The main international agreement controlling the proliferation of drones, the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), is coming under increasing pressure from drone manufacturers who see it as out-dated and ‘a drag’ on the development of their industry.
The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a non-binding voluntary agreement between a number of countries who have agreed to curb the spread of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. The MTCR was originally established in 1987 by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, but has since grown to a total of thirty-four.
The MTCR controls two categories of delivery systems and applicable technology. Category One systems are capable of delivering a 500 kilogram warhead further than 300 kilometres, while Category II covers systems that carry a lighter warhead or have a range of less than 300km. Although all decisions are taken on a national basis, and there is no sanction by other countries if the MTCR is broken, there is a “strong presumption of denial” underpinning Category One – that is, an assumption that MTCR signatory states will not export such systems. Countries have greater discretion about exporting Category Two systems.
Although the primary focus of the agreement was to control the spread of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or drones as they are commonly known) were included as they too can deliver weapons of mass destruction.
There is little publicly available information about the internal working of the MTCR as much of what happens takes place behind closed doors. The most recent Plenary Meeting of MTCR countries took place in April 2011 in Argentina where discussion about the impact of the MTCR on the growth of the drone market clearly took place as this International Institute for Strategic Studies briefing, written before the meeting, makes clear:
“Several MTCR member states, and their defence aerospace industries, have an interest in considering how the regime addresses medium- and high-altitude long-endurance (MALE/HALE) UAVs. With domestic defence budgets coming under pressure, there is renewed impetus in identifying additional export markets for these types of UAVs, including commercial and paramilitary applications. The present MTCR guidelines are a hindrance and complicate their sale.”