NSG Opens Door for India

Two-page draft which has been prepared by Rafael Mariano Grossi, the former NSG Chair, outlines “nine general criteria” for non-NPT countries like India and Pakistan

By Mridu Kumari

Chinese obduracy on Pakistani terrorist Azhar Masood and blocking of India’s chances to become a member of the 48-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is stated to be the reason behind New Delhi’s attempt to sell lethal weapons like missiles to Vietnam, the Southeast Asian country which like India has a territorial dispute with China. Though the move has a possibility of further straining relations between New Delhi and Beijing, it has sent a strong message to China that the former would give its Asian rival a pinprick if it continues to play against India’s interests. Yet it is played out at a time when a new draft proposal circulated among NSG members, has brightened India’s chances at the elite nuclear club of the world. 

The two-page draft which has been prepared by Rafael Mariano Grossi, the former NSG Chair, outlines “nine general criteria” for non-NPT countries like India and Pakistan. On the fulfillment of such criteria only, they would receive fullest atomic trading privileges, the draft proposal maintains.

These criteria are: Clear and strict separation of current and future civilian nuclear facilities from non-civilian nuclear facilities; allow IAEA identify all current and future civilian nuclear facilities; commitment not to conduct any nuclear explosive test; support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) upon becoming a participating government; separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards; signing of additional protocol with the UN atomic agency in order to give IAEA inspectors the ability to detect the diversion of safeguarded nuclear material and to ensure that safeguarded nuclear material is used exclusively for peaceful purposes; commitment not to use any item transferred either directly or indirectly from a NSG member for military purposes; commitment to strengthen the multilateral nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime by working towards the total elimination of all nuclear weapons and enhancing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

India fulfills all this criteria which was discussed and debated by NSG members at Vienna recently. Yet there are conditions: One non-NPT member state should reach an understanding not to block consensus on membership for another non-NPT member state. That means India can’t block Pakistan’s entry into the nuclear club. But question is: Does Pakistan fulfill any criteria outlined by Grossi drafted proposal? Perhaps, not. Then to engage in civil nuclear trade with NSG countries, Pakistan will have to secure a separate NSG exemption, which is not possible without having full-scope safeguard agreement with IAIA.

On the other hand, merit with India is that it is already doing business with members of the NSG. Formed in 1975 in response to India’s first nuclear weapons test, the NSG granted waiver to the country in September 2008 in the aftermath of Indo-US civil nuclear agreement. Under pressure from the then George W Bush administration, China had reluctantly allowed NSG to grant waiver to India. Its resistance to India’s membership turned virulent in South Korea when it was hosting plenary session of the 48-member nuclear club last year.

Though countries like New Zealand, Austria and Iceland flagged criteria of accommodating non-NPT signatory countries like India, China was the lone country at the plenary session which didn’t want even putting India’s name on the table. This was more out of rivalry with India than principle; this was more out of concern of being exposed on its clandestine nuclear deal with Pakistan than any other consideration. It also failed to countenance NSG draft proposal which excludes Pakistan’s entry, but opens the door for India.

And at the time when Obama administration which had promised NSG membership to India, has extended charge of baton to the Donald Trump administration in the US, it has to be seen how the US pushes unfinished agenda of India’s entry into the nuclear club. Nonetheless, it is true that once India becomes NSG member, it will facilitate export of several low cost know-how technology to the developing countries in civil nuclear area. In particular, nuclear safety is considered one of the USPs of India. Several countries have such expertise, but they are expensive ones, causing hurdles in the way of those who want to set up nuclear power stations or nuclear research centres at a low cost.

On becoming NSG member, India would easily grab this space occupied by China and others in the nuclear market. However, some experts like Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi based think tank discount it. They say to export civil nuclear reactor or technology, India need not have to be a member of the NSG, it can still sell its nuclear wares. “For supplying civil nuclear technology you need not have to be a part of the NSG. Actually those who set up nuclear power stations or research centres also provide finances for their set up and we do not have resources to finance those projects,” Bharat, who has written two books on nuclear-related issue, maintained. Indeed, India does not have that much assets to set up money intensive nuclear power projects offshore. But it has a reliable technology which it can sell to the world only when it signs NPT or becomes a member of the NSG.

Managing special waiver from NSG eight years ago, India has though become a de facto player in the international nuclear market and signing of  agreements with the US, Russia, France, Japan, Canada, Australia and others confirms this, yet it is NSG membership that will enable the country to become a recognized and legitimate nuclear player. Beijing is also not unknown to the fact that India, despite being a non-NPT member, has already brought its export controls in line with NSG guidelines. Yet if China stonewalls India’s entry, it is nothing to do with principle, but ego. It wants India to be its camp follower rather than that of the US and Japan. Almost the same scenario exists on the issue of expansion of veto-wielding UN Security Council. China has put its political and economic might to stop reforms of the powerful world body.