid any disruption to peace. Recent occasions, like the Pulwama Crisis, depict that the country has operated with utmost restraint and responsibility, be it the armed forces or conventional or strategic weapons.


Being an informal political understanding, MTCR does not supersede the prior agreements, i.e., supply of Category-I system between NATO members. This regime is dominated mainly by the West-centric approach, which is discriminatory to the global south. The United States had used MTCR as its tool in the past for sanctioning its rival states. For instance, the USA sanctioned China over the case of M-11 missiles. The United States has undermined the regime for its gains; between 1985-1990, the United States Department of Commerce approved licenses of sensitive documents, mostly dual-use in nature, worth $1.5 billion to Iraq. The member states of this regime are bound by the “no-undercut” policy – which prohibits the transfer of the item to any state that the member state of MTCR has denied. Likewise, a transfer of an item banned by any member state is forbidden without consultation. This gives an edge to the G-7 states to suppress the emerging deterrence that could challenge their power.

Although joining the MTCR would offer many perks and privileges to Pakistan, the country stands firm on not joining it to safeguard its self-interests and avoid foreign dictation when the question of its security is concerned. It is safe to argue that not only is MTCR ineffective and an instrument at the hands of the founding members.

IIGSA Newsletter

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more