So near, yet so agonisingly far

China blocked India’s campaign for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But all is not lost as the club meets again later this year when New Delhi can make a fresh bid

Manan Dwivedi | August 5, 2016


#nuclear deal   #Narendra Modi   #atomic agency   #IAEA   #nuclear group   #China   #India   #NSG   #Non Proliferation Treaty  
PM Narendra Modi, during his May 2015 China visit, with president Xi Jinping at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
PM Narendra Modi, during his May 2015 China visit, with president Xi Jinping at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

India’s claim to the full-fledged membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) comes at an opportune time when most of the nations in the international system are knocking at the door of the West-ordained disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation order for parity and equity with the rest of the nuclear haves.
 
The NSG was formed in 1974 and did not entail any fixed yardstick for the membership. One of the key conditionalities was that the aspirant nation states should fulfill the criterion of the full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards for all the contemporary and future nuclear activities.
 
The still ambiguous and neophyte requirement also ascertained that this yardstick had to be fulfilled if the global norm of allowing exports to non-nuclear weapon states had to be realised in the general transaction of the nuclear trade and exchange in the larger international system. It was only after the NSG plenary in Warsaw in 1992 that the talk began about setting up procedures and norms for the membership of the group. Still, procedurally going, the membership to the NSG can be ascertained only for states which adhere to the nuclear suppliers’ guidelines and the same nations should have fully participated in the plenary meeting in Lucerne in 1993.
 
When China joined the NSG in 2014, it was proven that it had aided and abated Pakistan’s nuclear power plant in the form of Chashma-II. It was proven that the Chinese nuclear cooperation with Pakistan did not adhere to the 1992 guidelines. The NSG could not book the Chinese nuclear intransigence, and the violation of rules was overlooked. Still, what needs to be reiterated is that NSG is an autonomous nuclear club and is privately run. It moves through consensual decision-making along with arriving at membership decisions on purely political grounds.
 
The Indian nuclear establishment decided to separate the civil and military components of its nuclear framework and agreed to keep aside its military nuclear reactors under the IAEA safeguards in tandem with keeping up its appreciable nuclear non-proliferation record. This reflected not much of an involvement in the missile and nuclear military intent. On the other hand, Pakistan’s six nuclear power plants are all under IAEA full-scope safeguards and Pakistan does not have a sizeable or an appreciable civil nuclear component.
 
US president Barack Obama proclaimed in November 2010 that India would be included in the NSG, the Wassennar Arrangement, the Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime in continuation with “the restoration of the principles of the regime perpetuation” of all the four non-proliferation regimes. France, led by the then president Nicolas Sarkozy, too, extended its support to the Indian case for NSG. Switzerland announced its support on June 6, but later withdrew it. Despite the joint secretaries of the ministry of external affairs being sent to a large number of prominent national capitals to propagate the cause of the Indian case for NSG, the Chinese emerged triumphant and India was denied NSG membership. Still, 38 of the total 48 members have supported India, which is no mean achievement for Narendra Modi’s public diplomacy.
 
This might be a political reading of India’s non-proliferation quandary, but despite India having an impeccable non-proliferation record, the NSG regime has been partisan and ungenerous to the cause of a nation which championed cold war neutrality and disarmament with the ‘Atoms For Peace’ programme in the 1950s though it was spawned by the then American president Dwight D Eisenhower. Russia, Canada and Mexico too have supported the idiom of Indian mainstreaming in the NSG regime. It was in July 2006 that the US Congress amended the US law to accommodate civilian nuclear trade with India under the rubric of the Henry Hyde Act, and the 123 civil nuclear cooperation agreement treaty. 
 
China has led the resistance to India joining the NSG. Even nations such as New Zealand, Ireland, Turkey, South Africa and Austria have opposed India’s membership claim. The opponents have argued that India has already been exempted under the NSG clauses to undertake nuclear trade despite having conducted the nuclear tests and also not being a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 
 
China has brazenly said that if India is granted the membership then Pakistan should also be granted the same. But Pakistan has a poor nuclear proliferation record as it supplied nuclear technology and fissionable material to nations such as North Korea and Iran.
 
In hindsight, it can be contended that New Delhi’s efforts in Seoul in June 2016 to enter the NSG should not be read as a misstep. New Delhi under prime minister Modi took the astute decision to launch a global campaign to make India a constituent of the larger NSG regime. If the campaign failed it was much due to the diplomatic one-upmanship of Beijing, which was bent upon completing its String of Pearls strategy and containment of India. 
 
The question worth pondering upon is the one that what can India do now and how it can recalibrate its contention at NSG? The NSG has a gathering in the end of 2016, which can be targeted as the next jamboree to reassert the rationale and the non-harmful nature of the Indian cause. India has to argue again that its pristine and unscathed adherence to the peaceful use of nuclear energy should be delved upon and not it being a non-party to NPT. The other argument which can fetch dividends is that bodies such as NSG which though being private in origin and nature should follow the premise of convergence and the ethics of international organisations.
 
The functional argument of British scholar David Mitrany, which proposes functional effectiveness for the international organisations, can be utilised by India at NSG for a future public diplomacy exercise. The argument which was posited in 2008, that the 2008 waiver did provide the luxury to India to enter into full-scale nuclear cooperation agreements with member states, needs to be resisted as a partial solution to India’s nuclear safety and trade concerns. Thus, India needs a full-scale membership.
 
The larger issue of nuclear governance is also at stake. In 2001, in the NSG plenary in Aspen, the body argued that the issue of mainstreaming the non-NSG pariahs into the regime can be reconsidered. The argument that ‘India already has a slew of nuclear cooperation agreements with nations ranging from Sri Lanka to Northern Ireland, so it does not require a total entry’ is a rather incomplete reading of the nuclear security scenario. The NSG guidelines are susceptible to changes in the future which can harm India’s long-drawn-out treaties with quite a few nations. Thus, India should vociferously posit the standpoint that India needs a permanent solution and not a fix-it solution.
 
India can also co-opt China by providing it a chunk in the Indian nuclear commerce pie, by accommodating Chinese nuclear reactors in India as a way to garner Beijing’s support for India’s membership. The US can also be roped in to call up Xi Jinping in order to facilitate India’s entry into NSG. The Indian argument can be that the procedures of NSG do not ascertain a full-fledged acceptance of the Indian views on the NSG amendments, which can only be ascertained by the grant of membership to New Delhi. 
 
All in all, apart from safeguarding India’s nuclear commerce, New Delhi needs to be made part of the globally convergent idiom of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation as a nation on the upswing and a nation seeking to be one of the global regulators in the international system. This is no far-fetched objective by any means. 
 
Dr Dwivedi is an assistant professor, international relations and international organisations, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

(The article appears in August 1-15, 2016 edition of Governance Now)

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