Indian Quest for Membership in the NSG: Prospects and Challenges
By: Syed Adnan Athar Bukhari
Teaching Assistant at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
India aspires to be a member of the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which is a volunteer arrangement by the exporting countries dealing with nuclear material and technology. The cartel aims at nuclear non-proliferation and complements the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ironically the NSG was formed in 1975 as a consequence of the Indian Peaceful Nuclear Explosions of 1974.
Amid shifting global environment in the 21st century, the US and Indian interests converged and materialized in the ‘Next Steps for Strategic Partnership’ in 2004. The US ultimately signed a civilian nuclear deal with India. The US pushed for this objective and made efforts for amending national laws and exempting India from international embargos, held by the NSG and IAEA. In continuation of these efforts, the NSG provided India with a waiver in September, 2008 for carrying out nuclear trade with a state, non-signatory to the NPT.
In November, 2010, the US president, Obama visited India and said in a joint communiqué that the US would make efforts for Indian permanent membership in the UN Security Council and other export control regimes including the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement. Such intentions might well suit the Indo-US interests however, they would produce long term political, strategic and economic implications for South Asia.
In 2011, the NSG put some other stringent rules known as ‘objective list’ to tighten export of sensitive enrichment and reprocessing (E&R) technologies. According to new rules, a recipient state must be party to the NPT and have full scope IAEA safeguards. Though, India is outside the NPT and does not have full scope IAEA safeguards yet it was granted exception from NSG rules in 2008. As soon as new rule of ‘objective list’ was incorporated into the NSG guidelines, some viewed its applicability to India as well. However, both the US and India claimed NSG 2008 waiver as a clean chit for India’s access to nuclear technology. It shows how much leverage the US gives to its relationship with India.
India has yet to formally apply to join the NSG and would need the support of all members as the cartel works on the rule of consensus. Four out of five major powers are ready to accept India in the NSG. However, China may be prove to be a stumbling block based on Chinese geopolitical concerns vis-à-vis India.
Indian premier, Nerendra Modi said in May 2014 that India decided to ratify IAEA Additional Protocol (which it signed in 2009) on its civilian nuclear program which indicates its willingness for NSG membership. Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert also claimed that “India sees its ratification of its Additional Protocol as an arrow in its quiver supporting its quest for NSG membership.”
An aspirant of the NSG must be able to supply items in NSG Annexes to Part 1 and Part 2; adhere to NSG guidelines, be a party to the NPT or a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) treaty, have full scope safeguards. Though India is neither a party to the NPT nor accepts IAEA full scope safeguards yet the western powers put India’s case sidelining the mentioned criteria.
The NSG membership would be a blessing in disguise for India as it is not an NPT state. The NSG waiver of 2008 opened India’s way to import nuclear technology and material for civilian purposes. If India gets NSG membership, it would be able to export Indian nuclear material, technology and services therefore it would become both a buyer and seller of nuclear technology. The NSG membership would elevate India equal to the P-5 states in respect of nuclear weapons status (though it would be a de-facto). India would be the only country to be an NSG member which is outside the NPT.
Indian membership would firstly question the very efficacy of the NSG. Ironically, the NSG which was made in response to India’s defiance to nuclear non-proliferation is opening the gates for its entry. Its membership would become a challenge to the NSG in particular and affect the whole Nuclear Non-proliferation Regime in general.
Strangely, the international community has elevated India’s status to a responsible nuclear weapon state even though it has not signed the NPT and detonated nuclear weapons in 1998 in open defiance to the non-proliferation norms. This behavior raises some serious questions on the double standards of major powers. Politics of proliferation is being played at the expense of non-proliferation agenda. Pakistan has been asking for the NSG waiver similar to India. However, Pakistan’s genuine demands for nuclear energy have always been ignored. For addressing the dichotomy of some states being elevated and others ignored, there should be a criterion based approach instead of country specific approach.
Indian membership is also viewed with skepticism by Pakistan. If India becomes a member of the NSG, Pakistan’s path for obtaining NSG concessions would greatly diminish. If Pakistan asks for a similar waiver or membership in the NSG, India would be the first to negate Pakistan’s proposal on account of its hostile relations with the latter.
India’s anticipated NSG membership would also harden Pakistan’s resolve for fissile material production. Pakistan’s position to block an FMCT would also strengthen if India gets preferential treatment. Indian NSG membership would erode the credibility of the NSG in particular and the Non-proliferation Regime in general.