S Qamar Afzal Rizvi
Despite Obama administration’s full backing of India’s bid for the Nuclear Suppliers Group, (NSG) the facts on the ground principally advocate that undeserving India’s desire for joining the NSG, can hardly be fulfilled precisely because India remains incapable of satisfying the ‘required criteria’. Though the US has said it is not about an arms race, but about peaceful use of nuclear energy, there appears much qualified skepticism, that an Indian membership to the NSG, will unfalteringly‘ escalate nuclear arms race’ in South Asia. While considering the Indian case, the 48 member NSG body can’t ignore its adherence to the ‘Guidelines’. The NSG Guidelines aim to ensure that nuclear trade for peaceful purposes does not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. The merit of this argument upholds that India’s ‘legitimacy’ is waning over this issue.
As for the NSG membership criteria, the most important prerequisites are : the ability to supply items (including items in transit) covered by the annexes to Parts 1 and 2 of the NSG Guidelines; adherence to the Guidelines and action in accordance with them; enforcement of a legally based domestic export control system which gives effect to the commitment to act in accordance with the Guidelines; full compliance with the obligations of one or more of the following: the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Treaties of Pelindaba, Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Bangkok, or an equivalent international nuclear non-proliferation agreement; and support of international efforts towards non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of their delivery vehicles.
In July 2006, the United States Congress amended US laws to allow civilian nuclear trade with India. In 2008, the NSG exempted India from the requirement adopted by the NSG in 1992 banning nuclear cooperation with any state that had not accepted IAEA comprehensive safeguards. That move allowed India to engage in nuclear trade with NSG members. India got its exemption on the basis of certain ‘non-proliferation commitments’ that include: separating its civilian and military nuclear facilities in a phased manner; placing civil nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards; signing and adhering to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol; continuing its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing; working with the US for the conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT); refraining from the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology to states that do not have them and supporting international efforts to limit their spread; introducing comprehensive export control legislation to secure nuclear material; and adhering to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and NSG guidelines.
While examining and juxtaposing India’s non -proliferation commitments with those of NSG’s membership guidelines, one may reasonably argue that India is far away from the path of fulfilling ‘membership requirements’. But to embrace India as an NSG member, effort were started after President Obama visits India in 2010, issuing a joint statement which stated that: “he United States intends to support India’s full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement) in a phased manner, and to consult with regime members to encourage the evolution of regime membership criteria, consistent with maintaining the core principles of these regimes, as the Government of India takes steps towards the full adoption of the regimes’ export control requirements to reflect its prospective membership, with both processes moving forward together.”
Arguably, the US immoral backing of India serves sufficient warrants to vindicate the truth that ‘realpolitik’ and the ‘power game’ is the raison detre that drives to transform the existing nuclear cartels upsetting the strategic environment -arguing that morals—‘supporting legitimacy’— don’t govern the international relations. “This is not about an arms race and it’s not about nuclear weapons. This is about the peaceful civil use of nuclear energy, and so we would certainly hope that Pakistan understands that,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner recently told reporters in Washington. Put truly, US advocacy about India’s case much remains questionable.
States, such as Austria, Ireland or New Zealand, may rightly remain opposed on principle unless ‘India joins the NPT’, which is extremely unlikely as this would require Delhi to disarm. They argue that any dilution of non-proliferation order sets a dangerous precedent and thus India should not be given a special treatment as it has fuelled arms race in South Asia. A key US Senator, Ed Markey, has warned that enabling India to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would cause a “never-ending” nuclear race in South Asia. “What you are doing is creating an action-reaction that is leading to a never-ending escalation cycle that ultimately leads to development of nuclear weapons including battlefield nuclear weapons,” Senator Markey warned US Assistant Secretary for South Asia Nisha Biswal. It is in this backdrop that the US Senate’s panel has rightly demanded that India must sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and halt its fissile material production before admitting into the NSG. Beijing is claiming that a ‘compulsory’ requirement for NSG membership is that ‘the NSG members must be signatories to the NPT’. Apart from the rhetoric about the NPT, China has also encouraged Pakistan to apply for NSG membership so as to link New Delhi’s entry with that of Islamabad’s, knowing well that there will be few takers for Pakistan’s case. A legally binding nuclear testing moratorium, a ‘review’ provision in case of India’s non-compliance with the non-proliferation commitments, and a provision denying the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) technology, have been acting against it.
The waiver negotiation history suggests that India will again face ‘stiff resistance’ and demands for greater non-proliferation conditions. As an observer to the NSG, the EU has to be profoundly concerned about the ‘legitimacy yardstick’ related to this issue. Nevertheless, ensuing the guidelines of NSG there exist striking similarities between both India and Pakistan, which if criteria based approach followed, will result in making both states to ‘qualify or fail’ as a member state. Given the NSG’s legal fidelity to the membership criteria guidelines accompanied by the strategic argument— that India does not yet share ‘mainstream’ views about a range of international nuclear commitments and thus would actively dilute the NSG’s commitment to nonproliferation and seek to weaken the group’s ties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if it became a member— holds enough indications for presuming that the chances for a ‘workable consensus’ regarding the Indian bid are bleak.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.