Insights into Editorial: The dragon at the NSG high table
As India continues to push for a seat in the NSG, it seems an uphill task, and the view from the Hill isn’t rosy either. Many countries, mainly China and Italy, stand opposed to India’s bid. Speculation is rife if over the next two years, either India or India and Pakistan or none could make it through the NSG.
In the NSG plenary session in Seoul in June 2016, New Delhi blamed Beijing for the “Consensus Minus One” hurdle to its bid even though close to a dozen countries including Mexico, Brazil, Norway, Ireland expressed serious reservations over India not being signatory to the “Non Proliferation Treaty.”
What is NSG?
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is a multinational body concerned with reducing nuclear proliferation by controlling the export and re-transfer of materials that may be applicable to nuclear weapon development and by improving safeguards and protection on existing materials.
Interestingly, the NSG was set up in 1974 as a reaction to India’s nuclear tests to stop what it called the misuse of nuclear material meant for peaceful purposes. Currently, it has 48 members.
Why China is opposing India’s entry into the NSG?
India is not a member of the NPT. It is a point that China has consistently raised while trying to block India’s membership to the NSG. China has also averred that for non-NPT members some definite criteria should be evolved rather than granting country specific waivers. At other times, it has stated that Pakistan also has similar credentials to join the NSG; and that if India is admitted, Pakistan should also be admitted simultaneously.
China has also maintained that there are several countries which have reservations about India’s membership of the NSG. Further, if only India were to be admitted, it would disturb the nuclear-arms balance in South Asia as India will engage in a massive nuclear weaponisation programme. Finally, China has stated that India’s membership will ”jeopardise” China’s national interests and touch a ”raw nerve” in Pakistan.
Benefits associated with NSG’s membership:
- Analysts say joining the NSG is chiefly a matter of pride and desire to be taken seriously by some of the world’s most powerful nations. Since prompting international technology sanctions and limits on exports by conducting nuclear tests in 1998, India has been eager to gain legitimacy as a nuclear power.
- Joining the NSG will give India better access to low-cost, clean nuclear energy — important for its economic growth. Nuclear power is one way India, the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, could cut its emissions and reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
- NSG membership would put India on a firmer footing to propose the idea of plutonium trade for its thorium programme that has been waiting in the wings. An early adoption of thorium technology would give India enormous energy independence and security.
Most questions raised by China against India’s membership have little validity. For instance, membership of NPT is not a condition for becoming a member of NSG. It is only a guiding principle to which consideration needs to be given. Pakistan’s credentials for NSG membership are highly flawed and inadequate.
Over the last eight years India, as per its commitment, has separated its reactors which are under IAEA safeguards and those which are not. Pakistan has a blemished and flawed proliferation record as it has engaged in illicit supply of nuclear technology and materials to Iran, Libya and North Korea. No comparison between the track records of the two countries is hence justified. India maintains that rather than evolving criteria, its performance should be the basis on which the decision on its application should be taken.
What needs to be done?
With the NSG plenary set to meet again in June this year, despite technical preparations, a resolution will be difficult to reach without political will. Besides, a green light to India’s entry is a political decision that China will have to make.
China may not shy away from advocating keeping out all-weather friend Pakistan in order to keep India out. Therefore, a seat at the high table will be required to influence decisions and nuclear export in future. So, any proposal to woo baiters would have to be window-dressed to look considerate of future bids from other non-NPT players including Israel, instead of appearing to be tailor-made only for India.
While considering India’s membership application, the NSG will also have to consider the fact that accepting this application can pose problems on the processing of applications from Pakistan and Israel, both of whom have not signed the NPT.
For now, NSG will be an uphill task with China unwilling to play nice. But, both substantively and commensurate with its expanding international prestige and profile, India’s membership of NSG is of vital significance.