China’s stubborn objection to India’s latest bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership will continue to rankle New Delhi for some time. Despite a high-voltage diplomacy from the Indian side, Beijing has not budged from its stand of requiring New Delhi to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to join the NSG.
At the highest levels, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and reportedly requested a “fair and an objective assessment” of India’s bid.
With China determined to block India’s access to the international nuclear energy market, what are India’s options?
Writing in Firstpost, leading nuclear energy affairs expert and Swarajya editorial team member Jaideep Prabhu offers three measures.
First, do not sign the NPT as demanded by China unless India is explicitly recognised as a nuclear weapons state. Today, India can sign the NPT only as a ‘non-nuclear weapons state’ which means it must give up its nuclear weapons. The NPT regime will not easily agree for an amendment to the treaty that will list India as a nuclear weapons state. Therefore, India signing the NPT is not even an option. Beijing must forget about it.
Second, take a shot at threatening the NSG’s ‘developing economies’ market. India must overtly commit ‘to emerging as a nuclear manufacturing hub within the next 10 years’. This would imply full support and incentives for the private sector to design and build ‘nuclear-grade’ components used in the nuclear power industry. Once these are in place, India should be able to take its small-medium scale nuclear reactors to the market. It already has a history of being able to design and manufacture such reactors. Besides, India too requires plenty of reactors to satisfy domestic demand.
Third, hasten the fast-breeder reactors programme. Since these reactors breed plutonium, and that irks the non-proliferation ayatollahs, they can serve as useful pawns in any talks. India can put these reactors under safeguards and commit to not using them for weapons purposes if NSG allows New Delhi in. Otherwise, India can literally ‘breed’ plutonium – a lot of fissile material in India’s hands with possible weapons use will irk the NSG. The choice will be NSG’s.
According to Jaideep Prabhu, the value of a NSG membership today is not so much in access to latest technology but ensuring India’s place in a future nuclear non-proliferation order. The NSG’s ‘clean waiver’ issued in 2008 does allow member states to supply nuclear technology and equipment to India. Therefore the lack of an NSG membership does not severely handicap India beyond a point.
All it would take is for India to commit to ‘a nuclear renaissance’: better government push, private participation and transparency in nuclear sector.
(Picture: File photo of the nuclear plant at Kudankulam)