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NSG Plenary Meeting: Nothing Inspiring

Dr Rajiv Nayan is Senior Research Associate at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • July 11, 2013

    On June 13-14, 2013, the plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a multi lateral export controls regime, took place in Prague. The plenary, which generally meets once a year, carries great significance. The venue of the meeting rotates among member countries called participants. However, in an extraordinary situation it may meet more than once. For example, in 2008, the NSG plenary meeting took place thrice for the India-specific amendment in the guidelines.

    The plenary of the NSG decides changes in the NSG guidelines, annexes, and the procedural arrangement. It also decides the NSG policy on information exchange and transparency. Any technical group to be set up to assess the need for any change in guidelines or other important issues has to be approved in a plenary meeting. Outreach meeting, which has become a salient feature of the post-Cold War export controls regimes and activities, is also decided in the plenary.

    On June 14 the NSG issued a ritual public statement. The plenary was expected to address some of the issues which are considered vital to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the regime. To meet developments in technology and threat perception, the plenary adopted 28 amendments to both the technology annexes of the guidelines. In fact this exercise was on since the 2010 plenary meet and with the 28 amendments of the 2013 plenary, the number of amendments has gone up to 54. Soon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will publish the amended guidelines.

    The June 14 public statement noted: “The Plenary emphasized that the work of the Group continued to fulfill the aim of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons by promoting transparency and greater supplier responsibility in the transfer of items”. However, in this regard, it just mentioned challenges relating to North Korea and Iran. The Prague plenary seemingly skirted the major issue before it and did not also choose to put in the public domain. Foremost amongst the issues is the ongoing China-Pakistan nuclear collaboration, now a well known chronic weakness of the NSG. Furthermore, the public statement did not mention a single line about this collaboration.

    The claim of the public statement that the NSG is committed to ‘promoting transparency and greater supplier responsibility’ does not look convincing. China was a known proliferator even before it joined the NPT or the NSG. Joining the NPT has only made China a greater NPT proliferator. Several writings have clearly highlighted that the global proliferation network had the involvement of several NPT members, including China. Strangely, when no one was sure of China’s future proliferation behaviour, efforts to project China as a responsible stakeholder of the non-proliferation system was undertaken by granting China the NSG membership in 2004.

    China, of course, did not change its behavior and continued its proliferation activities. Admittedly, in media leaks in some dominant global powers, China’s proliferation involvement started disappearing. This deliberate virtual disappearance of China-led proliferation also seems to be part of the project of constructing China’s image as a responsible stakeholder of the non-proliferation system. However, testimonies of officials of these dominant countries keep underlining the involvement of China in proliferation activities. Interestingly, China has found clever means of covering its tracks. It is also considered the sponsor and guardian of the revival of Pakistan’s plutonium route to nuclear weapons, having secretly supplied uranium because Pakistani uranium mines are in the disturbed jihadi area.

    Apart from direct proliferation related activities, China defies rules, norms and guidelines of the treaties and regimes of which it is a member even for doing business in civil nuclear energy cooperation. The most glaring example is again its civil nuclear energy collaboration with Pakistan. This collaboration is problematic on many counts and is widely regarded as a façade to supply different required items to the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme, especially undertaken at the Khushab complex.

    But disturbingly, the secret Chashma agreement, which resulted in two units of the Chashma reactors, was further used to build two more reactors, namely Chashma-3 and Chashma-4. The third and fourth units of the Chashma reactors had been negotiated secretly, but later in 2010, approved by the NSG, and subsequently, in 2011, the safeguards agreement for these reactors were also approved by the IAEA. In 2013, it was reported and discussed that Pakistan and China have once again signed an agreement to build 1000 MW additional reactor under the Chashma ‘grandfatherly clause’. Different sections of the media debated whether the reactor in question was Chasma - 3/4 or Chasma-5. In either of the cases, it was a violation of the NSG.

    However, gradually, it has become clear that the reactor in question was from the Karachi-series. Even the Pakistani media1 reported about it. The reactor in question is Karachi Coastal Power, and the Pakistan media reports that China has agreed to construct at least two reactors with a combined capacity of 2000 MW. The Karachi-2 may be of 1100MW if the Pakistani media report is believed. Reports say that a big portion of the funding has already been allocated and some money may be borrowed from outside. However, the general understanding is that it could be more than two reactors of 1000 MW each.

    A question may emerge: is Pakistan going to focus on the Karachi series in place of Chashma? One of the documents of the Pakistani Planning Commission, just after mentioning Chasma-2, records that “Chinese have indicated that they will install a number of more units.”2 For sure, the mention of ‘a number of more units’ means there will be units other than Chashma 3 and 4. There is a possibility that China may assert and openly collaborate to develop Karachi, Chashma and a reactor complex even with a new name if the NSG and the non-proliferation community continue to overlook the blatant Chinese violation of the NSG guidelines and rules.

    In sum, the future of the NSG is going to decide the nature and direction of global nuclear commerce and critical to this is how the NSG handles the Chinese riddle. Clearly, the legitimacy of the NSG is under threat and China has systematically undermined the NSG goals and objectives. Its bulldozing tactics has left not only NSG members but also vocal members of the non-proliferation communities of some of the leading countries like the US muted in their response. An overwhelming section of the American non-proliferation is sending reconciliatory message to the China-Pakistan deal. Overlooking the Chinese non-proliferation behavior may have both a predictable and an unforeseen negative fall outs.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.