Why Is NSG Membership Vital For India?

by Ashok Sajjanhar - Jun 21, 2016 03:49 PM +05:30 IST
Why Is NSG
Membership Vital For India?Getty Images
  • Membership of NSG will provide greater certainty and legal foundation to India’s nuclear programme

    It would provide greater confidence to countries that would want to invest billions of dollars in India

    Most questions raised by China against India’s membership have very little validity

India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has been the focus of significant public and media attention over the past few weeks. It has emerged as the single most critical foreign policy priority for the Narendra Modi government.

The government is according so much importance to the issue that Prime Minister Modi, decided at the last minute, to include visits to Switzerland and Mexico during his tour to the US and some other countries to obtain categorical support for India’s membership at the forth-coming NSG plenary in Seoul on 23-24 June, 2016.

It is a reflection of India’s international standing and PM Modi’s skills that he was able to achieve unequivocal support from the two countries although they had earlier in 2008 opposed grant of a unique waiver to India by the NSG. They have expressed concern about India’s NSG membership when the issue has come up in informal discussions in recent years.

Under normal circumstances the issue would probably not have assumed such prominence. What appears to have brought it so completely under flood-lights is the uncharacteristic open opposition by China to India’s membership of this elite body. Over the last few weeks, China has issued several statements, officially as well as through its mouth-piece media publications, maintaining that no single country waiver should be granted to India as was done in 2008.

It said that, in any case, India is not eligible to become a member of NSG as it is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is a mandatory requirement for membership of NSG. It has 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 if India is admitted, Pakistan should also be admitted simultaneously. China has maintained that there are several countries which have reservations about India’s membership of NSG. If only India is admitted, it will disturb the nuclear arms balance between the two countries in South Asia as India will engage in a massive nuclear weaponisation programme. China has said that India’s membership will ‘jeopardise’ its national interests and touch a ‘raw nerve’ in Pakistan.

None of China’s contentions appear to hold much water.

However, before considering them critically, it will be useful to understand what the purpose and mandate of NSG is. It is true that NSG was established in the wake of the Pokharan I peaceful nuclear explosion conducted by India in 1974. The intent and purpose of NSG is however different from that of NPT.

NSG is not an international treaty. It is a group of “nuclear supplier countries that seeks to contribute to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of guidelines for nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports’’.

After more than 25 years of its establishment, some suggested guidelines were evolved in 2001 at Aspen, Colorado for admitting new members to the organisation. Amongst them, membership of NPT is only a guideline, a consideration, and not a mandatory requirement while deciding on a country’s application.

India is keen to become a member of NSG as it seeks to significantly expand its nuclear power generation and also enter the export market in coming years. Although the 2008 waiver by NSG does provide significant possibilities to India to engage in civilian nuclear trade with other countries (and indeed, India has entered into such agreements with several countries like Russia, France, the UK, the US, Kazakhstan, Australia and others), membership of NSG will provide greater certainty and legal foundation to India’s nuclear programme, which would provide greater confidence to countries who invest billions of dollars for setting up ambitious nuclear power projects in India.

Moreover, as India’s international political, strategic, military and economic influence and clout increases, India would like to move into the category of international rule-creating countries rather than stay in the ranks of rule-adhering nations. For this, it is essential that India gets due recognition and a place on the NSG high table.

India’s track record in observing the provisions of NPT and NSG while not being a member of either body is impeccable. If NSG was willing to grant waiver to India in 2008 on the basis of India’s past record, it should have no objection to admitting it as a member this time because of its unblemished record of adhering to all its commitments over the last eight years. It is however obvious that decision on 23-24 June in Seoul will be taken by some countries on political considerations rather than on merit. Usually China has been seen to stay in the background and put up smaller countries in the forefront to articulate opposition to any issue that it does not concur with. This time, in addition to instigating smaller countries to raise objections, China has itself come out openly against India’s membership.

Since all decisions at NSG are taken by consensus, any country, small or big, can stand in the way of consensus. India has however launched a blitzkrieg of hectic diplomatic activity to explain its position and overcome opposition of a few countries that might still have concerns. It has also reached out to China directly to explain that its interest in NSG membership is not guided by any political or strategic considerations but only to facilitate expansion of its clean and green nuclear energy programme.

India took the unusual step of dispatching its Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to Beijing on 16-17 June to hold discussions on this and other important issues with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterpart.

If the issue goes to the wire, Prime Minister Modi is expected to take up the issue with President Xi Jinping in Tashkent where both leaders are likely to be present for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit on 23-24 June, 2016.

India became a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) on 7 June, 2016. All 34 members of MTCR are members of NSG.

India is hence assured of support of these 34 members in its quest for NSG membership. It may be noted that China is not a member of MTCR, although it put in its application in 2004, because several members have concerns about China’s dubious proliferation record in supplying missile technology to countries like Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.

Most questions raised by China against India’s membership have little validity.

For instance membership of NPT is not a pre-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 meticulously separated its reactors which are under
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and those which are not.

Pakistan has a sullied and scarred 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 a criteria, its track-record and performance should be the basis on which decision on its application is taken.

Both substantively and commensurate with its expanding international prestige and standing, India’s membership of NSG is of vital significance. Decision at the forthcoming NSG plenary session later this week in Seoul will depend on China’s stance. All other countries are expected to fall in line. Russian has also assured India that it will intercede with China on its behalf.

According to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, India is cautiously optimistic and reasonably hopeful that China will see reason and logic in India’s arguments and will gracefully withdraw its strident opposition. Greater responsibility devolves upon China, more than it does upon India, to bridge the trust deficit between the two countries. This is a sterling opportunity that China should embrace to welcome India into the NSG fold.

The author is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is currently President, Institute of Global Studies.”

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