Divide on India’s NSG Membership

Dr M Riaz Shad

Much to India’s dismay, the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) failed to reach consensus on the country’s ambitiously sought membership of the Group in its Seoul plenary on June 23-24. The Group did not take up Pakistan’s application for deliberations. The NSG is an exclusive 48-nation nuclear cartel, which seeks non-proliferation through regulation of civilian nuclear trade and works under the principle of unanimity. India’s membership case was opposed not just by China but also by several other countries—Austria, New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey and Brazil. Opposition from these countries was based on the principle that India was a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a mandatory condition for membership of the NSG. Following this dissension, an official statement said, “the NSG had discussions on the issue of technical, legal and political aspects of the participation of non-NPT states in the NSG, and decided to continue its discussion,” implying that the matter remains inconclusive and will be dealt even-handedly.
The US, champion of non-proliferation, advocated India’s case for NSG membership on the basis of an exclusive India-specific approach, thanks to commercial and strategic reasons. It argued that India was like-minded with NSG states with respect to its non-proliferation commitments. A host of other countries, including notables like Britain, France, Russia and Australia, also gave the same rationale to support India in order to guard their commercial interests or please the US. This tailor-made India-specific approach was contrary to the criteria-based approach followed by opposing states, which emphasised equal consideration to all NSG aspirants having similar nuclear credentials.
An analysis of the way India’s case for NSG candidature was constructed shows how faulty the “like-mindedness” argument is. In retrospect, India’s 1974 nuclear test resulted from its clandestine diversion of fissile material from civilian to military use. This provoked Pakistan to pursue nuclear technology and, separately, provided a context for the establishment of the NSG. Later, in 1998, India went nuclear openly and caused Pakistan to follow suit. India’s endeavour for NSG membership originated in Indo-US nuclear agreement signed in 2005. Implementation of this agreement required a waiver from the NSG, which would allow India to participate in nuclear commerce despite being a non-member. To pave the way for waiver, India signed an additional protocol with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whereby it agreed to implement a separation plan. Under the separation plan, India agreed to place 14 civilian nuclear power reactors under IAEA safeguards, keeping 8 military reactors and a number of civilian reactors with dual-use capability unsafeguarded. Moreover, India refused to accept not only standard information sharing but also tracking of imported fissile material. Thus, India’s additional protocol was exceptionally lenient, an eyewash, in other words.
Despite such discrepancies, in 2008, US active support combined with diplomatic pressure led to NSG consensus on granting a unique waiver to India exempting it from Group’s guidelines regarding civil nuclear commerce. Prior to waiver, India assured NSG states to uplift its nuclear credentials by adhering to ‘no first use’ doctrine, participating in Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) negotiations and adopting unilateral test ban. Again, these were the most convenient commitments on part of India. This is the background with which India, riding on a strong and unconditional US support, started diplomatic efforts towards NSG membership. Veritably, India’s production of fissile material as well as nuclear armament has remained unchecked since 2008. That’s why India and its sponsor, the US, have failed to convince critics and skeptics about Indian behaviour as a responsible nuclear state.
India’s membership of NSG would have benefited it in various ways. This could further enhance the country’s access to global nuclear commerce and technology, although it already has such access through civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with a number of countries, including the US, France, Canada, Russia, the UK, Australia and Kazakhstan, under the 2008 special waiver. India’s admission to the NSG would also have helped it legitimise its nuclear status and hence upgrade its political stature at international level. In addition, this would have permanently blocked Pakistan’s entry into the Group as it takes decisions through consensus. Nevertheless, India’s exclusive inclusion in the NSG would have undermined the Group’s credibility and its non-proliferation principles. This could also create more space for India to deviate from non-proliferation commitments. Besides, this would not have boded well for regional peace and stability, compelling Pakistan to engage in nuclear arms race.
India’s entry into the NSG is banned, for now. In future, it will have to re-launch its campaign on new grounds. For sure, India will not sign the NPT, the reason for its disqualification, as this will bind it to disarm. One way to move forward is that India takes Pakistan along, but this seems least possible. Notwithstanding this, Indian failure to enter the NSG and the latter’s priority for uniform criteria to settle the issue of non-NPT states’ membership provide a golden opportunity to Pakistan to project its nuclear credentials and improve its image as a responsible nuclear state.
— The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.

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