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India can be a credible partner of the NSG

Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • July 29, 2013

    Some of the members are expressing unnecessary apprehensions regarding India’s membership. Unlike China, India has a track record of complying with obligations of any treaty or agreement it signs.

    The 2013 Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) plenary meeting in Prague, from June 13-14, assumed significance in the context of the ongoing crises relating to Iran and North Korea as well the legitimacy crisis faced by the group because of the Chinese proliferation behaviour. Equally important challenges before the NSG have been the advancement in global nuclear technology as well as the expansion of its membership whereby its goals and objectives are promoted not compromised.

    The customary press release soon after the end of the plenary meeting underlined the resolve of the member countries to fight proliferation and expressed concern about ‘the proliferation implications’ of the North Korean and Iran nuclear programmes. Surprisingly, the press release did not express concern about proliferation and defiance of its member—China, which is blatantly undertaking nuclear business with Pakistan. The release also informed about the revision of NSG control lists to adjust to the advancement in global nuclear technology. Soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will publish the list.

    The limited and faulty membership of the group that has been an enduring challenge of the NSG remained unaddressed. On the one hand, a NSG member country like China is seen blatantly violating NSG norms, rules and guidelines and on the other, there are members who decide about the control of nuclear commerce without being producers of nuclear items. The expansion of the NSG membership is either becoming tokenism or contradictory to its objective.

    The membership of India was discussed but superficially. India has been knocking at the doors of the four multilateral export controls regimes for more than two years. Its membership to all the four regimes has got the support of several leading members such as the US and the UK. According to media reports, the UK circulated a paper in favour of India’s membership while earlier, the US and France also circulated their papers in support of India’s membership. Recently, Japan supported the candidature of India for all the four multilateral export controls regimes during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Japan.

    On his visit to India in February 2013, the British Prime Minister promised to work with India for the membership and to that effect a paper was apparently circulated in an informal meeting of the NSG on March 18 to answer some of the misgivings expressed. The British paper recognized that since India and the NSG non-proliferation goals and principles are the same, the member countries should facilitate India’s membership as early as possible.

    The NSG has membership criteria. These 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
    • Adherence to one or more of the NPT, the Treaties of Pelindaba, Rarotonga, Tlatelolco, Bangkok, Semipalatinsk or an equivalent international nuclear non-proliferation agreement, and full compliance with the obligations of such agreement(s)
    • Support of international efforts towards non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and of their delivery vehicles.”

    Wrongly, in India, many point out that these criteria were ‘finalized by the NSG members during their 2001 Aspen Plenary’. In fact, these criteria have existed for a long time and the public documents available in 1990s record all these criteria.1 The important issue is that India meets all the criteria but for the adherence of the NPT.

    In reality, India, on several occasions, has been asserting that despite being a non-member country its policies are ‘consistent with the key provisions of NPT that apply to nuclear weapon states. These provisions are contained in Articles I, III and VI.’ The major powers realized this, but the NSG avoided taking a decision on India’s membership in its plenary session.

    Some of the members are expressing unnecessary apprehensions regarding India’s membership. Unlike China, India has a track record of complying with obligations of any treaty or agreement it signs. The 2008 India-specific waiver, which permitted full scope nuclear cooperation with India, underlined the need for adjusting the arrangement to achieve a larger goal of bringing India closer to NSG objective of promoting nuclear trade without compromising on nonproliferation. As for India’s membership, the member countries may relax the NPT criteria to bring India in the NSG control framework. India can certainly bring a balance in the composition and activities of the NSG.

    The NSG will get a valuable partner in India. Fortunately, some in the US and France have started arguing strongly in favour of Indian membership. The supportive countries may have to work with its sceptic partners. The Indian government should also encourage credible Indian think tanks working on the area to connect with research institutions of both opposing and supporting countries, and explain through the interactions the benefits of India joining the NSG.

    The campaign launched by some pro-proliferation state and non-state actors that the Indian membership will make it difficult to ignore other candidates like Pakistan is malicious and certainly bereft of logic and reason. After all, the NSG gave memberships to Mexico and Serbia in the concluded plenary meeting. In 2008, the NSG understood the significance of granting the waiver to India. The dominant view then was that India had an impeccable non-proliferation record and Pakistan’s record was terrible. No one was convinced about giving any concession to Pakistan. Similarly, in the past, China was not given membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime because of its proliferation behaviour. The same reason can be extended to its proliferation partner Pakistan.

    The NSG countries need to ponder over the membership issue of India. As an informal body, it may meet informally and in committees and occasions other than the plenary. A small group of countries should not be allowed to sabotage crucial decisions. Of course the principle of consensus is sound, but building consensus on sound logic rather than propaganda and false campaign is far more important. If some countries continue to enforce action or inaction in the NSG on wrong grounds, we may have a doomed future for the NSG. The sooner the correction the better it is.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

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